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Interview: There Must Be 'No Daylight' Between Obama, Secretary Of State

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
With U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintaining that she intends not to continue in her post during U.S. President Barack Obama's second term, there has been considerable speculation about who might succeed her.

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson discussed some of the options with Lawrence Haas, a former senior official in the administration of ex-President Bill Clinton who is now a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the American Foreign Policy Council.

RFE/RL: What is the role of the U.S. Secretary of State and how has Hillary Clinton performed over the last four years?

Lawrence Haas: I always think that, when we talk about who is going to hold what position in an administration, we tend to lose sight of the fact that the secretary of state is carrying out the policy of the president of the United States and that is going to be true no matter who is in that position.

And I think that Secretary Clinton has done a very good job in that realm. There has been no daylight between what Obama has said and what Clinton has tried to do. And that is the most important job of the secretary -- so that there is no confusion either at home or overseas as to what the foreign policy of the United States is. So, to the extent that Clinton leaves soon and we get a new secretary, that's the most important thing that person can do.

Lawrence HaasLawrence Haas
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Lawrence Haas
Lawrence Haas
Secondly, I think she has run the department well. She's got a loyal corps of people and they have carried out her policies and I don't hear much drama coming out of it. But, finally, the State Department is a big bureaucracy, with a lot of people who serve on the career staff, that is, they stay on their jobs no matter who the president or secretary is. And it is a bureaucracy that is very hard to move and that is going to be a challenge -- steering that department to carry out the president's policies is not always easy. And that was a challenge for Clinton and it will continue to be a challenge for whoever succeeds her.

RFE/RL: The first potential candidate I'd like to ask you about is Senator John Kerry.

Haas: Senator Kerry has been around a long time. Now, [he is] chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has got wide contacts both across the Senate and, in particular, across Europe. He has traveled a lot in the greater Middle East, so would come in with a ready supply of important relationships overseas that I would think would allow him to hit the ground running very quickly.

Kerry "would look to ensure smooth relations with the great powers of the world -- China, Russia, our European allies, and our Middle East allies to start."

With regard to the Senate, obviously, knowing his colleagues there, all else being equal, he would have a better opportunity to explain foreign policy to the Senate and, presumably, to move any proposed treaties through the Senate and get the necessary two-thirds vote.

RFE/RL: Kerry is particularly knowledgeable about Russia, isn't he?

Haas: Yes, he is. But, having said that, I don't think there is a particular region that really stands out. He has an overall approach to U.S. foreign policy which I do believe matches that of the president. That is, they are both realists. Neither of them is terribly creative with regard to relations overseas. They both value stability, as opposed to instability. And they both focus on big-power politics. So, he would look to ensure smooth relations with the great powers of the world -- China, Russia, our European allies, and our Middle East allies to start.

RFE/RL: Another name that has been mentioned often as a Clinton successor is that of UN Ambassador Susan Rice. What can you tell us about her?

Haas: Ambassador Rice probably is the least experienced of the three we are talking about today. She has done a fairly good job at the United Nations. But she's very controversial, most importantly because of the statements that she made in the aftermath of the attack on the [consulate] in Benghazi [in Libya on September 11, 2012].

Rice is "very controversial, most importantly because of the statements that she made in the aftermath of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi in Libya on September 11."

She went out five days later on the Sunday talk shows and suggested that the attack was the result of spontaneous outrage over this very controversial anti-Muslim video that had been airing. And we know that that's not the case -- it was much more akin to a terrorist attack. And there's evidence that the administration knew right from the start.

So it raises the question -- did she know something that she didn't say or did the administration know something and somehow not communicate it to Ambassador Rice?

Either way, this would be a very controversial piece of confirmation hearings and I don't know that it would end very well. So, I suspect that she's probably the least [likely] of the three favorites that we are talking about today.

RFE/RL: She has been the point person in some pretty tense situations with Russia and China in the Security Council over matters like Iran and Syria, has she not?

Haas: No doubt about it. [But just as is the case with] the secretary of state, the UN ambassador carries out the policies of the president and whether we like how she has reacted to some of these dicey situations or not, I don't detect that there's been any daylight between what she has said and what the president has tried to get across.

RFE/RL: And finally, another name being discussed is that of national security adviser Thomas Donilon.

Haas: Tom Donilon is probably the best or most diversified in terms of qualifications. He's got long experience working not just in this White House and [in] building strong relations [not just with] President Obama but [also] in other administrations, at the State Department, and elsewhere.

Thomas Donilon has "got broad experience in issues of foreign policy, national security policy, and I think, probably, compared to the other two, he is the best-qualified."

He's also got experience working on Capitol Hill, so he knows as well as anyone in Washington how the town works, how you get things done, how you maneuver within the administration, and how you maneuver on Capitol Hill.

He's got broad experience in issues of foreign policy, national security policy, and I think, probably, compared to the other two, he is the best-qualified.

He doesn't quite have the gravitas of somebody like Senator Kerry, who would come to this job as the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he is widely respected and he would have all the tools to do a good job, I believe.

RFE/RL: Are there any other names you'd mention that you think deserve consideration as the president looks to replace Secretary Clinton?

Haas: I guess I would throw out one, if I may. I would put James Steinberg on the list. He is someone who was deputy national security adviser to President Clinton. He was deputy secretary of state in this administration until he went off back to academia and from time to time you hear his name come up.

I have seen him in action -- I have been in meetings with him. He's an extremely bright, extremely creative, extremely hardworking person. And I would not be surprised if the president had him on the list at least for consideration. And he's somebody who should be on the list.
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by: UKR FAN from: Canada
November 10, 2012 04:06
What a list of losers. It's bad enough that the USA has Obama as President, so don't put one of these incompetents alongside him as Secretary of State.

by: Ben
December 06, 2012 19:28
This cunning website with it`s entangled policy and and parts that have not for example Egypt was discussed many times but I think today is Obama`s model media.This last month post discusses the Obama`s choice as if Rice`s nomination doesn`t exist.Who will defend M Brothes as Hillary did?

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