Hillary Clinton Expanding State Shows Barack Obama Made the Right Call

A more important state department? Good.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Today's New York Times brings news illustrating why Barack Obama's decision to tap Hillary Clinton for State was a smart call. 

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis. 

This is a good thing regardless of who is the secretary—too much of our foreign policy (not simply the contours of the policy but its day-to-day execution) has been taken over by the Pentagon over the last eight years, and not simply because we're actively fighting in various parts of the world; the sun never sets on the U.S. military, and our officers and civilian defense officials have increasingly played roles more traditionally left to diplomats.

But Hillary Clinton is particularly well suited for this job. From the Times:

Given Mrs. Clinton's prominence, expanding the department's portfolio could bring on conflict with other powerful cabinet members.

Not quite. What they should have said was: Expanding the department's portfolio could bring conflict, and given Mrs. Clinton's prominence, she stands a decent chance of prevailing. Having a powerful secretary of state is a good thing if you want to have a powerful department of state.

Much here still depends upon the Obama-Clinton relationship—Colin Powell had great prominence but presided over the aforementioned diplomatic erosion.

But the most important factor will be Obama's sense of where diplomacy fits into the U.S. approach with the world. Condoleezza Rice is as close to President Bush as anyone, but has done little to reassert the state department. Why? At least in part because she has to execute Bush's vision of the United States and the world. Presumably Obama's involves a more muscular role for State.