Laura Rozen reports at the Cable (FP) that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is planning ‘“a “smart power” oriented address in which she plans to discuss “ways the United States can promote nuclear nonproliferation, combat violent extremism, and improve food security, along with other themes. "She will highlight the ... goals of U.S. policy (not her goals -- the country's)," one official familiar with the preparations stressed on condition of anonymity.”’
But Clinton’s planned speech is clearly meant to raise her own profile as well. In her first six months as Barack Obama's top diplomat, the secretary has faced something of an underappreciated challenge: proving that she is a loyal lieutenant to her former presidential primary rival while projecting that she owns the Obama administration's diplomatic portfolio.
As a U. S. Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton was respected in both parties for her knowledge of the issues, experience, dedication, high ethical standards, ability to work across the aisle, and outstanding leadership skills. So why were the pundits so nervous about whether or not she would perform as a team player as secretary of state? Blatant male chauvinists like Christopher Hitchens spewed forth their most abusive slanderous attacks in attempting to sabotage her appointment, but those who knew her best, Clinton’s Senate colleagues, confirmed her by a vote of 94-2.
Still not deigning to look at her record, the punditry has continued to foster doubts about Clinton. The biggest fear on the minds of the media’s good old boys appears to have been that such a strong, intelligent, competent woman would upstage Obama in fulfilling her responsibilities at state. That was true even though Obama supporters continued to boast about how confident their leader was to appoint such outsized personalities to high positions.
For the most part the pundits are still wary even though, as Rozen reports, there's no disputing the professionalism and gravitas Secretary Clinton brings to her position at the State Department:
Clinton and Obama aides alike say the administration has one of the most effective secretary of state-White House relationships and balanced national-security teams of the past several terms. They note that Clinton has excellent relationships with the other national-security principals, a strategic investment that could pay dividends down the road.
She breakfasts frequently, as she did on Tuesday morning, with Vice President Joseph Biden (her neighbor), meets with the president privately at least once a week in the Oval Office, has a regular monthly meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and attends multiple Principals Committee meetings at the White House with Obama, Gates, National Security Advisor James L. Jones, and CIA director Leon Panetta each week. Aides also note that getting many senior State Department appointments confirmed and their teams in place in the past few weeks, in particular assistant secretaries in charge of the State Department's regional bureaus, has helped accelerate getting the engines moving and connecting Foggy Bottom's seventh-floor bigwigs with its civil service and bureaucrats who now have intermediate leadership to guide their work.
Rozen lets us know what Clinton has been up against since day one:
Perhaps more than any other member in Obama's "team of rivals," Clinton has had to walk a fine line: to prove to the president and his loyalists (to say nothing of a rapacious press corps) that his former primary opponent would be a trustworthy team player, restraining her own foreign-policy inclinations to bolster and never undermine his. Channeling Obama's vision while making the secretary of state job her own has required impressive self-restraint amid a host of foreign leader powwows, interagency meetings, and appointments. Not lacking for opportunities to seize the megaphone, Clinton appears to have carefully calibrated the amount of individual voice, vision, and volume she has projected so far, perhaps with an eye to gaining a measure of trust that will ultimately enhance her effectiveness.
Yet she’s still had to convince Obama’s “boys” that she’s not going to cut into the One’s image by outshining him on the foreign policy front:
So far, Clinton has arguably succeeded in proving her team-player bona fides. Several initially somewhat wary Obama aides and holdover State Department officials who have traveled with her abroad have confided genuine admiration for Clinton's professionalism and decency -- citing her preparedness for meetings with foreign leaders and her thank-yous to bureau staff who worked on her trips. Clinton loyalists and White House aides, moreover, vigorously insist that the secretary is a critical and indispensable voice in Obama's national security team.
"The President and General Jones value Secretary Clinton deeply," NSC Director of Strategic Communications Denis McDonough said in an e-mail. "She is a tireless advocate for the national interest and a key player on the national security team. Hers is a key voice - in the situation room, on the Hill and overseas."
Time will tell if Clinton has been wise to do the initial, low-profile diplomatic prep work at home to be an effective and consequential secretary of state, with the ear and confidence of the president, especially when crisis erupts.
Just a brief reminder here to Rozen et al: as I mentioned yesterday, it’s no accident that the Obama Administration is receiving high marks in foreign policy while sinking fast on the domestic front. As Dubya learned the hard way, likability can take you only so far: the charming Obama has Hillary to guide him on foreign turf; he’s on his own with the still tanking U.S. economy.