At Confirmation Hearing, Clinton Prepares to Assume Role as Obama's Subordinate

As Hillary Clinton prepares to take the helm at the State Department she must take care to stay on the same foreign policy page as President-elect Barack Obama, analysts say, despite their differences during the Democratic primaries. 

Clinton is vowing to renew U.S. leadership through a "smart power
mix of diplomacy and defense" during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

"America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America" she will say in prepared remarks. "I believe American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted."

Clinton is bolstered by reports that she's chosen seasoned diplomats and officials from her husband's administration to help her lead. 

But while few expect a no-holds-barred showdown over Clinton's nomination, she could face questions on whether she can minimize personality clashes with the president-elect and offer assurances that the administration will speak with one voice on the world stage. 

And with such a microscope on the Obama-Clinton dynamic, foreign policy veterans say Clinton will probably be mindful not to overstep her bounds, at least in the beginning. They say she appears to understand her role as Obama's top lieutenant on diplomatic issues. 

"I would be very surprised if Obama would forfeit his prerogative as the diplomat in chief," said Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University. 

"(Clinton) certainly will be a very important voice when it comes to advising, but basic U.S. policy does not get made in the State Department. ... Her effectiveness will require to a considerable degree that she demonstrates that she's a loyal subordinate." 

The idea that Clinton -- who fought Obama to the very end of the primaries by questioning his readiness to lead in dangerous times -- can be a loyal subordinate has its skeptics. 

"The one thing about Hillary Clinton that is yet to be seen is does she know who her boss is?" said David Bossie, president of the conservative Citizens United and former chief investigator for the U.S. House oversight committee who once investigated the Clintons' financial dealings. "It is going to be very interesting to watch from the sidelines." 

Though their policy differences are few, Clinton and Obama broke over issues like Iraq and Iran on the campaign trail. 

Clinton taunted Obama persistently for saying he would meet with leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. 

And Obama frequently criticized Clinton for her 2002 vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq. 

But Obama has added nuance to his statements on direct diplomacy with leaders such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama said in his June speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for instance, that he would lead "tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing -- if, and only if -- it can advance the interests of the United States." 

The tweaking of his position suggests he is drifting more toward Clinton's foreign policy view anyway, potentially diminishing some conflicts they might have. 

"Her foreign policy has been much more middle-of-the-road over the last six years than Barack Obama's has been," Bossie said. "So I do think some of that will come just as a natural progression (for Obama) as he learns the realities, and sometimes they're harsh realities, of the world." 

J. Anthony Holmes, a veteran diplomat and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Clinton will inevitably benefit from the lingering heft of the Clinton name on the world stage. 

"In and of herself, she's extremely highly regarded. The rest of the world loved Bill Clinton so the ambivalence that exists in the United States just isn't out there in the rest of the world," he said. 

But that doesn't mean her job will be easy. Clinton, if confirmed, will be tasked with tackling the drawdown of U.S. influence in Iraq, the dual challenges of Pakistan and Afghanistan and now the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip

"She's going to be really challenged, both substantively and managerially," Holmes said. "Gaza's just waiting there for some sort of engaged U.S. response. That's going to demand immediate attention." 

Holmes praised Clinton's decisions to bring on experienced diplomats. The Associated Press reported last week that Clinton plans to name former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke to be special adviser for Pakistan and Afghanistan and will probably appoint former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross to be her special adviser for the Middle East and Iran. 

Holmes said Clinton, despite walking into an administration filled with faces from her days in the White House, appreciates that this is Obama's time. 

"I think everyone's expecting more troubles than I think are likely to be the case," he said. 

Josh Gottheimer, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, said Clinton and Obama are clearly aligned on foreign policy. 

"It's going to be a huge boon for the United States to have her as the chief diplomat," he said, adding: "It's (Obama's) agenda. He's the president. If anybody gets that it's her. ... It won't work otherwise." 

Bossie is calling for members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to grill Clinton Tuesday on past scandals and controversies associated with the Clinton family, since it's a rare occasion for Clinton to testify under oath at a public hearing. Clinton could also face questions about overseas donations to her husband's charity -- which the former president is reportedly willing to disclose to the State Department so they can review potential conflicts of interest. 

Bacevich said he hopes Pakistan drives testimony before the committee on Tuesday, and that he's curious to see whether Clinton has anything to say "beyond reciting the cliches" when it comes to the violence in Gaza. 

Obama has stayed on the rhetorical sidelines during the conflict, telling reporters that the nation must speak with one voice on matters of foreign policy, and that as long as President Bush is in the White House he will defer to the sitting administration.