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Will Obama and Clinton work as a team?

They’ve had differences, but Obama is expected to name her as secretary of State.

By Staff writer / November 30, 2008


Hillary Rodham Clinton is likely to be watched by foreign leaders and domestic observers alike for signs of adhering to – or straying from – the daylight rule.

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No, not the time-honored rule of school dances, where chaperones want to see daylight between dancing partners. Rather, it’s the diplomatic rule that says there should be no daylight between the president and his secretary of State.

President-elect Obama was expected to announce Monday that Senator Clinton – his top rival in the Democratic primaries – was his choice for secretary of State. It presages a period of intense scrutiny for the two strong leaders’ relationship.

“People, and it goes for both friends and foes, are always questioning, ‘Is there any light between the two?’ ” says George Shultz, who was secretary of State to President Reagan. “People used to ask me, ‘What’s your foreign policy?’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t have one: The president has one. My job is to formulate that foreign policy and help him carry it out.’ ”

Few foreign-policy experts and policy­makers question Clinton’s fitness for the job. They point to the stamina and intellectual capacity she demonstrated over a grueling presidential campaign, plus her years of experience dealing with foreign leaders and addressing international issues as first lady.

But where question marks do arise is over how Mr. Obama and Clinton will overcome the foreign-policy differences that arose over the course of a long, heated primary campaign. Those differences – sometimes sharp – ranged from the decision to go to war in Iraq to the wisdom of speaking to America’s enemies without preconditions.

Clinton’s doubts about Obama’s preparedness to take on the job of commander in chief were captured in the so-called 3 a.m. ad, in which a grave male voice asked who Americans wanted to answer the White House telephone while their children and the nation slept.

Differences magnified by rhetoric?

Yet as stark as those differences may have been portrayed by both camps during the primaries, they were never really that pronounced, many foreign-policy experts say.
“I do think the differences between them on some of these foreign-policy issues were magnified by the heat of campaign rhetoric,” says George Herring, a historian and professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky. “I don’t buy into the whole idea that Obama is, more than anything else, viewing Clinton as a rival.”

Perhaps more important for Obama was how Clinton emerged in the general campaign as one of Obama’s more tireless advocates.

She proved particularly effective at articulating her former competitor’s foreign-policy goals and his vision of America’s role in the world, and her work caught the candidate’s eye, Obama advisers say. That led to Obama’s growing sense of wanting that strength on his team.

Some students of US foreign policy add that Clinton is intelligent enough to know that as secretary of State, she will be implementing the president’s foreign policy.