Published July 07, 2009
Diplomatic hot spots are popping up everywhere, in spite of President Obama's "adopt an evil-doer" doctrine. We have real-live crises in Honduras, North Korea and Iran; things are dicey in Afghanistan, China is ever problematic and Mexico is a mess. Not to worry: the administration is on top of things. Joe Biden is trying to make Iraq's leaders play nice in their sandbox, President Obama is becoming the Russians' new BFF, Richard Holbrooke has been meeting with G8 foreign ministers in Trieste, and George Mitchell convened recently with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's last gig was...installing Jose Villarreal as the Commissioner for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo? Boy, has she been had.
Is a fractured elbow keeping Hillary out of the limelight, or are there more sinister forces at work? Could her virtual disappearance have anything to do with sky-high approval ratings -- ratings suggesting that Americans might favor Clinton over Obama in future scuffles?
Barack Obama, who campaigned as new to the whole partisan, "inside the Beltway" world of politics, is a fast learner. His cunning elimination of Hillary Clinton as a political threat will be a case study someday in the Handbook of Power Politics. Tapping her to be part of his administration was of course brilliant; she can't snipe from the sidelines, and she, moreover, will carry the president's baggage, at least in the realm of foreign policy. Placing in front of her several showy envoys to cover the big tasks was clever too. But recently, Obama has dug the hole even deeper.
Not only has Clinton been off center stage, some of her most visible moments of late have spotlighted her carrying out the world's most thankless assignment -- criticizing Israel. First she lectured our allies about treating Palestinians poorly and then she ramped up the pressure about its disputed settlements. Not one to mince words, she translated President Obama's gentle reproof into a harsh ultimatum, insisting he meant "not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions" -- in short NO settlements.
Think about delegating a New York State politician to chastise Israel and its leaders. Short of sending toddlers to undermine the siege of Moscow, it's hard to come up with a more daunting mission. If she continues as the heavy in this new relationship with Israel, Hillary Clinton can kiss goodbye to any future ambitions that rely on her raising money in the Jewish community -- or that is, almost any ambitions at all. Overcoming initial hostility due to her memorable smooching with the wife of Yassir Arafat, Clinton worked hard to woo the well-heeled Jewish vote. She succeeded. In the primaries, according to CBS News, she garnered 54% of the Jewish vote, compared to only 43% for Barack Obama. (Of course, it may have been the "Hussein" that threw Jewish voters off.) For President Obama, separating Hillary Clinton from the nipple of Jewish generosity is an insurance policy.
Why would Obama need to undermine Hillary Clinton? For starters, the public is beginning to warm to our Secretary of State as never before. In May, her polling topped Obama's. Clinton had a 71% approval rating, compared to 65% for the president. That's the kind of comparison that could furrow a brow or two.
Moreover, it is entirely conceivable that our ambitious young president could run into trouble. He has undertaken one gigantic initiative after another, potentially undermining the economic recovery. As investors have assessed soaring budget deficits, they have demanded higher returns on Treasuries. Rising interest rates have eliminated one powerful balm for consumers -- mortgage refinancing. Higher taxes are inevitable, and will further pressure any rebound in spending. Unemployment numbers are dreadful, businesses are apprehensive, unions are demanding payback for their support and our trading partners are grumpy about rising protectionism. It's not a pretty picture.
Though Obama has tried to make Congress the fallguy should healthcare prove disastrous or cap-and-trade disruptive, Americans are not so dumb. They know where this whirlwind of change is coming from, and they are increasingly uneasy. Should our Afghanistan adventures prove as punishing for our GIs as they have for every other power enticed into that miserable landscape, should GM come back to the people's feeding trough, should Chavez et al continue to make the president look foolish, Americans may seek relief -- and they may spell it HILLARY.
Liz Peek is a financial columnist.