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Hillary To State

It's still not official, but it sounds more or less like a done deal. I find myself a little amazed--not just at Obama's choice of his former bitter rival, but at how little outcry we're hearing from his supporters. For many of Obama's biggest fans, his campaign was in no small part about repudiating once and for all the liberal-hawk wing of the party. But the Clintonites more or less were that wing. And there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Hillary's foreign policy worldview was largely defined by that segment of the Democratic foreign policy establishment which came to the fore during her husband's presidency. I delved into this in a long TNR piece a year and a half ago which featured this quote from a speech Hillary delivered in a very different era:

There is a refrain ... that we should intervene with force only when we face splendid little wars that we surely can win, preferably by overwhelming force in a relatively short period of time. To those who believe we should become involved only if it is easy to do, I think we have to say that America has never and should not ever shy away from the hard task if it is the right one.

Hillary was and is no warmonger. But she clearly bought into the liberal-interventionist gospel of the late 1990s. (She was reportedly a strong proponent of the Kosovo bombing campaign, for instance.) And it seems to me that much of the active dislike for Hillary in the primaries was based not on her domestic policies but her foreign policy vision. Indeed more than a few liberals who opposed her seemed to do so with a sense of guilt, acknowledging that she held more progressive positions on some key issues, most importantly health care. But her hawkishness on Iran and Iraq was simply too much to forgive.

To some degree, Obama's willingness to give Hillary this job is an indication of how much liberal passions over Iraq have faded. But Iran was the other major flashpoint between the two, and the really tough part of that debate is yet to come--as the recent news that Iran has enriched enough uranium for a crude bomb should remind us. 

At times during the campaign, Obama seemed to be promising to flush out and rebuild the Democratic Party. Clearly that's not going to happen. That doesn't mean he won't be a successful president. And I can envision Hillary doing a stellar job at State. (Obama is so much more popular than she is, I find it hard to imagine that she would want to wage an intra- bureaucratic power war against him.) I suppose in the end I take this as a reminder that the Obama-Clinton primary really was never so much about substance as it was about style, identity, and process.

--Michael Crowley