There is a veritable plethora of reportage in print, internet, television and radio media speculating as to whether Hillary Clinton will seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. There is further speculation as to what kind of president she would be.
My perspective on Hillary Clinton is a unique one in that I dealt with her as a high ranking Republican in the administration of George W. Bush. She had a reputation, deserved or not, as an outspoken liberal Democrat partisan, and one would think that my experiences with her would have been marked by political and ideological conflict.
Instead, I had a surprisingly good working relationship with the then New York U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and her staff while I served as Region 2 EPA Regional Administrator during the second term of Bush 43.
I had substantial interaction with Hillary Clinton – direct substantial interaction, because she often would pick up the phone herself to call me. I dealt extensively with her on post- 9-11 issues, and to her credit, she kept these matters out of partisan politics. She had a deep, genuine interest in the environment, and she was always most appreciative when I would brief her on subjects as to which she was unfamiliar, such as the Filtration Avoidance Determination for New York City water.
Unlike President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton was willing to work closely with Republican members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to achieve bipartisan goals. This was confirmed for me in conversations I had with my closest friend in the New York State Republican Congressional delegation, the then Representative Jim Walsh, who represented the Syracuse area.
Jim Walsh and I had similar experiences of bipartisan cooperation with Hillary Clinton. This was in sharp contrast to our working experiences with the disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a political Sonny Liston, who was a vulgar, offensive and profane cowardly partisan bully, without ethical scruples. Both of us had experienced ugly confrontations with the then New York governor – from which neither Jim nor I backed down. Unlike Hillary, who was gracious and dignified, Eliot Spitzer gave new meaning to the term “political thug”.
Another distinguishing feature of the then Senator Hillary Clinton was her Senate staff. On the Democratic side of the aisle, she had the most competent staff of any Senator, with the exception of the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s Labor Committee staff. Her record of Senate accomplishment stood in sharp contrast to that of the junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who established a record of substantial nonachievement.
So in late 2007, I was certain that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 2008. I had no doubt that she would have a campaign staff as competent as her Senatorial staff. I felt that with the supreme political skills of both her husband Bill and herself, she would easily defeat Barack Obama.
I was therefore shocked by the incompetency of both her campaign and campaign staff. Her campaign’s deliberate bypass of caucus states was a misjudgment of monumental proportions.
Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign staff also badly strategized her messaging. In retrospect, during that campaign, Hillary positioned herself as a highly qualified and ready future President of the United States. By contrast, Barack Obama was campaigning as a national political rock star and messiah. He was a senator without accomplishments, yet his charisma won over Hillary’s competence and experience. In 2008, the American electorate was looking for a messiah, although Barack Obama turned out to be a false one.
I was even further surprised when she accepted Obama’s appointment of her as Secretary of State. Had Hillary Clinton remained in the U.S. Senate, I am convinced that she could have eventually achieved the stature of the late Senator Ted Kennedy or an Orrin Hatch, senators respected on both sides of the political aisle for their ability to achieve bipartisan cooperation in pursuit of the public good.
Instead, she became the spokesperson for a failed foreign policy. She also became a key player in its formulation, the extent to which will only become known by future historians who will have the benefit of examining presently classified documents.
In general, I do have positive things to say about Hillary Clinton as a public servant and as a person. Yet I will vigorously campaign against her if she runs for President of the United States, and I will strongly support the GOP presidential nominee, whoever that may be. My reasons are not just a matter of party loyalty. Instead, they involve serious problems I have with her past record and current policy positions.
First, I have never forgotten the role Hillary Clinton played at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s administration in the attempted formulation and implementation of “Hillarycare”, a plan for single payer, national health insurance, a measure I emphatically oppose.
Second, Hillary is on record as supporting American aid to the Syrian rebels against the brutal regime of Bashar Assad. This would strengthen the forces of a far worse alternative than Assad: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In my various articles and media appearances, I have made clear my unequivocal views on the proper course of American Middle East policy, based upon my lifetime of study of the region. I have said, in the words of FDR, “again and again”, that it should be the foreign policy of the United States to NOT intervene in the civil wars of Islamic nations. We have basically two – and ONLY two – strategic interests in the Middle East: 1) the survival and security of Israel; and 2) oil. We have no interest in militarily intervening on behalf of regime change in any Middle Eastern nation. In my view, Hillary Clinton would be the ultimate interventionist in the internal affairs of Middle Eastern states – a prescription for more Vietnams and Iraqs (referring to the second Iraq war, not the first, which was justified by the urgency of preventing Saddam Hussein from controlling sixty percent of the world’s oil).
Finally, I have misgivings about Hillary Clinton regarding the issue of future Israel-American relations.
Bill and Hillary Clinton do not share the negative attitudes Barack Obama has towards Israel. Yet they both have a strong preference for left-of-center Israeli governments over center-right administrations.
During the Clinton administration, this Bill and Hillary predilection towards the Israeli Left was hardly a secret. In 1996, Bill Clinton took the unprecedented action of endorsing incumbent Israel Labor Party Prime Minister Shimon Peres for reelection. No other American president ever endorsed a candidate or party in an Israeli national election. Peres was defeated by the Likud Party candidate Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and when Bibi ran for reelection in 1999, Bill Clinton dispatched James Carville to Israel to assist the Labor Party prime minister candidate Ehud Barak. After Barak defeated Netanyahu, Bill and Hillary Clinton welcomed the new prime minister to the White House with unconcealed glee.
Since 1999, the culture of Israeli politics has changed dramatically. Israel will almost certainly be governed for the foreseeable future by center-right administrations like that of the current Likud coalition led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Hillary Clinton would have at best a stressful relationship with such Israeli governments.
All this begs the question: Will Hillary run? I think she will run and be nominated, after a surprisingly rough sequence of primaries against a left-of-center Democrat such as Elizabeth Warren or Martin O’Malley. This competition from the Left will make it most difficult for her to dissociate herself from Barack Obama. If the GOP nominee is then able to portray a Hillary Clinton administration as Barack Obama’s third term, Republicans will have a very much enhanced opportunity to win the White House.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.