The rumors could not be more rampant that President-elect Barack Obama will appoint his chief rival in the primaries, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state.
If the purpose is to introduce a bit of drama into the Cabinet and tighten up the domestic support of Democrats who still would have preferred Hillary as their party’s nominee, it might be a shrewd move.
On almost all other grounds the speculation — which apparently has roots in the Obama camp — is more than a little puzzling.
A major problem, of course, would be the continuing activities of her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton’s major philanthropic activities, which he says have sent some $46 billion to various good causes, are global in reach. Bill Clinton travels the world, promoting good causes and pulling in stratospheric fees for speeches, sometimes from the same countries where a future secretary of state might be involved in ticklish negotiations.
Questions have also been raised about Bill Clinton’s involvement in international business deals. One Canadian businessman donated $31 million to his foundation shortly after winning a lucrative uranium mining contract in Kazakhstan that Mr. Clinton is said to have helped to facilitate. Whether there has really been anything shady in Bill Clinton’s business dealings, his efforts to raise money in countries where a secretary of state might be asking for diplomatic concessions could raise concerns about conflicts of interest.
A second reason to reconsider trial balloons regarding Sen. Clinton is the fact that, despite all the “phone call at 3 a.m.” campaign commercials, she really has very limited foreign policy experience. She has been the spouse of a president, and she has taken numerous trips abroad as a first lady and a senator. But that isn’t the same as knowing intimate details about the real motives of various foreign actors or being in the room where hard decisions are made. As a senator she has focused mainly on domestic issues.
A third reason is what appears to be a lack of organizational skills. The State Department is a sprawling bureaucracy full of people with private agendas. It will require a firm hand to motivate and control this disparate group. Judging by her soap-operatic presidential campaign, rife with rivalries and leaks, and her failed effort to promote health care reform early in President Clinton’s first term, Sen. Clinton’s organizational abilities are not to be envied.
Finally, there is the sense of entitlement and devotion to personal agendas that fairly oozes from both Clintons. To be sure, Sen. Clinton settled down and campaigned like a trooper for Barack Obama once he won the Democratic nomination, but it is far from clear that she is by nature a team player. And no matter what she does, if he appoints her, it will be politically difficult for Obama to fire her.
Now it is just possible that Sen. Clinton, who, after a good deal of arduous work, has established a political persona independent of her husband, has decided that with Obama’s election her chances of ever becoming president have dwindled, and she is ready for a new challenge.
If that is the case — if she no longer has that apparently incurable presidential itch — appointing her secretary of state might just be workable.
On balance, however, the minuses outweigh the possible pluses.