Clinton’s replacement will reveal new US foreign policy direction

By Philip Hamilton Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-29 19:55:04

With the imminent retirement of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, much speculation has arisen in Washington concerning her replacement. No matter whom the president chooses to nominate for the post, the political process of confirmation by the US Senate is sure to reveal much about the mindset of Republicans and Democrats entering Obama's second term, and will certainly indicate the direction of US foreign policy in coming years.

Following President Barack Obama's reelection, it was widely believed that US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice would be the president's nominee to succeed Clinton.

With impeccable academic credentials, and experience as an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton White House, Rice is more than qualified. Rice is known for her direct and idealistic style of negotiation, and her less conciliatory, more confrontational style would likely take the practice of US foreign policy in a different direction than that charted by Clinton's more pragmatic approach.

A greater and more direct US role in Middle Eastern affairs, and more emphasis on the role of foreign governments in human rights abuses and issues of social justice would likely mark the tenure of Rice.

Last week, some bumps in Rice's path to becoming the head of the State Department surfaced. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Rice was widely criticized by Republicans for incorrectly reporting that events in the Libyan city were spontaneous attacks of outrage, and not planned acts of terrorism.

Republican senators, led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham, spoke of Rice as being unqualified to be secretary of state, and not trustworthy enough to serve in such an important role in light of her remarks following the deadly siege.

However, Obama's defense of Rice forced the conservative senators to back down somewhat from their remarks. To many observers, McCain's agreement to meet with Rice Tuesday, and Graham's statement that Rice "may have been thrown under the bus" on Benghazi signaled Republican hesitation to use Rice's potential nomination to pick a political fight with the president, especially in light of the overwhelming constituency of African Americans and women who secured a second Obama presidency. If confirmed, Rice would be only the second African American female to serve as Secretary of State.

Still, the fact that Rice's nomination by the president would risk turning the confirmation process into a potentially embarrassing referendum on the administration's handling of foreign policy in Libya became obvious after a reinvigorated Republican panel of US senators emerged from Tuesday's meeting with Rice "more disturbed … than before" in the words of Graham, and "significantly troubled" according to McCain.

The potential demise of Rice's candidacy has perhaps opened the door for Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. A decorated military veteran, and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry is certainly a tenable choice. His path to office would likely be a smooth one, as Kerry is a widely respected member of the very body would decide his confirmation.

Also, some fears persist that, if confirmed, Kerry would likely focus on foreign policy issues close to his own well-developed political inclinations, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and perhaps skew the focus of an Obama administration professing to "pivot to Asia" in administering future US foreign policy.

If history should serve as guide, perhaps the chances of Tom Donilon to succeed Hillary Clinton are greater than commonly thought. Donilon serves as national security adviser to the president.

Amid worry on the American left about the over-securitization of US foreign policy, Donilon's candidacy might not be widely supported within his own party, but he is said to have a very close relationship with Obama.

For their part, Republicans would likely ask Donilon plenty of hard questions about the Benghazi affair, should he be nominated, and many would cite Donilon's previous conflicts with the US military as evidence he could hardly advocate the strategic interests of the nation. 

In July, the Romney campaign alleged Donilon leaked classified intelligence information to The New York Times with the intention of casting a positive light on the actions of Obama. And, fair or not, there have been subsequent suggestions on the right that Donilon would be inclined to place Obama's political agenda ahead of US interests in the event of crisis.

There are also other potential nominees like US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke. Who will be the Secretary of State? Let's see.

The author is a freelance writer and political observer living in Columbus, Ohio.

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