Hillary in the Cabinet: why not DOD or Justice?

After several days of speculation, I still fail to see why Hillary Clinton would want the job as Obama’s Secretary of State.

1) Secretary of State is a more important office when the President does not want to focus much on foreign policy; if he does, then he will concentrate authority in the White House and particular with the National Security Advisor. Obama seems to have very strong ideas on how his foreign policy will operate: that will generally leave Foggy Bottom less important. This means that to the extent that Hillary wants to do something, Steve’s scenario of a circular firing squad seems more likely.

2) A Cabinet position carries power inherently if it has a large and powerful bureaucracy that the Secretary can direct. But that is not the case with State, as opposed to, say, HHS, or even Justice.

3) If Hillary really would want to do something major in terms of national security policy, she should be angling not for State but rather Defense. That has the biggest and most powerful of all bureaucracies; she would make history by becoming the first female in charge of the Pentagon; and she knows something about it, having served on Armed Services for 8 years.

4) Since this hasn’t been mentioned, I’m assuming that Obama is going to keep Gates on for several months.

5) One might think that Sec Def is a poisoned chalice, because it means extracting US forces from Iraq. Perhaps true, but the new Iraqi resolution on the SOFA makes this something less of a problem.

6) The other place where Hillary would be extraordinarily qualified would, of course, be the Justice Department. Again, no talk of this.

7) Putting Hillary in charge of DOJ, and the prosecutorial power, might be a little too risky, even if we buy (as Steve and I do not) that the “team of rivals” philosophy is applicable.

8) This suggests to me that Obama might be trying to sideline her. But then why would she accept it?

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.