It has been the tradition of this country to allow a newly elected president what has come to be called a “honeymoon.” It is usually defined as a brief period of indulgence and good will before the gloves come off and the media and the president’s adversaries renew the traditional skirmishes. But one issue that is not likely to be put to rest is Barack Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton as his top diplomat.

The reaction by many political analysts to Obama’s choice of Clinton to be his secretary of state has the pundits asking, “What was he thinking?” Just a few weeks ago, Obama questioned Clinton’s judgment on foreign policy as well as her husband’s international enterprises and the financial dealings connected to those activities.

The division within the Democratic party was reflected in the nature of the TV commercials aired against Hillary, questioning what she would do when the phone rang at three in the morning, announcing a major international crisis. Her early support of the war in Iraq was also a prime target of the TV assault.

Then there was the issue of Clinton’s claim that she ducked sniper fire in Bosnia, an episode that later proved to be concocted. One of her mortal enemies, journalist Christopher Hitchens, accused her of pathological lying: “She’s being punished, not for one episode of ‘mis-speaking’, but for a whole record of dishonesty.” The Times of London said the Bosnia fiction “helped to expose a much bigger untruth – that her time in the White House means she has the necessary foreign policy experience to be president.”

While Mrs. Clinton will not be putting her experience to work as president, the position of secretary of state requires its own share of experience and knowledge of what is going on around the world. Shortly after the Bosnia debacle, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Clinton regarded as “honest and trustworthy” by only 39 percent of the American public.

Like the multiple layers exposed in peeling an onion, the Bosnia episode exposed several conflicting answers that Hillary Clinton gave in other situations. The Washington Post noted in a story last year, “Senior Clinton advisers argued that the Bosnia story would not have developed the way it did were it not for a story line about Clinton that goes back to the 1990s, when scandals involving the first lady, including the firings in the White House travel office and her financial dealings, resulted in widespread doubts about her trustworthiness.”

Fast forward to the present. With Hillary waiting to be sworn in, President-elect Obama will have to answer whether, as a strategic ploy, he chose her in order to neutralize her position. As The Wall Street Journal notes, “The job at State all but eliminates any threat that Mrs. Clinton would use her position to highlight her differences with the sitting president. As the nation’s top diplomat, Mrs. Clinton will be barred, both by law and by custom, from partisan politics.”

So there you have it. Was the appointment of Mrs. Clinton to head the state department a brilliant political move by Obama to “neutralize” his formal rival, or will he be perceived as “dragging the Clinton political baggage back into the White House,” despite Obama’s theme of Change and moving beyond the Clinton era?

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank points out that, “Obama, who campaigned against the Clinton way of doing things, is now engaged in a veritable restoration of the Clinton administration. Obama has named nine former Clinton aides to top positions in the White House, and of seven cabinet-level nominees announced so far, four served in the Clinton administration.” It remains to be seen whether Hillary, functioning as a good and faithful servant to Obama, will announce before the election of 2012 that one term for Obama is sufficient.


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