(AFP) – Nov 18, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Signs that Barack Obama may make once bitter foe Hillary Clinton his secretary of state are provoking a flurry of questions over the president-elect's motivation and vision for foreign policy.
Readers of political tea leaves in Washington are abuzz over the possible appointment of the former first lady, a tough, colorful, and powerful political figure who once branded Obama "naive" on foreign policy.
Some commentators praise Obama for contemplating a strong, "team of rivals" cabinet, but others wonder whether two such bold political egos can exist together or could become destructive and foster political infighting.
Tension still simmers between some sectors of the Obama and Clinton camps, despite the former first lady's intense campaigning for the president-elect before the November 4 election.
So at some level, there must be questions on the level of trust and the chemistry between the two ex-rivals.
It is not clear if Clinton or Obama would get to dictate the make-up of the State Department under her watch, or whether they have yet spoken of how their relationship would work in terms of authority and access.
And what of Bill Clinton, and will the globe-trotting former president's ties, contacts, donors and outsize global persona complicate his wife's prospects -- or provide a conflict of interest fear?
However formidable a figure the former first lady and presidential candidate is, experts say, Obama would be firmly in control if he chooses her as the top US diplomat.
"Here is somebody who is sufficiently confident in his own abilities that he doesn't fear allowing into his cabinet an erstwhile rival," said Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University.
In recent administrations, the power of foreign policymaking has firmly rested in the White House -- which has the prime role in coordinating various government agencies to frame the US posture to the world -- and not solely with the State Department.
"Hillary Clinton is a strong character but Barack Obama won a historic election," said David Rothkopf, author of a pioneering book studying the US National Security Council.
"He is clearly a politically stronger character at the moment, it is his administration and the entire US policymaking apparatus is orientated towards the president -- he is the one who ultimately has power."
Some commentators question why Obama would bring Clinton into his administration at all, given the political turbulence that surrounds her family.
"He no longer has to placate her supporters," said Bacevich.
"The notion that he would make her secretary of state to make Hillary-ites happy -- that doesn't make any sense at all."
Bacevich said Clinton was a conventional figure and while she would reorientate policy from the tumultuous Bush years, would not shift the fundamental tenets of US diplomacy.
"She is a competent woman, and it could be that Obama is thinking about change, at least as it applies to foreign policy, (that) is not going to be that dramatic."
Obama knows Clinton has a reputation of being more hawkish than he is, and may give the new president cover to pursue more controversial policies -- like engaging Iran during his administration.
As he takes office during a raging financial crisis, having someone of Clinton's intellect and stature to represent him abroad may also be attractive.
"Hillary Clinton is head and shoulders above every candidate that is currently being considered as secretary of state," said Rothkopf.
"She has international stature ... she would be able to deal directly with the president and express herself effectively to him and to be his best strongest advocate on the international stage."
Other statesmen in the frame for the job are said to be New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry.
The Obama team is vetting Clinton's background and financial affairs to check there is no impediment for her serving.
More significantly, investigators are also burrowing into the former president's global charitable foundation and lucrative network of business contacts and speaking engagements.
Some analysts see more fundamental calculations at play.
"You cannot completely dismiss the politics of it," said Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University.
"It will be very difficult for Hillary Clinton to criticize the Obama administration if she is part of it," said Panagopoulos, who once worked in the New York senator's office as a congressional fellow.
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