Saturday, November 15, 2008

The State of State

Rumors abound that Hillary Clinton has been offered the post of Obama's Secretary of State. To be blunt, I am discouraged by the punditry and analysis surrounding this news. The analysis around this has generally been focused around the "team of rivals" concept that Obama has publicly recognized and advocated (as a result of Doris Kearns Goodwin's research into Lincoln's cabinet design process). As a result, the media and punditry see this as an "enlightened" approach to cabinet building. But this idealistic fluttering appears to me to be skipping over some basic fundamental problems with this approach.

The initial premise of an Obama candidacy was based on projecting a new brand of America onto the world stage. Obama voted against the Iraq War. He also made news with his premise of speaking to our enemies without preconditions. Both sentiments were widely disparaged in their respective times by a generally bi-partisan hawkish political and media establishment. Yet, as it turns out, these two positions turned out to resonate with Americans. American voters had apparently hit a tipping point in the hawkish, forward-leaning footing that had become conventional wisdom. Obama offered a novel and fresh approach to contemporary problem solving. These positions resonated enough to firmly affix the idea of "change" on Obama's political brand.

Conversely, Hillary Clinton was a supporter of the Iraq War, until things started going poorly. It is highly suspect by Americans and foreign leaders that Hillary would have supported the Iraq War all the way through if it weren't so badly managed, and so costly to American lives. This smacks of politics of convenience, not an overarching philosophy that would indicate any serious change from our current foreign policy footing. In addition, Hillary also said during the campaign that she was committed to obliterating Iran if it attacked Israel. In diplomacy, words matter. And these words sound much more like Dick Cheney than even George H. W. Bush, let alone President Obama.

These differences are as about as stark as could be when looking at today's foreign policy dilemmas, and would appear to be much more important than how collegial and enlightened Obama is in his process of selecting a cabinet. Sure, Hillary would be working for President Obama, and would thus be carrying out an Obama foreign policy agenda. But she would also be the eyes, ears, and mouth of America to leaders throughout the world. And global leaders are quite aware of what she has said and what she stands for.

Ultimately, I argue that it is worth considering whether the primary interface between the U.S. and our friends and enemies across the world should be led by someone from the Baby Boomer generation -- a generation, for better or for worse, that sees the world through the Vietnam and Cold War lens. It would seem more on-brand and on-message if the State Department was led by someone from the Obama generation -- a generation with a fresh, new look at how to address the evolving, multi-dimensional challenges we now face in a deeply globalized world. You know, someone with a view and convictions similar to the fellow we democratically elected as President of the United States.


Five buck says Hillary doesn't want the job, and that Barack offered it to her knowing that...


I think Bill Richardson would be ideal.

I dunno. HRC is too hawkish, and Richardson is too empathetic and nice.

I think we need someone on a different axis completely. Someone who is tough, yet likable. And someone who is seen to have a win/win philosophy. That's the magic mix.

I wish someone would come to mind, but I am drawing a blank. I am absolutely certain that person exists, though. I need to see a rolodex.


Thanks for your note. I had not heard of this GenJones concept until your note. It's an interesting perspective, and I do think it plays a part in all of these conversations.

Now... what is the origin of "Jones" in the nomenclature?