If political considerations were the only thing at stake in appointing a Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton would be an excellent choice. Indeed, her appeal among women is sky-high, and–by bringing her into the fold–President-elect Barack Obama could finally heal any wounds still outstanding from the Democratic primary season.
Yet the Secretary of State’s value must extend beyond the currency of domestic politics–the position requires a certified expert in foreign affairs. Particularly considering Barack Obama’s own inexperience in international relations–a shortcoming he acknowledged when he selected Joe Biden as his running mate back in August–it is hard to understand how Hillary Clinton would be an acceptable choice as our nation’s top diplomat. After all, Clinton has never studied international relations. She has never written on international relations. She has never advised anyone on international relations. And, during her career in the Senate, she has never sat on the Foreign Relations Committee, nor has she made international relations a major focus of her legislative work.
Moreover, whenever Clinton has commented on international matters in the past, political considerations have always trumped thoughtful analysis. As First Lady during the peace-processing Clinton administration, she followed Suha Arafat’s claim that Israel was poisoning Palestinian water with a kiss on the cheek. Later, while appealing to Jewish voters as a Senate candidate from New York, she criticized her husband for failing to veto a resolution against Israel at the United Nations. Similarly, in the aftermath of 9/11, Clinton supported the Iraq war “with conviction.” But when the Iraq war became a political liability, she began distancing herself from this position, ultimately emerging as a full-blown critic.
Meanwhile, on a host of other key issues–Iran, Russia, China, India, Latin America, etc.–Clinton has stuck to broadly centrist statements as a politically savvy strategy, sparing her the attacks that Obama faced from the right. In short, Clinton’s political ambitions have long prevented her from approaching foreign affairs with any level of analytic seriousness, and we have no way of knowing whether she possesses any principles relevant to foreign affairs at all.
Most disturbingly, it is hard to believe that her approach would change upon relocating to Foggy Bottom. Never count out Hillary’s inevitable belief that the same country that declined to elect a 72-year-old man just might be willing to elect a 69-year-old woman in 2016. In turn, we can expect that political considerations will underlie every piece of advice she gives to President Obama. After all, there’s no indication that Hillary Clinton’s ideas have ever been shaped by any other motivational force.