What’s next with Hillary?
President Barack Obama was in Martha’s Vineyard, playing golf. Hillary Clinton arrived, ready to sign books. They were headed for the same birthday party where, a Clinton aide said, they intended to “hug it out.” Peace was declared. Extraordinary! You would think they were both professional politicians.
As the whole world now knows, Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic last week in which she took issue with Obama’s “don’t do stupid stuff” foreign policy mantra, pushed a harder line than the White House on Iran, and disagreed with Obama’s refusal to arm the rebels in Syria.
The Clinton camp insists she had no intention of breaking with the president. But if that’s the case, then the former secretary of state had trouble saying precisely what she wanted to say about foreign policy. That just doesn’t sound like Hillary Clinton, who is a great conversationalist off the record, yet has an absolute genius way of saying nothing exciting whatsoever when the tape recorder is running.
Some people think that after years on the diplomacy trail, she may have lost her edge. “I don’t know if her political instincts are in top shape,” said a Friend of Obama. But then, you know, FOB.
Given all the options, I’d prefer to think it was a minor betrayal. Loyalty may be an overrated virtue in high-level politics. Really, nobody cares if a president backbites a former colleague or dumps a best friend. Just keep the country running and we’re good.
Anyway, he forgives her! Hugs scheduled for the birthday party for Vernon Jordan’s wife.
It’s only been six years since Obama and Clinton ran against each other, but, wow, does it feel longer. Watching Obama, I remembered a time during the 2008 campaign when he told a story about a woman who’d “seen some years,” adding: “She’s maybe close to 60.” Some of the middle-aged women in the crowd started to hiss.
Now, the president himself looks as though he’s seen some years. He’s long since gotten his first AARP mailings. And Clinton has been heir apparent — forever. Democrats have gotten so used to thinking of her as the next president that they’ve stopped seriously evaluating her as a candidate for their nomination.
The Atlantic interview sort of bounced everything back into perspective. Liberals with dovish leanings raced to Google to see whether any high-ranking Democrats have been sighted at the Iowa State Fair. What does Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley think about uranium enrichment negotiations with Iran? (We always describe him as “Maryland governor” because nobody outside of his home state knows who Martin O’Malley is.) Has Elizabeth Warren totally ruled out running? (Yes.)
Hillary’s still got the virtues her base has always admired: intelligence, experience, remarkable ability to take a punch and keep on running. Everybody loves the woman who showed up on “The Colbert Report” the other night, having a name-dropping contest with the host. Everybody remembers her determination to lift up women’s rights in Asia and Africa, her unflagging energy as secretary of state (956,733 miles traveled; total travel time, 2,084 hours).
But now that she’s brought up actual issues, the party’s rank-and-file deserves some more information.
Back in the 2008 primaries, Obama was arguing that with the right leadership in the White House, America could get rid of the old brain-dead partisanship of the past and reach a new era of bipartisan cooperation. Hillary, working off long experience, said the real world was tougher and more complicated than that. After the election, as Washington ground to a hopeless, vicious, zombified halt, she was proved right.
In foreign affairs, too, Clinton reflected what she’d learned when her husband was president. Air strikes worked in Kosovo. Bill Clinton brought Israel and the Palestinians right to the edge of a peace deal, but the Palestinians backed away. The president failed to intervene in Rwanda and regretted it forever. The bad guys only understood a firm hand. During the debates, she refused to say that during her first year in office she’d be open to meeting with leaders of countries such as Cuba or North Korea. If the Iranians declared nuclear war on Israel, she told an interviewer, as president she would “totally obliterate” them.
This is the Hillary who popped back up this week. She was probably being neither politically calculating nor blundering in the Atlantic interview, but simply being unusually clear about what she believes. And we need to hear more, not less. Does she really think the Syrian disaster could have been averted if the United States had helped the rebels? In The Atlantic, she was a little oblique on that point. Maybe a debate with Joe Biden. ...
“I’m excited about signing my books,” Clinton said Wednesday night, when a reporter asked how she feels about Obama’s Iraq policy. It’s August, everybody’s friends, and we may not hear another serious conversation on these matters until 2015.
Gail Collins is a columnist for the New York Times.