“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” — Michael Corleone, “The Godfather, Part II”
On Tuesday evening, Hillary Clinton called President Obama. She did so to “make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies, or his leadership,” her spokesman, Nick Merrill, explained.
Mr. Merrill was referring to Mrs. Clinton’s recent stunning interview with The Atlantic. Here, the former secretary of state repudiated the Obama doctrine — “don’t do stupid [stuff]” — as inferior to “organizing principles” of foreign policy. Mrs. Clinton also derided Mr. Obama’s policy in Syria as a “failure” that had enabled the Islamic State. The intent of this message was obvious: attacking Mr. Obama on both strategy and policy. A good public-relations man, however, Mr. Merrill resisted this reality by offering a friendly sound bite. “Like any two friends who have to deal with the public eye, [Mrs. Clinton] looks forward to hugging it out [with President Obama] .” The two met at a party in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., on Wednesday evening.
Still, while the two captains of the Democratic Party have now hugged, you can bet the Secret Service was watching. Because in 2014, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are not friends; they are simply politicians who need each other.
On the president’s side, under increasing pressure at home and abroad, White House staffers certainly do not want the Clintons as overt enemies. After all, the echoes of the 2007-08 biting primary campaign linger. The president is aware that should he push them, the Clintons will let slip the dogs of political war. Moreover, Mr. Obama is keenly aware (to his vice president’s obvious discomfort) that Mrs. Clinton is the near-certain 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Mr. Obama knows that if he is to best protect his legacy, he must keep the Clintons onside. At a basic level, this is why the president afforded Mrs. Clinton such a glowing send-off on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton also needs the president. Regarded with slowly increasing scrutiny by liberals, and astute to Mr. Obama’s fundraising and political networking power, Mrs. Clinton cannot afford alienation. Such a course would risk fracturing her lock on the 2016 nomination and damaging publicity. It would also invite the media to highlight Mrs. Clinton’s less-inspiring policy choices. As I recently explained, Mrs. Clinton’s reflexive intolerance of criticism hurts her campaign brand. In turn, her PR team wants to keep the Obama White House quiet, thus mitigating the chances of a very public tit-for-tat briefing war.
So let’s be clear. This Martha’s Vineyard hug-out isn’t about friendliness over drinks. Rather, just like the Tony Blair-Gordon Brown ice creams on the British campaign trail in 2005, these drinks are a 2014 pretense for a post-2016 political future.
Tom Rogan is a columnist for The National Review and The London Daily Telegraph.