Henry Kissinger Is For Her! I'm Not. Are You?

by Martin Peretz | November 17, 2008

I confess: Hillary Clinton has never appealed to me.  There have been so many Hillary Clintons that I suspect that none was authentic.  In any case, the young Hillary was a fashionable leftie.  No, she wasn't Bill Ayers.  But her Wellesley commencement address was especially trite when trite was the rule.  She worked for a communist law firm.  She was faddish when independent thinking was what the country needed.

Hillary then went to Little Rock, armed with a Yale Law School diploma, and worked for another law firm, this one positively sleazy.  She was the haughty wife of the coy governor and got herself mired in small time corruptions.  Not big-time, it is true, and thank God for that.  From the state capitol to the White House, her ambitions grew along with Bill's.  No special fault here either.  But her ambitions were not just careerism or even avarice but greater and greater pretension: "the politics of meaning," "it takes a village."  Her husband bestowed on her the project to remake in its entirety the American health care system, a subject about which she knew virtually nothing and which, after its defeat in Congress, became a task that would linger unattended for the better part of two decades.

So the fact is that she is not a committed leftist at all.  She is something worse: like Bill, a committed situanionalist.  Hillary is not a person of principle.  She is  a person of shifting position.  The best you can say of her, then, is that she is flexible, endlessly felxible.

Now, if Barack Obama has actually offered Hillary the post of secretary of state, he has reversed what most Americans thought was one of the much sought-after consequences of his nomination and his electoral victory.  That is, sought after by the voters.  And this was to end the Clinton dominion in American politics.   That's certainly what the primaries were about.  Once Obama freed himself and the party from the vice presidential blackmail almost everyone assumed that, with Joe Biden as their candidate's running-mate, the Democratic nominee did not need the experience of someone who'd visited 81 capitals for a day or two or who'd been to Bosnia "under fire" or who kissed Suha Arafat right only moments after the pampered lady had accused Israel of spreading cancer in the West Bank.

It is a fact that in the weeks after the Denver convention she conducted herself as a party loyalist which, of course, her irritable and clinically self-obsessed husband did not.  Hillary is an OK senator.  But, then, we don't have many titans these days.  So there would be nothing wrong with her hanging around Capitol Hill for as long as Senator Byrd has, gaining dollars for New York as Byrd did for West Virginia.

Now, if truth be told, I believe my views on matters of foreign policy -both specific (Russia, China, Iran, Israel, Venezuela) and more general (human rights, international organizations, and that fictional construct "soft power")- are closer to Hillary's than to Bill Richardson, very much a light-weight, or Chuck Hagel or Richard Lugar's.  Heaven help us, if one of them was Obama's selection.  Still, the fact is that Mrs. Clinton, for all her practice in greeting foreign visitors and hosts, does not know much about international affairs.  Certainly not as deeply or as texturally as the vice president-elect who has made it his Senate specialty.  Yes, Biden may, in some people's view, talk too much.  But these are matters that can't be dealt with in sound-bites.  We should be grateful for complicated explanations: simple ones are lies.

There is not, after all, a dearth of qualified men and women for secretary of state:  Richard Holbrooke, for example, who has had more experience in American foreign policy than anyone else mentioned for the post.  This intimacy with grave issues includes Bosnia to which the solution was made from his architecture and handiwork. This kind of seasoning is rare.  Were Hillary actually to be at State the post of National Security Adviser becomes infinitely more important.  You dare not have anyone less bright and less knowledgeable than Holbrooke.  And there'nt are many people brighter or more knowledgeable.

Now, my readers know that I've had my personal differences with John Kerry although, as I was saying to friends last night, they go back 35 or 40 years and had just festered.  Nonetheless, if you want clarity of purpose as we had clarity of purpose with Dean Acheson and a real bond with our distanced allies, Kerry should be the choice.  Does he have too much faith in the United Nations?  Yes.  But you don't see Hillary fashioning a foreign policy of which the U.N. is not the core.

There are others lower down the celebrity line.  Dennis Ross, for example, has risen through the Foggy Bottom ranks which is not a liability, given the chaos at State.  He also knows that there are moral issues that diplomats don't want to consider, and he would insist that they do: his peers in other foreign ministries and his own American foreign service staff.

So the question is why would Obama choose -if, indeed, he has- someone who brings high drama, virtually hysterical drama to any scene she's in.  Her purpose has been self-evident: she wants to be president.  Her husband's?  To be where the action is.  His foundation is now widely viewed as a public relations sham.  Since he is now washed up (in contrast to Al Gore who has made a brilliant new life for himself) he now has to rely on the missus.

If Obama designates Hillary she will be ready for another run at the White House in 2016, when she is 70 and almost the age of John McCain.  Like John Nance Garner, FDR's vice president, who ran against the sitting president in the Democratic primaries in 1940.

I believe Barack is playing with fire.

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