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Here Come the Hillary Years

The New York Times reports on the high hopes of Hillary Clinton:

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

Mrs. Clinton is recruiting Jacob J. Lew, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, as one of two deputies, according to people close to the Obama transition team. Mr. Lew’s focus, they said, will be on increasing the share of financing that goes to the diplomatic corps. He and James B. Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, are to be Mrs. Clinton’s chief lieutenants.

Bigger stars, bigger budget – this sounds like some showbiz impresario’s blueprint to steal the spotlight from the competition. And it is. Hillary Clinton wants a dazzling State Department to rival the White House All-Star Cabinet Revue. The Obama presidency is starting out on a conspicuously unserious note. In fact, it’s starting out as a continuation of the campaign season.

The last things the State Department needs are headliners as envoys. These are people with obsolete solutions to brand new challenges, and their reputations demand that their ideas be given far too-respectful hearings. It’s not that the names being floated for envoy posts carry any particular shame (some, such as Richard Holbrooke, signal great accomplishment); it’s that the State Department runs the risk of becoming a part-time retirement facility for the mellowing DC cocktail set. Assigning envoys from the pre-9/11 universe will deliver us back into a state of complacent vulnerability.

Obviously Barack Obama is looking to pass the buck on foreign policy. He wants to entrust George W. Bush’s national security architecture to competent stewards so that he can get down to the proper business of domestic redistribution. But Hillary Clinton wants, as she did throughout her campaign, to revive the 1990s. The State Department is the perfect forum. It’s a showcase for American “effort” and “cooperation.” It’s where you put the most earnest possible face on failure. Bill Clinton gets more credit for “trying” than any American president that comes to mind. And the trying card is played most brazenly in the area of Middle East peace. Hillary knows that your diplomatic failures will wind up on the plus side of the ledger if you bring to them high-production values and an important cast of characters.

Perhaps, most worrisome is that Hillary Clinton is also seeking to expand the role of the State Department. She hopes to nudge out the Treasury on affairs relating to the world economic crisis. This is yet another area in which we can’t afford to be praised for our efforts at the expense of results. Nowhere in the Times article is there a reference to a new diplomatic approach, just a bigger one. Instead of asking tough questions about Iran’s obduracy on nuclear development, and North Korea’s deception on the same, Hillary Clinton is consulting with Bush 41- and Clinton-era advisors on how to make the State Department shine and muscle in on the Treasury. Let’s hope that George W. Bush national security architecture weathers the new Clinton years.



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