“I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the right person to lead our State Department, and to work with me in tackling this ambitious foreign policy agenda,” said President-elect Barack Obama at the end of his nomination of Sen. Clinton to be his secretary of state. While Obama stood at the podium in Chicago in front of six new nominees to his national security team, Clinton was clearly the most prominent member, having challenged him through a grueling and rancorous presidential campaign.
For several weeks the rumors floated that she would be tapped and would accept, but there were a number of problems, particularly with her husband’s connections that had to be weighed and set aside for the nomination to become official. A portion of former President Bill Clinton’s controversial baggage included a need for him to publicly disclose the numerous donors to his foundation, the vetting of future speaking engagements, and his business activities with government lawyers. Apparently, all these concerns were satisfactorily dispatched, and Obama had the clearance he needed to proceed. Obama opened his remarks by acknowledging his friendship with Clinton. “I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel and a tough campaign opponent. She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and a remarkable work ethic. I am proud that she will be our next secretary of state.
“She is an American of tremendous stature, who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world’s leaders, who will command respect in every capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world,” Obama continued while the television cameras focused on an impassive Clinton. “Hillary’s appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances. There is much to do–from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, to seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, to strengthening international institutions.” The president-elect did not mention Iraq, which was a source of contention during the campaign, with Obama repeatedly stressing that he opposed the invasion, while Clinton voted to authorize it. But that, like so much of what they debated, is obviously in the past.
“I believe the best way to continue serving my country is to join President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden, the leaders here and the dedicated public servants of the State Department on behalf of our nation at this defining moment,” Clinton said toward the end of her remarks. “I am proud to join you on what will be a difficult and exciting adventure in this new century.” Clinton was also proud of her tenure as junior senator of New York. “I also want to thank my fellow New Yorkers, who have for eight years given me the joy of a job I love, with the opportunity to work on issues I care about deeply, in a state that I cherish. And you’ve also helped prepare me well for this new role. After all, New Yorkers aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and do so in every language.”
If Obama left Iraq out of his comments, Clinton invoked it. “Leaving the Senate is very difficult for me, but during the last few weeks, I thought often of our troops, serving bravely under difficult circumstances in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. I thought of those other Americans in our foreign and civil services, working hard to promote and protect our interests around the world. And I thought of the daunting tasks ahead for our country: an economy that is reeling, a climate that is warming, and, as we saw with the horrible events in Mumbai, threats that are relentless.” Addressing one of several questions he took from a press corps that was less diversified than his team, Obama firmly explained the choices he made. “I assembled this team because I’m a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions,” he said, gathering the implication of the question to his relationship with Clinton in particular. “I think that’s how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink and everybody agrees with everything and there’s no discussion and there are no dissenting views. So I’m going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House.
“But understand,” he added, “I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made. So, as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me.” The buck also stops with Gov. David Paterson, who now must select someone to fill out Clinton’s term, which ends in 2010, and the frontrunner at the moment appears to be Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Bill Clinton is among a host of names that have been mentioned for the slot.
Other nominees overshadowed by Clinton are Robert Gates, the current secretary of defense, who has been tapped to continue to serve in that role. Janet Napolitano, governor and former U.S. attorney for Arizona, will serve as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Dr. Susan E. Rice, a senior foreign policy advisor to the Obama for America campaign, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, will serve as ambassador to the United Nations. General Jim Jones, USMC (Ret.), former Allied Commander, Europe, and Commander of the United States European Command, will serve as national security advisor. And Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general and a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, will serve as attorney general.
Holder appears to be the only nominee on shaky ground because of the role he played in the pardoning of Marc Rich by President Clinton in 2001.Rich is a billionaire financier who was a fugitive for nearly two decades after he fled the country, rather than face charges of federal tax evasion. It seems, according to a recent article in the New York Times, that Holder’s involvement was much deeper than initially reported.