[Viewpoint] Clinton is Obama’s ace in the holeThis Jan. 20 will mark the second anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the President of the United States. So the question should be asked: what was his best decision during the first half of his term?
Some may disagree, but I would say without hesitation that the best decision was the appointment of Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State.
The significance lies not in the fact that Obama displayed a tolerant attitude in selecting his main Democratic Party primary opponent, but rather the skills that Clinton has shown in office with her outstanding passion and competency.
If one considers the gains and benefits that the United States has enjoyed as a result of her service, President Obama indeed made an excellent choice in appointing her.
As a former first lady, and someone who was almost elected president, Hillary Clinton already has a status nearly as significant as the president himself. The position of Secretary of State at first seemed too insignificant for her. Some commentators and analysts worried that Clinton and Obama would clash because of their rivalry during the primary, and because of Clinton’s superior political experience.
But Clinton showed strong respect for President Obama’s foreign policy philosophy. She added to that her willpower and established the foreign policy principle of “smart power.” She advocated a shift from unilateralism to multilateralism, which is the public diplomacy of communicating with foreign citizens and reinforcing alliances.
For the first time in the history of the State Department, Clinton prepared a four-year foreign policy strategy for the administration. She has left behind her glorious, or painful, past and is doing her best as Secretary of State. Sung Kim, the special envoy for the six-party talks, said that Secretary Clinton surprised him by closely studying each and every policy agenda in her extremely tight schedule.
Already in her 60s, Hillary Clinton has energetically traveled all over the world. On the first day of the New Year, Secretary Clinton attended the inauguration of the incoming president of Brazil, representing President Obama, who was on vacation.
Her dedication has boosted the reputation of President Obama as well. If Secretary Clinton deals with a foreign issue, it appears that the United States is deeply involved. Now that President Obama has a reliable partner to share his burdens, he can focus on domestic issues, including health care, as well as other international concerns.
As I watched Secretary Clinton in person, her impressive leadership was different from Obama’s in style. The young president has been fearless and powerful, but he often reveals his feelings. In a press conference after the mid-term election defeat in November, President Obama showed his temper when reporters continued to press him. He soon felt embarrassed and showed a bitter smile.
However, Secretary Clinton is calm and composed at all times. If you trust the political saying that a leader should never appear surprised, Secretary Clinton is an ideal leader in that sense. Her outfits, her gestures, her way of walking, even her facial expressions are always adequate to the situation. And it is hardly an easy task to look so appropriate all the time.
In July, 2010, about four months after the Korean Peninsula was in turmoil over the attack on the ROK navy warship Cheonan, Secretary Clinton stood in front of the demarcation line at Panmunjom and looked calm. Keeping her usual composure, she said, “We continue to send a message to the North. There is another way. There is a way that can benefit the people of the North. But until they change direction, the United States stands firmly on behalf of the people and government of the Republic of Korea, where we provide a stalwart defense along with our allies and partners.”
A photograph of a North Korean soldier peeking through the window from the other side of the demarcation line was enough to herald the presence of Secretary Clinton.
Now, I no longer think of Clinton as the first lady but as Secretary of State as she has established her own reputation for being competent, profound and important.
*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jung-wook