A few weeks ago, I visited Dubai for the first time. It’s an impressive sight, this metropolis in the desert, and everyone said the same thing about it: “Don’t worry! It’s environmentally sustainable.”
To get the truth, you sometimes have to ignore the answers people provide and listen instead to the worries underneath their cheerful replies.
So when Shrum assures us that Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State has every reason to be loyal, not to leak, to postpone her presidential ambitions, etc.—I hear him saying he expects she will in fact be disloyal, leaky, and power-crazed.
And when he holds out the hypothesis of a Hillary run in 2016, I think I hear him saying that what he’s really worried about is a Hillary putsch in 2012—either a primary challenge to President Obama or an attempt to muscle her way onto the ticket in place of Joe Biden.
Let me offer an alternative suggestion: It’s time for Democrats to bring down the curtain on the Hillary Clinton story.
Everybody understands that she wants very badly to be president. What’s never clear is why this should be anybody’s problem other than her own. How has she persuaded so many Democrats that they “owe” her some kind of consolation prize? First the senate, then the presidency, then the vice presidency, now the job of Secretary of State. Hillary’s relationship to the party reminds me of the character of Margaret Peel, in the Kingsley Amis novel Lucky Jim, who emotionally manipulates Jim into believing himself duty-bound to marry her. Jim eventually rebels and marries someone else, explaining to himself: “There was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.”
The message to Hillary should not be: Behave yourself as Secretary of State and you might be nominated in 2016. Hillary Clinton will be 69 on Election Day 2016. That’s not quite as old as John McCain in 2008 or Bob Dole in 1996, but still . . . old. She has to know that the prize won’t be there for her.
No, the message to Hillary should be: Behave yourself as Secretary of State—don’t leak, don’t freelance, don’t backbite—or the president will fire you. And fired secretaries of state don’t get elected president. Just ask Al Haig.
Any other stance by Barack Obama would license exactly the kind of conflict inside U.S. foreign policy that Democrats, like all Americans, should wish to avoid.
One word more, to some of my Republican friends: There’s been a tendency in recent months for Republicans to “talk up” Hillary Clinton, to see in her a more hawkish alternative to Obama. Some of this talk is plain old partisan mischief-making—the kind that led so many Democrats to praise John McCain at the expense of George Bush in 2003 and 2004. Some of it is residual mistrust of Obama’s left-wing background combined with an overeager reading of Hillary Clinton’s voting record in 2001-2004 as a guide to her “real” foreign policy views.
But are those views “real”? Or were they calculated attempts to position herself politically based on Clinton’s (mis)estimate of what her party and the country would be seeking in a president four years later? We cannot know. But it would be overly trusting to assume the best.
The political imperatives that pushed Hillary Clinton to the right as she prepared to run for the presidency are the national security imperatives that have already begun to push Obama to the right now that he has gained the presidency. And it’s those imperatives that should claim our attention—not the exorbitant psychic needs of any individual politician.