December 05, 2008

Having savaged each other for a year, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have now formed a rare partnership in power. Not since James Garfield chose James G. Blaine has a new president chosen his principal rival to be secretary of state.

What does this tell us?

First, don’t take campaign oratory all that seriously.

Second, unlike Dennis Kucinich, Ted Kennedy, Ron Paul or Jesse Helms, Hillary and Barack are pragmatists. They do not let ideology or past insults get in the way of a mutually beneficial deal.

But this is not some Hitler-Stalin pact of American politics.

Dick Morris has it right. As in a parliamentary system, where Cabinet members come straight off the majority party front bench, Barack, as prime minister, is knitting together a coalition government that allocates its highest honors to its greatest stars.

As Tony Blair named rival Gordon Brown as chancellor of the exchequer, Barack made Joe Biden his vice president, Hillary his secretary of state and Bill Richardson his secretary of commerce. Had John Edwards not fouled his nest, he, too, would be in the Cabinet. Perhaps attorney general.

And while Barack has taken a risk naming Hillary, with her national following and ruthless courtiers, Hillary’s investment is even greater. Should a clash erupt, as it did between Ronald Reagan and Al Haig, Barack, though at great cost, can terminate her and her career. The idea that a cashiered secretary of state could challenge President Obama in 2012, capture the nomination and win, after humiliating and dumping our first African-American president, is absurd.

And the Clintons know it. Absent divine intervention, Obama is the nominee in 2012. Hillary has to know this is likely her last chance to make history. Thus she seized the offer of State, and Bill agreed to go the Full Monty on his financial relationships.

What does this marriage of convenience, with Biden, Bob Gates and Gen. Jim Jones as ushers, mean for U.S. foreign policy?

Methinks the antiwar left has the crying towel out too early.

Our new decider’s heart is still on the left. Moreover, his political interests argue for relegating to the trash bin of history a Bush-neocon policy of endless war until the Middle East resembles the Middle West. America cannot sustain the wars that Bush’s policy produced, nor those it promises.

Look, then, for Obama to make a large, early down payment on his pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months. Though the Status of Forces Agreement accepted by Iraq doubles the time Obama has to pull out, to December 2011, the nation, not just the left, wants out, with but a single caveat: America does not want a Saigon ending.

What happens after—whether Shia attack Shia, or join to crush Sunnis, or Arabs engage Kurds—is not a war Americans are willing to intervene in with any new surge of U.S. troops.

About Afghanistan there is a gathering consensus that victory over a resurgent Taliban with a sanctuary in Pakistan’s border region cannot be achieved without an infusion of U.S. troops this country is unwilling to support.

Escalating the war means more air strikes that have alienated the Afghan people as well as President Kharzi. More Predator strikes in a Pakistan where anti-Americanism is rife and the government is besieged hardly seems a promising policy.

What is the U.S. bottom line in Kabul? Not the impossible dream of a democracy modeled on our own but a government committed to keeping al-Qaida out. Given the bloody beating the Taliban have taken for seven years, they may be amenable to such an arrangement.

But the first test of the Obama-Clinton team may be Iran.

Tehran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has never declared it in violation of the non-proliferation treaty. Yet, the suspicion is broad and deep in Washington and Tel Aviv that Iran is hell-bent on building an atom bomb. Obama and Hillary have both said that will not happen, no matter what it takes.

If war with Iran is to be averted, the new team must move swiftly to talk to Tehran and put its cards on the table. It is here that the potential for a split between Barack and Hillary is greatest.

If Likud’s “Bibi” Netanyahu wins the Israeli election, he will push hard for U.S. air strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites, and push back against any Obama deal with Tehran. With the Israeli lobby and a Jewish community that gave Barack 80 percent of its votes, plus the neocons and Evangelical right calling for strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites, would the Obama-Clinton team stand united—against war?

Would Hillary, a former senator from New York who relied even more heavily than Barack on Jewish contributions and votes, stand by Barack if the two disagree on whether the survival of Israel is at stake?

On second thought, the antiwar left is right to be nervous.


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