Alex Massie

Hillaryland takes on the world

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Mike Crowley has a characteristically interesting piece on Hillary Clinton's State Department, asking the question: "Huge expectations, big egos, turf wars: Is Clinton's State Department just like her campaign?" Even allowing for the fact that this may be a marginally premature question there's some good stuff in there.

Old habits die hard however, and there's always the temptation to view anything Clintonian in the most sceptical, conspiracy-fuelled light. Remember: just because it's fun doesn't mean it can't be true!

Premise: Hillary Clinton still has ambitions to be President of the United States. Traditional Clintonian intrigue demands that all her actions, no matter how sweetly reasonable they may seem, be viewed in the context of this fact. Nothing is ever as clear as it seems and there are no simple explanations.

Theory A: Barack Obama has effectively marginalised her by sending her to Foggy Bottom. Despite its seniority, Secretary of State has not been a launching pad for the Presidency since the nineteenth century.

Theory B: Hillary doesn't mind being marginalised! She retains her brand, enjoys a higher public profile than she would as a mere Senator, acquires international gravitas and keeps her followers happy.

Here's where it gets interesting/entertaining/loopy: can you imagine Henry Kissinger hiving off responsibility for Russia, China and Vietnam to a series of envoys? No, I don't think you can. Yet Hillary will not be the primary actor in the Middle East (George Mitchell), Afghanistan-Pakistan (Dick Holbrooke) or Iran (Dennis Ross). These may be the three greatest foreign policy difficulties the new administration faces; each is as impenetrable as it is intractable. The odds must favour (honourable) failure in at least two of the three. Furthermore, Hillary is surely smart enough to know that the President is likely to hoover up all the glory should there be success in any of these areas; failure, by contrast, is parked at SecState's door. In other words, from Hillary's (political) perspective, the fruits of victory might be outweighed by the costs of defeat. It's safer for Hillary to be shielded by a trio of envoys who can be the fall guys should Washington's well-intentioned efforts fall short.

For sure, these aren't the only problems Foggy Bottom faces. There's China and there's Russia too and Hillary is obviously the lead actor in these areas. So she still runs some risk there. But it's not quite the same as being responsible for Israel/Palestine, Iran and Afghanistan-Pakistan is it?

As I say, this is (perhaps!) all green-ink stuff, but a cynic might say that it's awfully convenient for Hillary to be somewhat isolated from the consequences of failure at Foggy Bottom. It could all, of course, be uninentional but you know, generally speaking, cynicism pays off when it comes to the Clintons.

Remember: she'll only be 69 in 2016; still young enough to launch a renewed push for the White House. By then she would have a resume no other Democratic candidate would be likely to be able to match. This would be even more obviously true if Obama loses in 2012; Hillary would then, one presumes, be the default Democratic front-runner once again.

Of course, maybe she's put her Presidential ambitions to rest. In which case all of this is nonsense. But for the sake of bloggers and commentators everywhere Hillary, please don't give up: Yes, you can be the 45th President of the United States of America. The dream still lives, you know...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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