If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes secretary of State, it could not have escaped the attention of the Clinton and Obama camps that this might turn out to be a nifty launching pad for her to make another run at the presidency in 2012.
What secret codicils then could have been appended to the deal? What guarantees given that Mrs. Clinton would be promoting President Obama's foreign policy and not her own? What cone of silence agreed to for Bill Clinton, the diplomatic first dude?
What salve offered to Joe Biden, whose foreign-affairs expertise might be eclipsed?
The choice of Clinton would be fascinating innovation for an Obama presidency that has not yet even officially begun.
True, Clinton would not exactly be breaking new ceiling glass. Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice have been successful women in the role before her. But in Clinton, Obama would be launching a diplomatic superstar, whose face and name are instantly recognizable from Iran to Nigeria, and Brazil to Pakistan.
She would have no problem gaining the attention of kings and presidents and prime ministers and foreign ministers around the globe.
For Clinton, it would be a new world of protocol, and carefully parsed communiqués. There would be the classified briefings. Say she is presented with photos depicting North Korea's Kim Jong Il visiting his generals. But the photo is obviously doctored with the generals' shadows going in one direction and Mr. Kim's shadows in another. Does this mean that the North Korean ruler has been incapacitated? If so, who is in charge?
Spending up to half of her time abroad, she would travel in a presidential jumbo jet, with instant communications, an attentive staff, and a coterie of diplomatic correspondents demanding to be thrown new snippets of information to file. At each stop, US security officers with automatic weapons, barely disguised in Gucci bags, would guard her as she worked and slept.
I think this secretary of State would want to surmount the protocol and the bureaucracy and be eager for major diplomatic achievements, big breakthroughs.
There are plenty to be made.
What would Iran make of a Secretary of State Clinton, who during the presidential election debates threatened that an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would mean Iran's obliteration by the United States? Could she engage in prepresidential talks with Iran that Obama may be willing to permit? Is President Ahmadinejad up or down? Have falling oil prices for Iran contributed to economic problems and public discontent? What should we read into an apparent 180-degree turnabout in Iran's position on the Status of Forces Agreement that will permit US troops to remain in Iraq until 2011?
If Iran is perhaps the most pressing international problem confronting the new administration, there are plenty of other major ones. Could a Secretary of State Clinton succeed, where others have labored fruitlessly for decades, to bring Arabs and Israelis to a two-state solution – a Palestinian state, with security for Israel?
Could a Secretary of State Clinton snatch victory, from what looks suspiciously like pending defeat, of the forces of freedom in Afghanistan? Could she help shore up democracy in Pakistan, while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are put to rout? Could she enlist other democratic nations in this cause?
What of Russia, still smarting from loss of empire and lusting for power and prestige? Can it, too, be drawn into the family of nations while being made to understand that invasion of former satellites such as Georgia, and angry posturing against former satellites such as Ukraine, is not acceptable behavior for admission into that family?
Could a Secretary Clinton connect with women, particularly women in the Islamic world, in helping their emancipation from inferior status? Arab economists argue that much of the Arab world's economic backwardness is due to the fact that women are denied education and barred from useful contribution to the workforce.
President Bush's key aide, Karen Hughes, was unsuccessful in her forays into the Arab world in a bid to elevate women. Perhaps it was because she appeared intent on re-creating them in a Western mold, rather than encouraging them to emerge within an Islamic culture.
Hillary Clinton is a past, and perhaps future, political rival to Barack Obama. He deserves praise if he appoints her to one of the most important positions in his cabinet.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, served as assistant secretary of State in the Reagan administration. He is currently a professor of international communications at Brigham Young University.