In the White House, it’s still possible to hear someone dismissing Hillary as a foreign-policy lightweight. “She has no real strategic vision,” says an NSC official. “But she’ll get done what she has to do. She’s the good little Methodist girl. In the end she’ll have her list of the nine or 10 things she has to do and check them off one by one.” – Obama’s Bad Cop
Jon Meaham’s Newsweek is in a time warp and so is the author of “Bad Cop,” Michael Hirsch. In an article that whipsaws back and forth between camps, after beginning on a positive team note that makes you think they’re going to break new ground, the Newsweek crew just can’t seem to help themselves. Just when you think we were out of the Obama v. Clinton era, they pull us back in.
But Clinton has added a new sobriety to the administration’s approach to the world. “Her point about the 3-o’clock-in-the-morning phone call wasn’t entirely wrong,” says one senior State official, referring to Clinton’s infamous campaign slap at Obama’s inexperience.
In an article that hits all the soar spots, you have to wonder what Newsweek’s real goal is here. Michael Hirsch making sure to invoke everything from sexist insults to Pres. WJC, then on to the 3:00 a.m. primary ad, finding truth enough to break open old wounds long since healed. And by all means, let the anonymous sourcing fly. So, if there was any doubt that the book “Game Change” broke the anonymous source door off its hinges in the era of Obama-Clinton, in order to get the story of the most fascinating duo to occupy an Administration in decades puts that notion to rest.
“The good little Methodist girl” spewing from the lips of one NSC “source” must have made Meacham come right out of his chair with excitement. Could it be more condescending to a woman charged with the world diplomatic mission of the United States? No, and that’s why it was offered up. Cover makes brave people out of cowards, a dripping cheap shot easy to utter under the cloak of covert swipes. This anonymous national security official, no doubt, now substituting for what used to be called fairness when people had the spine to talk on the record. That Newsweek enjoys using quotes like these in a story that starts out revealing a moment where Obama and Clinton truly come together is revealing. But both sides gets shots in, anonymous or not, with Newsweek only to happy to divide the Obama and Clinton teams even a year after they’ve begun their work.
It begins on a high note in Copenhagen.
[...] The former political rivals suddenly morphed into a diplomatic version of Starsky and Hutch. “I felt a particular responsibility since I had urged the president to come,” Clinton said. “Because I knew nothing was going to happen unless we gave it our all.” Striding down the hallway, with the Chinese protocol officer sputtering protests behind them, America’s two best-known politicians barged into the meeting room. There they found Wen conferring secretly with the leaders of Brazil, India, and South Africa; behind the scenes, Beijing had been trying to block all efforts to impose standards for measuring, reporting, and verifying progress on carbon reduction. Smiling and shaking hands, Obama and Clinton worked the room together, as they had each done so many times before as contending politicians. Then the president sat down and started negotiating, with Clinton sliding position papers to him as needed. When the Chinese finally caved, both Obama and Clinton knew that it wasn’t just because they had crashed the meeting. Two days before, the secretary of state had flown in to Copenhagen by surprise to deliver a sweetener to help win over developing countries. In essence, it was a global bribe: $100 billion a year from rich nations by 2020 to help poorer countries cope with climate controls. It was political hardball, Hillary style, and it had helped to isolate Beijing. Now Obama was closing the deal Clinton had set up. …
Michael Hirsch attempts to put together an in depth article offering all sides of the Obama-Hillary story. But what results is what I’ve come to expect from Newsweek‘s Jon Meacham. At least the Clinton behind the scenes photo gallery is better.
Making sure to get the quote that puts William Jefferson Clinton never far out of mind, even if he is way out of sight, another anonymous source evening out the competitive sport rhetoric.
Yet the on-the-record effusions of good feeling don’t tell the whole story. There’s a wariness in both camps that may never completely disappear. The giant Clinton entourage once known as Hillaryland, now relocated to the wood-paneled corridor on the seventh floor at Foggy Bottom, remains to some degree a place and mindset unto itself. It is still dominated by Hillary and, of course, her husband—who has remained surprisingly out of view, even if his advice is often sought throughout the Obama administration, as Hillary herself acknowledges. “When they say on the seventh floor, ‘We need to run this by the president,’ that phrase doesn’t necessarily refer to Obama,” remarks one former Clinton administration official wryly.
And that’s just the way it is.
Within the piece, if you dig hard enough, are noteworthy themes hit upon before. The early criticisms of Clinton’s influence are clearly no longer in play. However, what still lingers is what I wrote about last month. That for all her efforts at State, including the morale after a horrible situation under Bush-Cheney, as well as positive budget exploitation, even now there are questions about the absence of Clinton putting her personal stamp on one identifying issue on a canvas that is her own. Hirsh gets a response from Clinton on this charge.
Even now there are questions about how much she’s putting her personal stamp on things. “It’s a mystery to me why she hasn’t taken a big issue and totally owned it,” says one devoted aide who has worked for her on and off since Clinton was first lady. “She always has before. This is a woman who never faced questions about whether she has too little influence. She’s never been without influence before.”
Clinton says she no longer has the “luxury” of focusing on one issue; her agenda is too “enormous.”
One person willing to go on the record, for which he deserves credit, is Leslie Gelb, who judges Clinton smart but no strategist.
Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says he doesn’t think Clinton is of the caliber of James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who was perhaps the last real superstar in the job. “She’s very smart,” he says. “She understands all these issues. You can have a good discussion with her on almost any [subject]. But she doesn’t pretend to be, nor is she, a strategist. When she goes to the National Security Council, she doesn’t bring that to the table.” (General Jones, for the record, disagrees, saying, “Those of us who have worked with her are grateful for her strategic vision.”)
Remembering Mr. Baker’s style, it makes me wonder if that is what Gelb is actually missing. It wasn’t until Hillary Clinton ran for president that she became the natural front person; as there wasn’t a time in her life she wasn’t playing a supporting role. It’s been frustrating at times to watch during her tenure of envoys. Baker’s swagger and bravado, his natural place in the order of all things Bush, was always his lead. Clinton never having that opportunity until 2008, because even as New York senator she was the work horse, not the show horse like others in the Senate. Because it’s simply preposterous to say that Clinton isn’t strategic. It’s just simply not her presidency. Her relationship with SecDef Gates on Afghanistan moved Obama to put in more troops, as well as her strong stance on Iran that moves Obama away from diplomacy only, because she pushed for tough sanctions early on; then there is Russia, even Haiti, all proving Gelb wrong. But it’s on Israel and the settlements, particularly talking to PM Netanyahu that Clinton’s real strengths have shown through. The trust she long ago built up allowing her to talk tough to Israel, where Obama’s lack of history won’t allow to go.
Asked about such criticisms, Clinton reveals a glimmer of the testy feelings she is usually so successful at concealing. “I think when you inherit the range of problems that we have, from one end of the world to the other—the threats that we faced, the two wars that we inherited—I think trying to have a very clear approach to actually dealing with those problems [and promoting] American leadership at this time in our history is about as big an idea as you can get,” she says.
It’s the partnership with Gates that may be her defining strategic branding, with the upcoming troop surge in Afghanistan meeting a lot of push back on both sides of the aisle, with Clinton’s very good friend Vice President Joe Biden on the opposite side. A lot depends on the outcome of Obama’s focus in that country, which right now isn’t producing results that comfort few. As a staunch supporter of Obama’s Afghan policy, since Karzai’s dubious re-election, plus more talk about creating jobs in that country, the mission creep on top of corruption is softening my own belief that Obama’s team has gone severely off course.
Clinton’s instincts at the beginning about the Administration’s Obama choir, however, mimicked what many on the outside were also feeling, though it’s still not made a dent with the hard core.
She “was not in the inner circle. That was clear,” says one aide who, like several others quoted in this story, did not want to be named discussing internal politics. Her bluntness abroad occasionally caused consternation in the West Wing, and Clinton, in turn, “complained about a lack of dissenting voices in the administration,” says an old friend who knows her from her first-lady days.
Juxtaposed against Mark Halperin’s recent fawning coverage of Pres. Obama being underappreciated, at least Hirsh was able to offer candid truths that are troubling to many foreign policy watchers that long ago were thankful Clinton’s pragmatic dealmaking approach is somewhere within the President’s reach.
“The administration, frankly, overpromised and underdelivered in the first year,” says the official. “Some people around Obama view him as a transformational figure, and transactions are seen as somehow a little unseemly. But it turns out transformational foreign policy is complicated. It’s hard sometimes to turn this enormous public appeal [of Obama's] into actual leverage.”
This is the reason the language that is no longer useful is still required, because Pres. Obama, for all his remarkable gifts, just doesn’t do get down to it tough very well.
The lady with the lists, ticking off what must be done to move forward, even as she annoys lesser men who bridle at her efficiency of accomplishing the task she sets out to do, is coming into her own amidst an Administration that sorely needed her stealth, strength and experience on the world stage. It’s once again the story of Hillary’s work horse ethics amidst a show horse presidency.
Intent isn’t enough. You have to know how to manifest your goals.
There isn’t anywhere on Pres. Obama’s diplomatic canvas where Sect. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s influence cannot be seen or felt. She’s touched all quarters, while putting the ship of State back into running order.
She’s just not the front man so many wanted her to be. Making you wonder what might have been if Hillary Rodham Clinton hadn’t put William Jefferson Clinton’s career before her own. Because it’s clear that her wide ranging portfolio at State, the responsibilities she’s taken on making up for the damage in a post Bush-Cheney agenda, is demanding work at a time when Clinton might be looking to make her own mark.
TAVIS SMILEY: That opens the door for the obvious question, what would Hillary Clinton want to do when she is no longer Secretary of State?
HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, I, there’s so many things I’m interested in, I mean, really going back to private life and spending time reading, and writing, and maybe teaching, doing some personal travel, not the kind of travel where you bring along a couple of hundred people with you. Just focusing on, on issues of women, girls, families, the kind of intersection between what’s considered ‘real politique’ and real life politics, which has always fascinated me.
Thinking hard about her own foundation, one that would focus on women, girls and continue the work she began in her Beijing speech when she said “women’s rights are human rights,” it’s clear she’s not through. If realized, ala WJC’s foundation, we may yet see a star Hillary turn around the globe on a canvas she can finally call her own.