Will Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State Be Undermined by the Appointment of a Middle East Envoy? See What MESH Thinks…

Reverend Amy from Rabble Rouser Ruminations posted a piece yesterday (12/5/08) (cross-posted at No Quarter)  in which she expressed her concerns about the way things are going with regard to the nomination of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. I agree completely with her comment and it piqued my interest.  Here’s what Reverend Amy wrote:

Well, you know I am not all that crazy about Hillary Clinton being the Secretary of State for Barack Obama because I do not trust him. As it is, he is already complicating her job by appointing a special Middle East Envoy who will report directly to HIM as opposed to the Secretary of State, as well as by elevating the position of UN Ambassador, to which he appointed Dr. Susan Rice, to a Cabinet Level position, already makes Clinton’s job more difficult. Oh, and Dr. Rice’s position is particularly galling because she claimed Colin Powell proved Iraq had WMD.

According to the Haaretz article Reverend Amy links to, the name being floated by Israeli sources for the envoy slot is one Daniel Kurtzer, a former American Ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001) and Israel (2001-2005)–a diplomat who worked under both Bill Clinton and George Bush.

Obama’s decision to appoint a special envoy reporting to him directly, rather than to the secretary of state, indicates that the president-elect attaches special importance to the regional peace process. Reportedly, several of Obama’s advisers recommended the appointment.

The special envoy job could infringe on the prestige of Hillary Clinton, who was appointed secretary of state on Monday. On the other hand, it could ease any apparent conflict because of Bill Clinton’s close ties with the Gulf States.

Kurtzer, 59, joined Obama’s primary and presidential campaigns as a senior member of the president-elect’s foreign advisers. He also helped prepare Obama’s visit to the region and was among the main writers of Obama’s address on the Middle East to AIPAC in June 2008, which was seen as one the candidate’s most important speeches on international affairs.

What’s really interesting is that back on November 20, the topic of whether or not a Middle East envoy should even be appointed was discussed at MESH–Middle East Strategy at Harvard.  According to the MESH site:

Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH) is a project of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. The Olin Institute is part of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

MESH is a community of scholars and practitioners who are interested in the formulation of U.S. strategic options for the Middle East. Since 9/11 and the Iraq war, the Middle East has occupied a place of primacy in debates over U.S. global aims and strategies. MESH brings together some of the most original thinkers in academe, research centers, and government, in a web-based forum for exchanging and disseminating ideas.

In the post entitled  A Middle East Envoy? the results of a poll conducted among MESH members were reported.  On the list, but near the bottom,  was the name of Hillary Clinton.

From MESH Admin

Over the past week, MESHNet, the closed-forum companion to MESH, conducted a poll of MESHNet members, asking them who would make the best Middle East envoy of the Obama administration (if it is decided to appoint one). The structure of the poll emulated an earlier poll administered to a panel of Israeli experts, taking the same nine candidates and the same scoring system. MESHNet members (persons with a professional interest in the Middle East, 179 in number) were asked to rate the candidates, from “most suitable” for the job (a score of 5) to “least suitable” (a score of 1). Sixty-three MESHNet members responded to the poll question. Here are the results, comprised of the average score for each candidate:

Dennis Ross 3.350
Bill Clinton 2.904
Richard Holbrooke... 2.904
Colin Powell 2.747
Daniel Kurtzer 2.619
Condoleezza Rice 2.458
Bill Richardson 2.394
Hillary Clinton 2.336
James Baker 2.222

In parallel, MESH asked a number of its members to assess whether the appointment of a special envoy is advisable. Their nine responses appear below. (Respondents did not have prior knowledge of the poll results.)

I went through the comments to this latter question and found that there was a wide range of opinion on the subject. One of the experts noted that Bill Clinton did have a special envoy (Dennis Ross, who topped the poll) while Bush did not.  But the most interesting aspects of the discussion were some of the observations about how an envoy would “mesh” with the Secretary of State and the President…the concerns that were expressed by Reverend Amy. It’s clear that there are a lot of “ifs” about how Clinton’s role will actually play out, but here are a few possible scenarios/considerations to mull over from the following experts (I’ve highlighted sections that were of particular interest):

Mark N. Katz (Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. He writes on Russian foreign policy, the international relations of the Middle East, and transnational revolutionary movements.)

“Because of the time commitment needed for seriously trying to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, neither the president nor the secretary of state should get immersed in the nitty-gritty negotiations that will be required. There is simply too much other important business for both of them that will not receive sufficient attention if either (or even more unfortunately, both) become overly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Nor is this a task that the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs should undertake either, as this would leave precious little time for him or her to deal with America’s many other important relationships in, as well as the other problems of, this region.

In short, for there to be any hope of an American-brokered Israeli-Palestinian settlement, it will have to be undertaken by someone whose sole task it is to try to achieve one. If this effort is successful, the president can—rightly—take the credit. But if it is unsuccessful, the blame can be assigned not so much to the president as to (yes, you guessed it) the Middle East envoy.”

Robert Satloff (Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a post he assumed in January 1993.)

“Candidate Obama promised he would appoint a special Middle East envoy. President Obama’s decision whether to fulfill that promise depends a) on the purpose of the appointment and b) on the personality of the envoy…the personality of a proposed envoy is important. The particular choice should be someone endowed with patience, persistence, and a willingness to pass the baton to someone else – perhaps the president, perhaps the secretary of state, perhaps another envoy – depending on circumstances. This is not the job for someone who believes that the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be achieved on his/her watch or someone who views this responsibility as the path to a Nobel Prize.”

Tamara Cofman Wittes (Tamara Cofman Wittes is Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution, where she focuses on U.S. efforts to promote democracy and the Arab-Israeli peace process.)

” Obama stated repeatedly during the campaign his intention to devote early and focused attention to the Middle East peace process. Since the transition period is mostly about structure and personnel, observers are naturally focused on the question of whether to appoint a special envoy for the peace process. But to my mind the question is misplaced.

In a bureaucracy, structure is power—but appointing an envoy does not necessarily convey much power or many resources to a diplomatic effort on behalf of Arab-Israeli peace. A special envoy without many staff, or one who is not situated at a senior level within (or above) the State Department bureaucracy, will not have the authority or capacity to mobilize efforts across the department, and will therefore not have as much impact as an envoy with his/her own office and a reporting line direct to the president or the secretary of state. So structure matters, and appointing an envoy does not alone produce the required structure.”

Raymond Tanter (Raymond Tanter is adjunct professor of political science at Georgetown University and an adjunct scholar of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, researching U.S. policy options toward Iran. He is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Michigan. From 1981 to 1982, Dr. Tanter served on the National Security Council staff and was personal representative of the secretary of defense to the 1983-1984 arms control talks held in Madrid, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Vienna. Currently, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.)

” Whether it is wise to appoint an envoy for the Middle East depends on the president-elect’s planned focus of attention, whether he intends to have a White House-driven or cabinet-driven administration, and whether he would like to encourage or suppress differences in recommendations to the White House within and from the State Department.

If the president-elect wishes to focus on the economy from the White House, he should have a strong secretary of state, which would argue against having an envoy for the Middle East. However, if the secretary of state were to be given a substantial part of the action on international economy, a Middle East envoy would be desirable. Likewise, if it looks as if policy-driving national security events from the region merit an overarching strategy developed within the White House, he may wish to have a less prominent secretary of state, a strong national security advisor, and an envoy who reports to the White House and State. And if the president-elect wishes to encourage a process of  ‘multiple advocacy’ at State, then an envoy with direct reporting to the White House and to the secretary of state would be warranted.”

So, we’ll have to watch to see if Hillary Clinton becomes what Tanter calls a “strong” Secretary of State or a “less prominent” head of the State Department. Stay tuned…

18 Responses

  1. […] Will Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State Be Undermined by the …He is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Michigan. From 1981 to 1982, Dr. Tanter served on the National Security Council staff and was personal representative of the secretary of defense to the 1983-1984 arms … […]

  2. Why did Hillary walk into this trap? They didn’t care about her..or she would not have been treated so badly by obama and the dnc.

  3. I believe that appointing a “Special” Envoy will dilute Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. And I believe that is why it is going to be done.

    Shoulda never trusted the buzzard Hillary. He sandbagged ya. I thought the Clintons were too smart to get sandbagged by this poser. I was wrong. They underestimated his duplicity.

  4. NICE post, Grl. I highly recommend you send it in to NQ. You capture my concerns (and others) perfectly. Great work, and thanks for the h/t!

  5. hey IA, I don’t think so.

    First, I think that Kurtzer would not be a good choice and it’s not because I don’t think he is qualified, he is quite qualified, but culturally it would be a very bad choice to choose a hebrew speaking Jewish man to deal with the larger middle east. There are plenty of well qualified people without that cultural complication.

    Second, the appt of a special envoy and a cabinet level UN ambassador, is probably just symbolic in nature. It represents a radical shift in the way that Obama sees foreign policy. If anything, it shows how “We Are The World” he is. It is part of his whole regain the respect of the world thing.

    Third, other than reporting directly to the president, the speculation about the ME Envoy doesnt give any detail on scope of power or responsibility. Without staff or power to effect change, the position could be completely symbolic and glad handing. This is where I suspect the MEE will need to fully cooperate with SoS.

    Fourth, it also depends on what Obama wants the SoS doing, macro or micro issues.

    Fifth, again, I think the position is largely symbolic. Obama getting directly involved in the day to day ME Peace Process is cumbersome at best. Hell, even for the SoS it would be burdensome. I doubt the access to the Prez is going to be any more than occassional.

  6. I had that immediate reaction about the Jewish background trying to be an impartial broker–even if he were, the image would be all wrong for the area!!

    Notice how Ross was the first pick; Clinton’s envoy had a great deal of action.

    Again, we don’t know how it will all play out, do we??? I think the MESH comments sum it all up pretty well….

  7. I’ve said it before and I will say it again….they are setting Hillary up for another smackdown. She is the proverbial thorn in asshat’s side.

  8. If I were Sen. Clinton, I’d decline this appointment. Make up anything, but decline the sucker.

    Don’t get fooled again.

  9. GRL,

    Love the new picture of Ms. Liberty! Sort of sums up how I feel about this whole Sec. of State mess.

  10. I would love to see Hillary walk away from the SoS.

    It seems she is in a catch-22. If she takes the appointment, she will be in a position of merely parroting the BO position. And if she isn’t successful in pushing his highness’ policies on the world, she will be called a failure – or worse, she will be blamed for any mistakes. Turning her back on the offer, also gives her enemies (which we know are many) lots to use to smear her.

    How did this happen?

    Pssst ~ I agree with you. They are setting her up.

    see this photo:

  11. Hey, Leslie,,,I knew you were on! IF you click the little counter at the left, it shows a match with active locations sort of “pulsing.” When I saw Evanston, I figured it was YOU!

    Will check out the pic!!

    Grail..well, I finally got it to work!!

    Enjoy the “snow,” everybody! I love that snow..but it will only be working until just after the New Year…

  12. Oh, yes, that picture has been around today….GOD, How did WE come to this??? We are going BACKWARDS…this is CHANGE???

    What ugly people this man attracts…because he has an ugly soul…

    Does he secretly RESENT having two daughters???

  13. I looove that clicker! So many changes since I was last on…Even snow! Of course, all I have to do is look out my window to see that.

    I wondered that myself (resenting his daughters); he really appears to adore them though.

    I had an interesting conversation with another social worker today. She was touting “our” president-elect when I smiled and said that I didn’t believe he was all that great. She agreed! 😉

    I have an acquaintance who writes in syndication and was “smitten” with TehPrecious for the last 14 months. His most recent column is one of near regret. Certainly he is talking about being watchful and aware (I thought of your “alert and aware” at the puma). He’s a really lovely person, and has a heart of gold, but when I “see” heads exploding and kool-aid being spewed everywhere, I become smug. I know it isn’t very nice, but wtf, if people hadn’t been so filled with misplaced guilt or misogyny or CDS, we wouldn’t be facing such an uncertain future with such an undesirable “president-elect”.

    I’m off…I’ve got to get up early tomorrow morning.

  14. I know what you mean Leslie, but unfortunately it’s little consolation if the damage is actually done. I pray that public opinion changes quickly enough to allow the SCOTUS to do its job without fear of repercussions.

  15. I read on the CNN site that Big Dawg (who, imho, is a more credible source of info on Hillary than most) said that Hillary nearly turned down SoS but he told her to take it. I don’t think Bubba would deliberately send Hillary into a trap. I’m guessing they both know it’s a set up & he’s got something up his sleeve

  16. Sonrisa…I sure hope you’re right!

  17. sonrisa….
    you just made my day!

    thanks for that.

  18. glad to oblige Leslie!

    but think about it- Hillary won’t be in that cabinet alone, there will be other Clintonistas with her. Now who do you think these people are gonna be loyal to? A friend remarked that when the SS Barky tanks (& it will, the economy is the economy & will do it’s thing without a care as to who’s in the WH) Hillary & the Clintonistas will be the ones in the lifeboat.

    it occurs to me that as SoS, Hillary will have access to whatever it is Barky’s using for a birth certificate. If it’s not legit, she can use it as leverage with him until she decides to bail. Or if he’s really screwing things up she can use it to force him to resign.

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