Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Hillary On The Hill
Watching Hillary Clinton testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today I had many thoughts. First, I was reminded of how impressive she'd been to me until the presidential campaign. My wife and I attended a shindig for a local senator a couple of years ago, at which Hillary spoke. Very compelling. That Hillary is once again on display: serious, smart, broadly and deeply knowledgeable, capable. I think she'll be an excellent Sec/State, and it speaks enormously well of her and of Barack Obama that she was his choice.
Her plate is very full, almost impossibly so. And it makes even more clear what a tragic blunder was the invasion of Iraq: so many resources, so much attention, such a huge amount of money diverted from the demands of a crumbling and dangerous world. To those who think getting rid of Saddam was a worthy goal (as an isolated idea, ignoring all else, who can say it wasn't?), I'd ask this: given that he was in a box, with no-fly zones, inspectors, and UN sanctions (and no WMD!), has it been worth the cost in terms of weakening our ability to address the long list of other security and humanitarian (which is a security issue) and energy (which is a security issue) problems around the world? For indeed, it's clear that we are severely weakened, at a time when our strengths and abilities are sorely needed.
One thing that came out in the hearing surprised me (well, lots more than one -- including the degree to which even Republicans seemed relieved by the evident new approaches of the incoming administration in so many areas): at the end of the Clinton administration a position was established (no jokes about "positions"), creating what sounds like a COO for the State Department. Never filled! Clearly the Secretary of State -- the CEO of the department -- doesn't have the time to address all management issues therein. That there evidently hasn't been someone to fill that role, even though it was created, is very surprising (except that I suppose it isn't, given the Bushian disinclination for competent management and useful government spending); Hillary has already selected someone for the job.
Always impressive to me, Senator Lugar asked about "loose nukes" and related matters, and his joy was uncontained as he listened to her response; another important area given short shrift by Bush, evidently, and the promise of renewed focus was a relief to him.
It's impossible to observe the proceedings (still going on as I type) without being overwhelmed (as if I weren't already) by the enormity of the problems in the world, nearly all of which are bigger now than eight years ago. But -- to the extent that there's any reason for hope at all, a matter about which I'm not at all sure -- it's tremendously reassuring to consider that Barack Obama has selected people of substance and depth to address them. Compared to Condi Rice as she came to the White House, a middling "expert" on the Soviet Union and a decent pianist, Hillary Clinton has a wealth of background and impressively detailed knowledge to bring immediately to bear. Having come to dislike her intensely for her approach to the recent campaign, I'm easily able now to set it all aside and see her as a smart and competent and knowledgeable person, more than ready to be Secretary of State.
South America, Central America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, Europe: an endless list of needs any one of which would take the full time of anyone; and our recent approaches to all of which seem recognized as inadequate by Senators from both sides of the aisle. No less worried than I've been, I find myself at least relieved that we will be getting an administration of realists, of broader and deeper thinkers, of people with capabilities and commitments not seen in the last eight years. Given the stakes, it's simply incomprehensible that anyone could wish for their failure. And yet...