Barack Obama’s appointments to his forthcoming administration will raise many questions about his campaign themes of bringing change to Washington and restoring America’s image abroad. Two nominations in particular go to the heart of the issue of perception versus reality. The retention of the lame duck Bush administration’s Defence Secretary, Robert Gates and the proposal of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is already raising eyebrows among critics who see nothing but more of the same old same old.
Gates, 65, took office on December 18, 2006, with bipartisan support. Before this, he served for 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and under President George H. W. Bush as Director of Central Intelligence. Before he joined the CIA, he served with the United States Air Force (USAF) and after leaving the CIA, Gates became president of Texas A&M University and was a member of several corporate boards.
Gates also served as a member of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission co-chaired by James A. Baker III and Lee Hamilton, that has studied the Iraq War. He was also the first pick to serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security when it was created following the September 11, 2001 attacks, but he declined the appointment in order to remain President of Texas A&M University.
Hillary Clinton, 61, is the junior United States Senator from New York and Obama’s main competitor as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 presidential election. She was the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001.
She embarked on a career in law after graduating from Yale Law School in 1973. She was later named the first female partner at Rose Law Firm in 1979, and was twice listed as one of the one hundred most influential lawyers in America. She was the First Lady of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992 and was active in a number of organizations concerned with child welfare, as well as sitting on the boards of Wal-Mart and several other corporations.
While she was First Lady of the United States, her major initiative, the Clinton health care plan, failed to gain approval from the U.S. Congress in 1994. In 1997 and 1999, Clinton played a role in advocating for the establishment of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and the Foster Care Independence Act.
It seems Obama is erring on the side of over-caution. Is he trying to send a message that he is not to be feared as the closet Muslim the extreme right says he is? One could see retaining Gates for a period with an understudy deputy gauging the lay of the land before taking over and allowing the new administration to stamp its own likeness on the department, which plays no small part in the creation of the US image Obama thinks needs dusting and burnishing.
However, an indefinite appointment, as Gate’s announced it, could be seen as no different from electing John McCain, Obama’s Republican rival for the presidency, who the Obama campaign told the American public was to be avoided for being just an extension of George W. Bush’s administration.
Having not chosen Clinton to be his vice-presidential running mate and the largely ceremonial office – a move Hillary backers thought a snub that could have cost Obama the election – he now offers her the second most powerful post in the administration and what is sometimes seen as third in line for the American throne.
Embracing Clinton in this way could well be a stroke of genius to consolidate the electoral grassroots for a regime that will be faced with making the most challenging and potentially divisive national security and economic decisions. Perhaps, luckily for Obama, his supporters who were not as anti-Clinton as the Clintonites were vitriolically anti-Obama, will embrace her in the role.
The two nominees are eminently able, on paper and experientially, to do the jobs they are being assigned. Whether they offer change to be believed in will be seen in the months and weeks after the inauguration ceremony in January. For the sake of a more stable and secure global order we hope the President-elect’s judgement is sound.