Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bill Clinton has been busy touting his wife for the post of secretary of state, which should remind President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team of the need to examine Mr. Clinton’s paid speechmaking in connection with his wife’s future responsibilities at State.

Mr. Clinton earned more than $10 million in speaking fees in 2007, some of it for speeches abroad. Indeed, last weekend he addressed an economic symposium in Kuwait as Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s name was being considered to replace Condoleezza Rice at Foggy Bottom.

This raises questions about whether Mr. Clinton should accept money for speeches from foreign governments or businesses and whether he should publicly disclose the identities of many of the donors to his foundation, which remain secret. “It’s not just what he does or says. It’s the fact that the foundation is involved with foreign countries, some of which might well be in conflict with U.S. policy,” says retired federal judge Abner Mikva, a political ally of Mr. Obama. “It’s more than a legal problem. There are ethical problems and appearance problems.”

Aside from the conflict-of-interest problems a Clinton nomination could create, Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy record hardly inspires confidence.

One of Mrs. Clinton’s first forays was a November 1999 trip to Israel and the West Bank. Mrs. Clinton had the misfortune to be sharing the podium with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, when she falsely accused Israel of using poison gas against Palestinians. After Mrs. Arafat uttered the slander, Mrs. Clinton kissed Mrs. Arafat on the cheek, creating a diplomatic furor with Israel.

Later, Mrs. Clinton, then running for the Senate from New York, transformed herself into a Zionist hawk. In October 2002, she voted for the Senate resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. But when the situation on the ground in Iraq worsened, Mrs. Clinton joined the majority of Senate Democrats opposed to the troop surge.

During her presidential primary run, Mrs. Clinton showed she has mastered the art of political triangulation. On Iran, she hit Mr. Obama from the right, suggesting that his plans to negotiate with the mullahs were a sign of naivete. On Iraq, she attacked Mr. Obama from the left for suggesting he might delay withdrawal if conditions on the ground worsened.

Mrs. Clinton’s tendency to dissemble could create problems - as her whopper about braving artillery fire during a 1996 visit to Bosnia showed. If Mrs. Clinton is nominated as secretary of state, it will be in spite of her record and judgment and the problems created by her husband’s lucrative speechmaking. There is too much at stake on the foreign-policy front to nominate Mrs. Clinton.

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