The “team of rivals” concept is utter nonsense. Bringing Clinton to the State Department is a terrible idea, and it won’t take long before Obama regrets it bitterly.
Following intense speculation in the past couple of weeks, it was now confirmed that Clinton will be the new Secretary of State. This is a major event, and one that is bound to shape irreversibly the Obama presidency. In any administration, the Secretary of State is one of the most powerful figures, since it is assumed that the incumbent enjoys the absolute confidence of the President. In this case, the nomination assumes special significance, since it was over foreign policy matters that Clinton and Obama spat more bitterly.
Less than six months ago, Clinton was scolding Obama for wanting to engage in talks with Iran regarding its nuclear program, joining McCain’s line in depicting him as naive and dangerously inexperienced. Obama, on the other hand, was fast to point out the fact that Clinton supported the Iraq War (while he was strongly against it from the beginning) thus portraying her as a backer of Bush’s most loathed policy decision.
Could it be that they’re now seeing eye to eye on matters over which they were tearing each other apart during the primary trail? Or has Obama, despite all the idealistic platform on which we was elected, already succumbed to the real politik diktat, and felt the need to disarm Clinton by having her on the team? Is he living by Corleone’s maxim of “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”?
Obama’s supporters call the move a “master stroke”, speaking about building a “team of rivals” that has the potential to make this the most accomplished Democratic administration since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One can understand the argument: Clinton is, after all, an undisputed political powerhouse, and, thanks to her former role as First Lady, will be able to hit the ground running when she starts touring the world capitals.
So, by nominating Clinton to the State Department, Obama accomplishes two things: one, he ensures that she is kept on board with the administration, instead of being left loose on the Senate, where she could become a rallying figure for Democratic discontent over unpopular measures he will be forced to take. And two, he gets a Secretary of State with instant face recognition, who will be warmly welcomed in the chancelleries where (right or wrong) Clinton’s consulate is kindly remembered as the golden age of multilateralism.
All this, however, pale in comparison with the immense downsides of having a fake believer on the team. It’s true that, by having her on the State Department, Obama saves himself, and especially the Senate Democratic leadership, the trouble of having to constantly appease her over each and every measure expected to pass the Senate. On the other hand, he risks seeing barricades erupting at Foggy Bottom, with everything, from Israeli-Palestinian peace plans to withdrawal from Iraq to positioning towards Iran subject to endless and paralyzing bickering.
Given the present state of Brand America, and the dimension of the challenges ahead, the last thing the new president needs is to voice a dubious message through a staggering positioning. It is, however, very hard to see how a coherent strategy can emerge out of this “team of rivals”.