- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

UPDATED:

NEW DELHI | When President Obama named Hillary Rodham Clinton as his secretary of state, many political observers wondered how the two bitter Democratic rivals and their staffs would mesh and whether Mrs. Clinton would be willing to take a backseat to Mr. Obama in the media limelight.

On Monday, half a world away from Washington, Mrs. Clinton admitted there were “some differences of degrees, but not necessarily differences of kind” between her and the president that had become “magnified” in the heat of last year’s campaign.

While she offered no specifics, The Washington Times reported last month that Mrs. Clinton urged the president to take a tougher line sooner on Iran’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. The two have also clashed on the appointment of political supporters as ambassadors, and Mrs. Clinton has expressed frustration with a stringent White House vetting process that has left key positions — such as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development — unfilled six months into the administration.

Coupled with the secretary’s need to recover from a fractured elbow and the proliferation of special envoys on key issues such as Afghanistan and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the impression has grown that Mrs. Clinton — a former senator and first lady with extensive experience abroad — was being eclipsed.

On Monday, she addressed the issue head-on.

“The [2008] campaign magnified the differences more than they actually are,” Mrs. Clinton said in response to a student’s question during a town hall meeting at Delhi University on Monday. “That’s what happens in campaigns. … You draw differences and try to make them seem extremely large in order to convince people to vote for you and against the other person.

“Both the president and I see the world in the same terms — as interconnected, interdependent — where we want more partners, where we want more allies. We are very open to other perspectives.”

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said Tuesday that Mrs. Clinton’s apologizing for the United States being a major contributor to climate change was poorly timed and will further doom Capitol Hill legislation to limit carbon-dioxide emissions.

Mr. Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, repeated the argument that cap-and-trade legislation on manufacturing pollution will only send jobs overseas to India and China.

“In an environment like that, to have the secretary of state go over to India and apologize for what old America has done — I’m so tired of people apologizing for us,” Mr. Inhofe told The Washington Times’ America’s Morning News radio show. (For the rest of the interview with Mr. Inhofe, click here.)

Referring to President Obama’s recent statement in Italy that the United States had “sometimes fallen short” of its responsibilities in controlling carbon emissions, Mrs. Clinton said during her trip to India that “we acknowledge now with President Obama that we have made mistakes in the United States, and we along with other developed countries have contributed most significantly to the problem that we face with climate change.”

The secretary’s three-day trip ended Monday with Indian leaders saying they would not cave to U.S. pressure to commit to a deal requiring them to meet targets to reduce emissions, despite assurances the plan would not slow the country’s economic growth.

“We are hoping a great country like India will not make the same mistakes,” Mrs. Clinton said.

During the campaign, Mrs. Clinton took a harder line on negotiations with the leaders of countries such as Iran and suggested in a television commercial that she, not Mr. Obama, would be better equipped to deal with a foreign crisis that erupted at 3 a.m.

Robert Dallek, a presidential historian and author of “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” said: “Presidents don’t let secretaries of state eclipse them.”

Henry Kissinger, among the most powerful secretaries of state, “only eclipsed Nixon after Watergate came along,” Mr. Dallek said.

Mr. Dallek noted that in 1915, William Jennings Bryan — who, like Mrs. Clinton, had been a political rival of the president — resigned as secretary of state because he feared that President Wilson would take the United States into World War I, as indeed he did.

So far, the differences between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton appear to be much smaller and the friction the product of longstanding institutional rivalries and growing pains between once opposing campaign staffs.

There are only two known instances of disagreement between the former political rivals.

The first was the administration’s response to Iran’s crackdown on protesters after the disputed June 12 presidential election. Mrs. Clinton urged Mr. Obama to toughen his until-then cautious language on Iran before he did so, administration officials said.

When he finally decided to accept her advice, he did not tell her, and she learned about it watching his June 23 press conference on television, the officials said.

The second was over a White House plan to increase the number of political appointments of ambassadors. The White House decided to uphold the historic ratio of 30 percent political appointees and 70 percent career diplomats after members of the Foreign Service protested to Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl D. Mills, officials said.

Despite those two cases, Mrs. Clinton said Monday that she and Mr. Obama “have worked very closely together.”

“I could not be more satisfied with the amount of time I spend with the president,” she said.

Both White House and State Department officials dismissed speculation that awkwardness remains between teams left over from campaign days.

“We all know that we work for the president,” said one official, who added that former staffers or advisers to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign now work on the White House National Security Council (NSC) and former supporters of Mr. Obama have received appointments at the State Department.

As examples, he cited Thomas E. Donilon, the deputy national security adviser, and Philip Gordon, an assistant secretary of state for European affairs. During the campaign, Mr. Donilon worked for Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Gordon for Mr. Obama.

Another official said that former Clinton campaign staffers, such as Jacob J. Sullivan, later worked on Mr. Obama’s campaign in the general election. Mr. Sullivan is now Mrs. Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and accompanies her on all foreign trips.

“In the end, everyone keys off the bosses,” the second official said. “I have heard [Mrs. Clinton] say that there is nothing she could have asked for from the president in terms of support and their relationship that she isn’t getting. And if they can make it work, so can everyone else.”

A third official said that any disagreements between Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s aides have more to do with “turf than history and personalities.” Institutional rivalry between the NSC and Foggy Bottom goes back many years.

All three officials asked that their names not be used because they were discussing behind-the-scenes personnel dynamics.

Mr. Dallek said he did not see “overt tension” between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton but attributed that less to personal or institutional dynamics than to overriding U.S. priorities.

“For the time being, foreign policy has been very much eclipsed by the preoccupation with the domestic economy and health care,” he said. “If there are tensions between the two, they are certainly very muted.”

Staff writer Joseph Weber contributed to this article.

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