Obama Disputed Hillary Clinton’s Credentials Before He Applauded Them
December 1, 2008 - 5:40 PMThe president-elect names as his secretary of state the woman he once mocked as having no foreign policy experience.
During the campaign for the Democratic nomination, Obama mocked Clinton’s primary claim that she possessed the necessary foreign policy experience to be president.
“What exactly is this foreign policy expertise?” Obama said to reporters in March, while flying from a campaign event in Texas. “Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crises? The answer is no.”
In spite of these doubts, Obama praised Clinton’s credentials Monday, saying she would be able to advance America’s interests due to her knowledge of world affairs and familiarity with world leaders.
“She is an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world's leaders, who will command respect in every capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world,” he said.
Obama said that his new foreign policy team, which will be led by Clinton, would change America’s foreign policy for the better.
“I am confident that this is the team that we need to make a new beginning for American national security,” he told reporters at the announcement.
However, Obama had expressed exactly the opposite view of Clinton during the primary campaign.
“It’s what’s wrong with politics today. Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected,” Obama said in a January radio ad. “Hillary Clinton. She’ll say anything and change nothing.”
Obama also said Monday that he picked Clinton for her intelligence, toughness and work ethic, noting that his new team would need to pursue a new strategy around the globe.
“She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and toughness, and a remarkable work ethic,” the president-elect said of Clinton.
He added that his new team must “pursue a new strategy that skillfully uses, balances, and integrates all elements of American power: our military and diplomacy, our intelligence and law enforcement, our economy and the power of our moral example.”
But last year, Obama’s campaign specifically said that the candidate didn’t need the advice of someone like Clinton, “someone whose ideas were more in line with those of President George W. Bush” than with Obama’s.
“Barack Obama doesn’t need lectures in political courage from someone who followed George Bush to war in Iraq,” the campaign said in a December 2007 statement.
A few months later, Obama reinforced the sentiments of his campaign, saying that Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy wasn’t the change Americans wanted.
“Real change isn’t voting for George Bush’s war in Iraq and then telling the American people it was actually voting for more diplomacy,” he said in March.
In his introduction of Clinton on Monday, however, Obama also seemed to contradict the prior statements of two of his top incoming advisors; both of whom said that Clinton had never been involved in foreign policy issues before.
Greg Craig, incoming chief counsel, said of Clinton in a March conference call: “There’s no evidence that she participated or asserted herself in any of the crises that took place during the eight years of the Clinton presidency. White House records show that she was consistently absent when critical decisions were being made and that her trips abroad were largely ceremonial.”
Susan Rice, Obama’s choice to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, said that a First Lady doesn’t deal with international issues.
“There is no crisis to be dealt with or managed when you are First Lady,” Rice said in March. “You don't get that kind of experience by being married to a commander-in-chief.”
In the most hotly debated dust-up of the primary season – over Clinton’s famous “3 a.m.” ad asking which candidate would better handle a crisis call at three in the morning -- Obama himself said Clinton had already failed the foreign policy test.
“The question is, what kind of judgment will you exercise when you pick up that phone,” Obama said. “In fact, we’ve had a red-phone moment. It was the decision to invade Iraq. Sen. Clinton gave the wrong answer.”
On Monday, meanwhile, Obama called Clinton “a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel.”