Bill Clinton's Global Reach Would Have Pluses and Minuses for a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Monday, November 17, 2008
If Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is named the next secretary of state, she and her husband could be positioned to lead a public-private partnership on the global stage unlike any before it, one that experts say would bring with it a host of potential benefits and pitfalls for the new president.
Since leaving the White House, Bill Clinton has used his connections with world leaders to position himself as something akin to the world's philanthropist in chief -- and become rich in the process by collecting huge sums from foreign companies eager to hear him speak.
That arrangement could be complicated, though, by his wife joining the Obama administration, with the prospect of questions about any conflict of interest or attempts to curry influence.
For the past four years, Bill Clinton has convened the annual Clinton Global Initiative, a glamorous philanthropic conference that brings together hundreds of corporate chiefs, heads of state, humanitarians and celebrities. The William J. Clinton Foundation has ballooned into a global nongovernmental organization with a staff of more than 800, addressing chronic problems such as climate change, hunger, AIDS and malaria.
If President-elect Barack Obama selects Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state, she will oversee many of the U.S. government's foreign aid programs, potentially turning the couple into an overwhelming force in global aid, say some leaders in the philanthropic community.
"It boosts her stature, it boosts the work of the Clinton Global Initiative, it boosts the whole concept of American partnerships making a real difference on the global level," said Steve Gunderson, president of the Council on Foundations and a former Republican congressman.
"She will be able to say in many of her meetings, 'We're in a situation where I can't commit congressional foreign assistance, but let me work with the philanthropic community back in the United States to see if there are ways that they can be helpful,' " Gunderson said.
The choice of Clinton would present other potential problems for Obama. He would be investing his fortunes not only with his former rival for the presidency but also in an outsize figure on the global scene who has been conducting a kind of privately financed foreign policy all his own since leaving office. Obama and the former president have also continued to share a somewhat strained relationship since the end of the Democratic nominating contest.
Bill Clinton's web of personal financial ties and public policy pronouncements about the world's challenges would instantly become a source of possible discord with a new Obama administration as his wife travels the same world circuit as America's official emissary.
"He's a former president of the United States. He's been traveling around the world, and he's got his foundation and a lot of foreign policy efforts going on," said Leon Panetta, Clinton's former chief of staff and now a professor of public policy. "What they will have to obviously be careful of are the potential conflicts that might appear."
Supporters of the former first lady reject the idea that her selection as secretary of state would be viewed through a prism of either the benefits or the baggage provided by her husband.
"She was one of the most successful primary candidates," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). "I really think that it's unfair to suggest that there's any type of a package that comes with her appointment."