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Madam Secretary

The inaugural Hillary Poll: Clashes with Obama and Bill’s foreign checks

Today, we’re launching a brand-new feature here at Madam Secretary: The Hillary Poll. Each week, we’ll ask a handful of HRC watchers — experts on the State Department, Washington insiders, journalists who have long covered the Clintons — to weigh in on a Hillary topic in the news. For our inaugural poll, our esteemed panelists ...

Today, we’re launching a brand-new feature here at Madam Secretary: The Hillary Poll. Each week, we’ll ask a handful of HRC watchers — experts on the State Department, Washington insiders, journalists who have long covered the Clintons — to weigh in on a Hillary topic in the news.

For our inaugural poll, our esteemed panelists are:

Paul Begala, former advisor to Bill Clinton, author, and CNN contributor

Jacques Attali, French economist and scholar (as well as one of FP‘s top 100 public intellectuals)

Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations

Question 1: How big a problem does the Clinton Foundation pose for Hillary?

a) Not a problem. The ethics and disclosure agreement between the transition team and the foundation hits all the right notes.
b) It’s a minor issue, and she handled it well at the hearing.
c) It will be an occasional nuisance, but Bill will be on his best behavior.
d) We’ll see “Clinton” and “conflict of interest” in a headline within months.

Begala: A. I returned this morning from a conference in Africa at which Pres. Clinton spoke. One of the questions from the audience was, “How can we persuade our own former presidents to continue to serve the way you do?” The audience cheered. The Clinton Foundation is a huge plus for America. It’s a force multiplier—saving lives and putting America in a strongly favorable light.

Attali: A.

Gelb: C. Republicans and cable newsies will scream from time to time, but it’ll be manageable.

Question 2: Should Bill Clinton’s foundation stop cashing foreign checks, as Sen. Lugar recommended at the confirmation hearing?

a)    Yes
b)    No

Begala: B. The disclosures and ethics vets in place are strong. It is not in America’s foreign policy interests to hamstring a foundation that saves millions of lives. And a near-unanimous Senate agrees.

Attali: A.

Gelb: B. Let Bill and his foundation do their things. If we didn’t trust Hillary to do her job right, we shouldn’t have confirmed her in the first place. I trust her.

Question 3: What did the Senate Foreign Relations Committee fail to ask Hillary that should have been asked?

Begala: Because I was in Africa, I was able only to see Hillary’s opening statement and a bit of Sen. John Kerry’s. So I can’t really judge. The dominant stories over there were of course Gaza and the Russian cutoff of gas to Ukraine and Europe. I’m sure both were dealt with.

Attali: The NATO membership of Ukraine, a vital issue in the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Gelb: Confirmation hearings are mainly for designees to dodge policy commitments and keep flexibility, particularly at the start of an administration. Hillary dodged well and appropriately — and would have done so regardless of how smart the questions were.

Question 4: What will be the first foreign policy clash between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

Begala: We will never know.  Both Sec. of State Clinton and President-elect Obama are disciplined leaders. They’ll keep what disagreements they have private and present a united front to the world.

Attali: Same as above: the NATO membership of Ukraine.

Gelb: Obama is going to come closer to many of Hillary’s campaign positions, and she is on her best behavior to make this work, so clashes won’t be frequent in the first year. Failure will bring it on, and failure will come first in Afghanistan/Pakistan.

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