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Published:November 24th, 2008 11:42 EST
Hillary Clinton Like Colin Powell?

Hillary Clinton Like Colin Powell?

By Krzys Wasilewski

The probable nomination of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state hardly comes as a surprise. Barack Obama needs a respectable woman in his administration, much like eight years ago George Bush needed a liberal in his cabinet, putting Colin Powell at the helm of American diplomacy.

Strong character does not make a strong secretary of state. No one could question the experience and character of Colin Powell " to say nothing of his impeccable military career " but he let others marginalize his position in the Bush administration. He accepted it as something natural that all the strings in the new government were to be pulled by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. Their domination remained invisible for most observers for as long as the entire administration seemed to be speaking in unison. But when it came to decide whether or not to invade Iraq, the voice of Colin Powell disappeared in the cacophony of go aheads  from Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice " President Bush`s national security adviser.

It is the national security adviser who takes over the responsibilities of the State Department when the president wants to have a more personal control over foreign policy. Created by President Harry S. Truman, the national security adviser became an official position during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower and has been considered indispensable ever since. Contrary to secretaries, the national security adviser is appointed without the Congressional consent, a serious advantage when the president has few supporters in the Senate. As it often happens, secretaries of state become people who are largely respected by legislators " like Colin Powell " but who play the role of a figurehead in the administration, being dominated by the president and his national security adviser.

Hillary Clinton may face a similar problem. Better fighters than her wrestled for power and lost, Colin Powell being only one of many failed secretaries of state. How strong the position of the national security adviser can be serves the example of Henry Kissinger who during the presidency of Richard Nixon exercised almost absolute control over the administration`s foreign policy. But few can equal Mr. Kissinger`s talents. In many cases this duality between the secretary of state and national security adviser creates a multitude of problems that often undermine the strength of the government. Part of the reason why the Carter Administration was unable to protect America`s interests in so many regions of the world was the personal conflict between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. It was a very telling fact that to save his cabinet from collapsing, President Carter preferred to fire Mr. Vance rather than Mr. Brzezinski.

There is a chance that Barack Obama will let Hilary Clinton run foreign policy while himself concentrating on fixing the country`s economy and social divisions. But drawing on the ambitions and differences that both politicians exposed during the Democratic primaries it will be very hard for them to reconcile their views and form a cohesive approach towards global problems. It is enough to remember how Mrs. Clinton responded to Mr. Obama`s promise to start talking with the regimes of Iran, Cuba, and other countries traditionally hostile towards the United States. Of course once elected, politicians often forget about what they said during the campaign which, in this case, might be beneficial.

In any government there is place for only one leader. With a highly ambitious president like Barack Obama and no less ambitious secretary of state like Hillary Clinton one administration may prove one too few to keep them both. Especially that Vice President Joe Biden agreed to take the job on condition that he would have a serious role in running foreign policy. Will Barack Obama be able to control such a team of rivals?