Unfortunately, Mr. Obama chose to play politics with this extremely sensitive appointment. He knows Mrs. Clinton could have become a powerful dissenting voice within his party. She could have criticized any Obama misstep. And if things go badly, Mrs. Clinton might be positioned to challenge Mr. Obama for the 2012 nomination.
He is gambling that by putting her in his cabinet, he will be able to fence her in.
But in elevating her to this key cabinet post, Mr. Obama has made Mrs. Clinton twice as dangerous. Far from “change,” he has put his stamp of approval on her foreign policy. He has validated her as a potential president. And he is giving her both a very visible platform from which to appear presidential, and an extremely impressive executive portfolio.
Mrs. Clinton more than likely will claim credit for anything good that happens in American foreign policy. But if terrible things happen at home or abroad, she can blame Mr. Obama, resign her cabinet post in 2011, and challenge him just as Robert Kennedy was prepared to challenge President Johnson in 1968.
Perhaps sensing the danger, Mr. Obama is using other heavyweights to fence Mrs. Clinton in politically.
Presidents have structured cabinets that reduce the influence of the secretary of state. During Ronald Reagan’s first term, U.N. ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick took a slice of the foreign-policy pie away from the secretary of state by being named a cabinet member, who could speak directly with the president. And in the Clinton administration, Ron Brown aggressively expanded the Commerce Department’s forays into foreign policy.
It appears that President-elect Obama is doing the same. His trusted friend Susan Rice will be U.N. ambassador with cabinet rank. Bill Richardson, a foreign-policy expert, will be commerce secretary. Keeping Mr. Gates at Defense will ensure that Mrs. Clinton has no influence of military policy. And having General Jones as national security advisor will keep an expert voice at the president’s side whenever Mrs. Clinton tries to assert anything.
As added anti-Clinton mischief insurance, Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be in the foreign policy mix. Each of these heavyweights limits Mrs. Clinton’s ability to dominate foreign policy.
So the new president is taking a big gamble on Mrs. Clinton. She’s taking a calculated risk by sacrificing her independent platform in the Senate. Surely, this political chess game will provide fodder for political pundits for years.
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