Pluses and minuses

PLUSES AND MINUSES…. John Heilemann takes a look at Hillary Clinton’s possible role as Secretary of State in the new issue of New York, and highlights some of the key reasons why she’d be a strong choice. “Her existing relationships with world leaders and her global star power would allow her to walk into foreign capitals and deal with the president or prime minister on level footing,” Heilemann notes. “And in the face of a cratering economy likely to consume the first year (or more) of Obama’s term, handing off the foreign-policy legwork to a savvy, tough, high-profile surrogate with roundly acknowledged expertise on the relevant issues holds no small appeal.”

Some of Heilemann’s observations overlapped nicely with Steve Clemons’ sharp analysis of Clinton’s possible role as Secretary of State: “If Obama wants to change the strategic game on Iran, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Cuba, Russia and other challenges, he will need partners who are perceived as tough, smart, shrewd and even skeptical of the deals he wants to do. Clinton is all of these. Clinton may be the bad cop to Obama’s good cop. Because she is trusted by Pentagon-hugging national security conservatives, she may legitimize his desire to respond to this pivot point in American history with bold strokes rather than incremental ones.”

I find all of this pretty compelling. But then, there’s the other hand. Spencer Ackerman has a great piece today on one disconcerting aspect of this dynamic that’s gone largely overlooked: “Clinton herself isn’t so much the problem, [foreign-policy experts in the Obama orbit] say. It’s the loyalists and traditional thinkers Clinton is likely to bring into the State Dept. if she becomes secretary.”

The dispute is only partly ideological in nature. While the coterie of foreign-policy thinkers around Obama have been more liberal, in an aggregate sense — on issues like Iraq and negotiations with America’s adversaries — the Obama loyalists question the boldness of the Clintonites. They fear that Obama’s apparent embrace of Clinton represents an acquiescence to the conventional Democratic foreign-policy approaches that they once derided as courting disaster. Some wonder whether a Clinton-run State Dept. will hire progressive Obama partisans after an acrimonious primary.

Clinton, assuming she gets the job, would bring more than her own considerable skills and background to the State Department; she would also be responsible for hiring officials to fill key posts throughout Foggy Bottom. It’s very unlikely that Clinton would accept this offer if she would face restrictions from the White House on how — and with whom — she could shape her own team.

And that, to my mind, is the most credible cause for some concern with Clinton’s nomination. As a presidential candidate, Clinton surrounded herself with some capable people, but they and their vision was largely out of step with Obama’s more progressive approach to foreign policy and diplomacy. And it would likely be they, not career officials who backed Obama, who Clinton would bring on to do most of the heavy lifting at the cabinet agency.

A dynamic to keep an eye on, to be sure.