06/14/10-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
Secretary of Defense Hilary Rodham Clinton? That is what Leslie H. Gelb of the Wall Street Journal has suggested. It is rumored that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is planning on retiring the end of this year. His retirement may come either before or after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but the reality is that he had made it clear that his intention had always been to retire after around two years under the Obama Administration. Gelb makes a strong argument that appointing Clinton to the post of Secretary of Defense would be a wise strategic move.
Politically, no Democrat is better positioned. She has established herself as right of center or near conservative on national security. With Mr. Gates gone, Mr. Obama would need political cover, and Mrs. Clinton has the necessary hard-line standing in the country and in Congress. She’d give him more political protection for tough decisions on Afghanistan, for example, than would any other Democrat.
She also has terrific relations with the military brass, including Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired generals like the highly respected Army four-star Jack Keane. She knows defense issues from her days on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Senate would approve her in two days.
Her position at State could be readily filled by Chuck Hagel. The former Republican senator from Nebraska is generally aligned on foreign policy with Mr. Obama, perhaps more so than Mrs. Clinton herself. His confirmation would be easy. And removing this modest, no-fuss politician later on, if Mr. Obama wanted someone else at Foggy Bottom, would not make waves.
Why would Mrs. Clinton leave the most senior and most prestigious cabinet post for Defense? The most obvious part of the answer is because, while two women secretaries have preceded her at State, she would be the first female defense secretary. She’d like that. And as a former secretary of state and defense, she’d transform herself into something very special in American politics—the only person other than Gen. George C. Marshall to hold both posts.
As a choice, Clinton may be in a far stronger position in Defense than she is in State. Not only would she be in position to repeal the law signed by her husband, President Bill Clinton, but she would also have more connections to help do what Secretary Gates has, so far, been unable to do. Because of her time on the Senate Armed Services Committee, she may actually be able to reduce some of the dead wood in the military and defense budgets.
Despite the suggestion that former Senator Chuck Hagel be nominated to State, that would be up to Mr. Hagel. One possibility would be to shift Vice-President Joe Biden to State, the job he had wanted in the beginning, and appoint a new Vice-President. Preferably, President Obama would nominate someone more photogenic than Biden, and someone who could go out and do the photo ops. President Obama has received a lot of flack for his seeming detachment from the issues facing the nation right now. Having to go to the Gulf repeatedly also creates time problems for the President who appears to be more than willing to work very hard behind the scenes. Appointing someone to be VP who can stay on message and who is more photogenic than Biden could make it easier for Obama to do the work of the Presidency while allowing the Vice-President the leeway to go around making speeches and doing photo ops.
This would be the inverse of the situation found in many Parliamentary states where the monarch or president is a figure head while the Prime Minister is the one who actually runs the nation.
Of course, who to replace Biden who would fit the bill and possibly make life easier with regards to the 2012 election? Photogenic, on message, preferably female. . .Senator Kirsten Gillibrand? Probably not, but it would be nice.