Kerry : Emerging From The Shadow Of Hillary Clinton

Kerry : Emerging From The Shadow Of Hillary Clinton

In American politics, it was not unusual for unsuccessful Presidential candidates to join high ranking administrative posts under the very same...

GangadharIn American politics, it was not unusual for unsuccessful Presidential candidates to join high ranking administrative posts under the very same president who had defeated them in the primaries or at the party convention which decided on the candidate. Such a move may or may not end their presidential hopes for the future. If you have emerged as a competent, successful Secretary of State, it is an additional qualification to run for the White House. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama ran a neck-and-neck race in the 2008 primaries and despite polling more popular votes, Hillary was pipped at the victory post because Obama got more support from the electoral college.

It was a devastating blow for Hillary who had spent eight years as the First Lady in the White House and created the impression she was more than an adequate backseat driver! Recovering quickly she became a highly successful Democratic party Senator from New York before entering the 2008 White House Race. No one expected Hillary Clinton to sit at home though it was not certain if she would accept any administrative post in the Obama administration. The President himself wanted to erase the scars of the bitter White House campaign and knew what a great asset Hillary would be to his administration. Urged on by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, Hillary accepted the Secretary of State post and immediately created an impression.

It was this prestigious post which conducted America’s foreign policy. In the past many American presidents, despite their inadequate knowledge of foreign affairs, wanted to run it themselves so that powerful, intelligent Secretaries of State would not steal the limelight.


Even the well read, well informed John Kennedy chose the colourless, dour Dean Rusk for the job and his successor Lyndon Johnson continued with him. A more intelligent, dynamic person than Rusk would have avoided many of the pitfalls of the LBJ administration on Vietnam and perhaps not withdrawn from the 1968 Presidential race. The dilemma for the US president was whether to choose a ‘political’ Secretary of State or some well-known public figure. Ed Muskie, liberal Senator was eliminated at the primaries but functioned as the head of Foggy Bottom as the State Department was known.

General Colin Powell was a much-decorated soldier with White House ambitions who too did a stint at the State.
Richard Nixon was sure of his mastery over foreign affairs, knew where he wanted to take his country along and had no qualms over offering the job to Henry Kissinger whose great brains and knowledge over foreign affairs were assets. Nixon gave a long rope to Kissinger but saw to it that he cornered the glory in diplomacy on major fronts like recognizing People’s Republic of China. It was a diplomatic coup for the US because the feat was achieved by two avowed anti Communists, Nixon and Kissinger Hillary Clinton faced a different dilemma.

The 2008 campaign must have rankled her. The liberal youth, Wooed by Hillary, preferred Barack Obama because of one major flaw of Hillary’s campaign. At the start of the Iraq war she had supported President George Bush’s hawkish policies because it was the duty of every American to support his nation’s war effort.

And Hilllary later on, swore she was not aware of the Bush administration’s lies in misleading people on the threat posed by Iraq’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Bush had systematically doctored intelligence reports that Iraq posed no threat to US; Obama on the other hand took a hard anti-war stand and maintained it till the end, thereby winning the confidence of the youth. Even her vast experience in international affairs and eight years in the White House could not save her.

Hillary would be 69 at the time of the 2016 presidential poll, an age still ‘acceptable’ to the American people. It was not known if she accepted the Secretary’ post because it would keep her in the limelight and provide her with valuable experience. She and Bill Clinton assured Obama of their permanent loyalty for his two terms and it was now acknowledged that Clinton’s brilliant and shrewd Obama poll campaign played a key role in the Obama victory. The President gave Hillary a free hand and it was seldom misused. But Hillary was not forthcoming on her plans for the 2016 White House poll. Her campaign machinery and popularity were intact, money would not be a problem and the Democratic Party stalwarts were sure that Hillary as a candidate could sweep the polls.

As such speculation arose, the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, himself a former White House hopeful, knew how difficult it would be for him to step into the shoes of Hillary Clinton. Kerry’s liberal background could not be questioned, he was not an outsider to Washington and had developed good international contacts. Obama backed him warmly but it was too much to expect the same kind of warmth and trust he showed to Hillary.. Kerry knew his foreign affairs and had performed admirably in the Senate. But it would be next to impossible to emulate Hillary’s tenure. But Kerry was aware that the first four years of the Obama regime had disappointed many of his supporters and allies.

In the first flush of his success, he made several political promises. Détente in the Middle East, closer understanding with the Muslim world without ruffling Israeli feathers more overtures to Latin America and the determination to crush terrorism. But many of these policies failed because Obama had to tackle one economic crisis after another. His one major feather in the cap was the elimination of Osama bin Laden who was holed up in Pakistan . And the worst crisis was the bombing of the US embassy in Tripoli because of a major intelligence failure.

Kerry had his plate full of problems and worked with a president who was hemmed in on all sides. He was moving around international trouble spots and would be in Pakistan on Sunday. His latest diplomatic ‘yatra’ began with the Middle East where he persuaded the Palestinians to sit together and talk and allow the release of prisoners of war held by both sides. This went off smoothly but there were more difficult problems ahead. Egypt erupted in a bloody revolution and Syrian violence continued unabated. Kerry was clever in his choice of assignments. The Middle East crisis was old and intractable and if he failed the first time, it would not be held against him. And he had achieved a small breakthrough. But Kerry’s diplomatic foray was disrupted with the Obama administration’s admission that it had been spying, tapping telephones and hacking e mails of both allies and enemies for ‘security’ reasons. Veteran allies like France, UK and Germany were shocked at the American arrogance that such snooping of both friend and foe was necessary for world security.

Kerry should do well to remember that when he stage was set for a major breakthrough, his own country would do something stupid to disrupt the whole show. In the 1950’s the important disarmament talks at Geneva between President Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were abandoned when it was discovered that US spy planes, the U-2, were flying over Soviet territory. One of these planes was shot down and its pilot Gary Powers captured. It was international humiliation for the US.. Something like that could happen for President Obama over his ‘snooping for security’ adventure. John Kerry would find it difficult to make any kind of diplomatic progress under such circumstances.

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