Madam Secretary

Could Clinton be the next defense secretary or vice president?

Could Clinton be the next defense secretary or vice president?

Secretary Clinton has made it very clear that she won’t serve a second term as secretary of state, telling Tavis Smiley in January, "It’s a 24-7 job and I think at some point, I will be very happy to pass it on to someone else." And despite recent remarks from conservatives about Clinton running for president in 2012, Clinton has repeatedly said she doesn’t plan to make a run for the White House, telling Smiley in the same January interview that she is "absolutely not interested."

So what will Clinton do after her State Department tenure? Last Friday, the Washington Post‘s Sally Quinn wrote, in all seriousness, that Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden should switch jobs. She writes:

There are no horror stories about her coming out of the State Department. Most notable, though, is that Bill Clinton has not been the problem that so many anticipated. He has been supportive of her and of Obama, and he has stayed out of the limelight and been discreet about his own life.

In short, the arguments against Hillary Clinton being Obama’s vice president have pretty much evaporated.…

Given the combination of votes that she and Obama got in the 2008 primary campaign, they would be a near-unbeatable team.

Quinn lays out one way it could happen:

It would not be out of the question for Clinton and Biden to switch jobs sometime after the midterm elections.…. She could then immediately begin campaigning for Obama for 2012, and she would also have at least two years in the White House as vice president to give her unassailable experience, clout and credibility.

Wow, Clinton out of Foggy Bottom after the midterm elections? Sounds far-fetched to me, but Quinn says, "Take it seriously."

But there’s an even wackier scenario: Clinton becomes defense secretary and then vice president. In a June 12 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Leslie Gelb, a former official in the State and Defense departments, describes a scenario in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates retires in the next year as "clouds darken" over Afghanistan and maybe Iraq. The only suitable Democratic candidate for defense secretary would be Clinton: 

Politically, no Democrat is better positioned. She has established herself as right of center or near conservative on national security. With Mr. Gates gone, Mr. Obama would need political cover, and Mrs. Clinton has the necessary hard-line standing in the country and in Congress. She’d give him more political protection for tough decisions on Afghanistan, for example, than would any other Democrat.

She also has terrific relations with the military brass, including Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired generals like the highly respected Army four-star Jack Keane. She knows defense issues from her days on the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Indiana, would then become secretary of state, and as the 2012 presidential election drew near, President Obama would announce Clinton as his running mate. And if Obama were reelected, Biden would become secretary of state for Obama’s second term.

Now why in the world would Clinton want to leave the State Department for the Pentagon? Here’s Gelb’s answer:

[W]hile two women secretaries have preceded her at State, she would be the first female defense secretary. She’d like that.

Gelb goes on to say that whether or not Obama is reelected, Clinton would then be well positioned for a presidential run in 2016.

This all sounds very different from the type of life Clinton says she wants to have after she leaves Foggy Bottom. She told Smiley in January:

There are so many things I’m interested in, really going back to private life and spending time reading and writing and maybe teaching. Maybe some personal travel – not the kind of travel where you bring a couple of hundred people with you.

These VP and Pentagon scenarios seem implausible right now, but as Gelb writes, "The biggest political surprises often hide in plain sight."