This is the stuff of politics that fascinates me.
A possible clue to Obama’s willingness to consider Clinton for chief diplomat can be found in a January interview he gave to Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News.” As part of her “Primary Questions” series, she asked him what books besides the Bible he would consider essential if he were elected president.
“Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book ‘Team of Rivals,’” Obama replied. “It was a biography of Lincoln. And she talks about Lincoln’s capacity to bring opponents of his and people who have run against him in his Cabinet. And he was confident enough to be willing to have these dissenting voices and confident enough to listen to the American people and push them outside of their comfort zone. And I think that part of what I want to do as president is push Americans a little bit outside of their comfort zone. It’s a remarkable study in leadership.”
The once-laughable idea is plausible now in part because Obama is exceedingly confident now, in a way that only a president of the United States can be. “He doesn’t need ANYBODY right now — he’s on the cusp of becoming a world historic figure,” one adviser said. “This is a much different calculation [than picking a running mate]. He is completely and totally in the driver’s seat.” And during the general election, she campaigned tirelessly on his behalf throughout the country.
Even officials who like the idea threw up strong “caution” flags. Fresh off his electoral triumph, Obama does not feel he needs the Clintons. The president-elect has never liked the idea of former President Bill Clinton as a back-seat driver. The former president has had many tangled foreign business dealings that could complicate his wife’s entry into an administration that is promising transparency. And at most a few people, none of whom are talking, know what Obama really thinks about all this.
But some Obama advisers argue that Clinton would be an ideal fit if Obama concludes that he will have to focus his early days in office on the domestic economy, and will have to essentially outsource heavy-duty foreign travel to his secretary of State. Her celebrity and credibility would be a huge asset in his goal of reengaging the United States with allies. “You can send out John Kerry or Chuck Hagel,” said one adviser, mentioning some other candidates for secretary of State. “Sending Hillary Clinton out is better.”
The officials said Clinton becomes even more attractive if Obama retains President Bush’s last secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Some Obama advisers are advocated that course because he would provide cover for drawing down troops in Iraq: Gates has said he believes that is possible, and it would keep Obama out of a fight he can’t afford with the Army Gen. David Petraeus, now the head of the U.S. Central Command.
An Obama adviser threw out one final rationale: It’s better to have the Clintons inside the tent than outside, causing trouble.