Friday, May 29, 2009

Hillary: Baited and Switched

During the campaign even before the nominations were settled, many people, particularly Europeans, said they thought Hillary should let Obama win in exchange for being appointed to SecState. At the time I pooh-poohed the idea, pointing out that the European parlimentary system is radically different than the US Federal system. In the various European nations a Cabinet post has real power and ministers ALSO have seats in Parliment. Ministers set policy and craft government priorities. Whereas in the US, a Cabinet secretary is the employee of the President and subject to his policy goals, and can be fired at will.

I was wrong, Hillary did accept the position of SecState, and had to resign her Senate seat, much to my surprise. The appointment strongly reminded me that in the Liberal mind, the State Department is 'The Chic'. (Pun intended) It seems that the State department is seen as sophisticated and important all out of proportion to its actual power and influence. This has been going on since FDR, at least. Foggy Bottom often tries to pursue its own agenda in oppostion to official Presidential policy, and its professionals see elected leaders as temporary inconveniences which will go away in time. The Secretary of State is a rock star to many on the left, whereas to the right the SecState is important but subordinate - a part of the team.

I wondered if Obama was trying to eliminate her as a threat to his re-election, while my political buddy Brian pointed out that SecState was a power base with many employees to do her bidding...

Dick Morris has chimed in on this very subject:

It may appear odd to describe a secretary of State as marginalized, but Obama has surrounded Hillary with his people and carved up her jurisdiction geographically. Former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) is in charge of Arab-Israeli relations. Dennis Ross has Iran. Former U.N. Ambassador Dick Holbrooke has Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Hillary has to share her foreign policy role on the National Security Council (NSC) with Vice President Biden, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, CIA chief Leon Panetta, and NSC staffer Samantha Powers (who once called Hillary a “monster”)

Ah, so Obama has divided SecState power and put strong egos in charge of fiefs who will fight for their personal preferences. I'd call that Machiavellian, but that elevates the description. I think the proper word is manipulative.

How long will Hillary subject herself to this discipline? Likely as long as Obama is popular. Should his ratings fade, she might move away from the president and could even consider a primary contest against him in 2012. But while he is on top of his game, she’ll stay loyal.

But she is shrinking by the day. Once Obama’s equal — and before that his superior — she now looks tiny compared to the president. She doesn’t look like a president in waiting; she’s more like a senior staff member hoping to rise in the bureaucracy. No longer at the head of a movement or the symbol of rising women all over the world, she has faded into the State Department woodwork. She is much less visible than her predecessors Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker, Madeleine Albright or Condi Rice. She is even less in the public eye than was Al Haig during his one-year tenure. One has to go back to the likes of Warren Christopher or William Rogers to find a secretary of State as far down the totem poll. This diminished status has got to grate on her and on him. But they are trapped in Obama’s web and cannot easily escape.

Ouch. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. The long and the short of this is that the Secretary of State serves at the whim of the President and Obama is now Hillary's boss.