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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Madame Secretary, Part 3?

Talleyrand concurs with the balance of commentary on the suspected appointment of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State: It was a shrewd move by Obama. But he does not like the analogy to Secretary Seward in the Lincoln administration.

It had long been a tradition for political rivals to occupy the position of Secretary of State: this was not Lincoln’s masterful invention, and the two were often badly at odds. Seward very nearly started a war with England in the middle of the Civil War.

One doubts whether the United States can afford this kind of rivalry in the 21st century. Since World War II the only successful Secretaries of State have been those whose views and loyalties were fully shared by the president. Obama may want to send a clear signal that he intends to be his own foreign minister, as he has every right to do. But then Clinton would be foolish to put herself in that position.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Sins of Omission

John F. Kennedy claimed—infamously—that President Eisenhower never mentioned anything about Vietnam to him during their long talk together before Kennedy’s inauguration. Rather, Ike was obsessed with Laos. And so was Kennedy for the first few months of his administration, and failed to anticipate an even greater crisis for the United States next door.

Reportedly Bill Clinton told George W. Bush that he did all he could to kill Osama bin Laden. Judging by the Bush administration’s list of priorities in 2001, Clinton’s statement did not make a very deep impression.

What will Bush tell Obama today when they meet in the White House? What will he warn him against? Which parts of the world will he emphasize? Which foreigners—friends, foes, or both—will he tell Obama to watch out for?

Whatever Bush says, it is likely that he will leave out—probably inadvertently—the most salient information. Any lucky flies on the wall should be sure to make note of what is not said between the two.

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