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4 More Years of Foreign Policy Disunity?

Friday, Nov. 21, 2008

Just what we need, another administration that doesn't speak with a unified voice on foreign policy.

But, seriously, I don't put much stock in the idea that the rift between the Clinton and Obama camps will carry over into U.S. foreign policy if Hillary is ensconced at State.

I have no doubt, as Ackerman's article suggests, that Obama loyalists with foreign policy resumes are worried about competing for jobs in a Hillary-run State Department.

But when I read that "some Obama loyalists wonder whether the same people who attacked Obama on foreign policy during the primaries can implement Obama's agenda from State Dept. perches," I wonder if they've been campaigning a bit too long.

One would expect that even the supposedly cunning "Clintonites" recognize the difference between a campaign, where there is no greater object of loyalty than the candidate, and working in government, especially in a foreign policy capacity, where one is supposed to promote the interests of the United States and carry out the policy of a president.

Usually sustained intra-administration rifts are driven by conflicts over power, policy and ideology, and they usually occur between and among presidential subordinates, not between the president and his subordinates. When, for example, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney steamrolled Powell at the State Department and Rice at the NSC, that was about Iraq policy and strategy, and competition for influence over the president. As a cabinet official in an Obama administration, Hillary will derive her power from the extent to which she can influence the president. If there's a conflict between them over policy, the president won't be on the losing end for long.

Anyway, I have yet to see a persuasive case made that there are clear foreign policy differences between Obama and Clinton that are uniformly manifest across their legions of advisers.

Ackerman frequently refers to the Iraq war debate, and says Clinton advisers "tended to be less progressive" than Obama's. Outside of the Iraq context, I'm not entirely sure what that means. In any case, there's not enough evidence to suggest that the differences that do exist are sufficiently stark to presage a conflict on the order that some Obama advisers are apparently suggesting.

UPDATE: David Ignatius makes a more convincing case against Secretary of State Clinton (via the Nov. 24 WPR Media Roundup).

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