An old and limited respect

My respect for Hillary Clinton is neither new nor, I hope, “exceedingly strange.” I have always considered her smart, but not as smart as advertised, resilient, and ruthless. Her campaign against Barack Obama largely reinforced this assessment.

During the campaign, Clinton took more sensible positions on foreign policy and national security issues than Obama did. For me, the question was always whether the differences were real or opportunistic. Clinton for years had staked out a mostly centrist position on issues relating to national security. I assume she did this at least in part to position herself where she thought she might well need to be in 2008. Obama staked out a different position, the one that would assist him with his political agenda as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois and later, perhaps as a long-shot presidential candidate.

In 2008, both played the hand they had dealt themselves. This doesn’t mean that, deep down, they see the world differently. I suspect they both see it somewhere in between where they were this season, and closer to Clinton’s view.

If Obama names Clinton his Secretary of State this will, I assume, confirm that their views don’t diverge much.

Would it be a good selection? The question here is always, “compared to what?” Ideologically, Obama could certainly do worse, but my guess is that if he looks elsewhere, he will do about the same.

Ideology aside, I think it would be a mistake for Obama to select Clinton. I don’t see why a president hoping to sustain a “larger than life” persona would want a “larger than life” Secretary of State who has been his bitter rival.

Some have suggested that bringing Clinton into the administration would reduce her prospects for running against him in four years. But Obama won’t face a Democratic challenger in four years unless things go badly. In that event, Clinton could easily bail out of the administration early and mount a challenge. In the meantime, things are more likely to go badly for Obama if he has a powerful Secretary of State he cannot trust.

My guess is that Obama won’t pick Clinton.

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