Less than nine months ago, the Obama campaign was slamming Hillary Clinton as utterly unqualified on foreign policy, having had no substantive experience during her husband’s administration and being dreadfully wrong in her judgment as a Senator when it came to “the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation,” the war in Iraq.
A March 11, 2008 memo by Obama ally (and now incoming White House Counsel) Gregory Craig suggested Clinton (unlike Obama) was using “false charges and exaggerated claims to play politics with national security.” The memo was passed around as Clinton was slamming Obama as not ready to take a “3am phone call” on a national emergency.
Yet today, as President-elect Barack Obama named Hillary Clinton to the top foreign policy post in his administration, none of the three broadcast network anchors chose to disrupt the moment by reminding anyone of Obama’s argument of a few months ago that, when it came to foreign policy, Clinton is an inexperienced phony. [UPDATE at end]
All three networks broke into regular programming to show the moment in which Obama picked his former rival for his Cabinet. All forecast smooth sailing for Clinton in her confirmation hearings — CBS’s Jeff Greenfield pointed out the lack of a “fire-breathing conservative” on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, so thus no “bloodbath attack” on either Bill or Hillary Clinton — while ABC’s George Stephanopoulos found Clinton “a little sad about leaving her job as Senator from New York.”
If Republicans were involved instead of Democrats, the primary-season memo from the Obama campaign debunking Clinton’s claim of foreign policy experience could be expected to be at least mentioned, if not highlighted, by the political media. Here’s an excerpt; the entire memo, with a critique of Hillary Clinton’s involvement in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, China and Iraq can be found here:
There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton played an important domestic policy role when she was First Lady. It is well known, for example, that she led the failed effort to pass universal health insurance. There is no reason to believe, however, that she was a key player in foreign policy at any time during the Clinton Administration. She did not sit in on National Security Council meetings. She did not have a security clearance. She did not attend meetings in the Situation Room. She did not manage any part of the national security bureaucracy, nor did she have her own national security staff. She did not do any heavy-lifting with foreign governments, whether they were friendly or not. She never managed a foreign policy crisis, and there is no evidence to suggest that she participated in the decision-making that occurred in connection with any such crisis. As far as the record shows, Senator Clinton never answered the phone either to make a decision on any pressing national security issue — not at 3 AM or at any other time of day....
On the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation — the War in Iraq — Senator Clinton voted in support of a resolution entitled "The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of U.S. Military Force Against Iraq." As she cast that vote, she said: "This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make — any vote that may lead to war should be hard — but I cast it with conviction." In this campaign, Senator Clinton has argued — remarkably — that she wasn't actually voting for war, she was voting for diplomacy. That claim is no more credible than her other claims of foreign policy experience. The real tragedy is that we are still living with the terrible consequences of her misjudgment. The Bush Administration continues to cite that resolution as its authorization — like a blank check — to fight on with no end in sight....
Barack Obama does not use false charges and exaggerated claims to play politics with national security.
Now, to today’s announcement of Clinton as Obama’s foreign policy chief. None of the three networks had anything negative to say about either Clinton or Obama’s experience or foreign policy capabilities, and none brought up the condemnations of the primary season. Here are the relevant excerpts, as transcribed by the MRC’s Kyle Drennen, Scott Whitlock and Geoffrey Dickens:
■ CBS News Special Report:
ANCHOR KATIE COURIC: What about confirmation process? Do you think there will be tough questions for Senator Clinton? Richard Lugar — Senator Lugar over the weekend said there were legitimate questions to ask about Bill Clinton and, of course, in order for her to even be nominated as secretary of state he had to disclose the names of every contributor to his foundation since its inception in 1997 and all contributors going forward. So do you think that they're going to run into any road blocks during that process?
CORRESPONDENT JEFF GREENFIELD: They're going to run into some tough questions because Senator Lugar, who said he's going to support Senator Clinton's nomination, said we do have legitimate questions. One interesting thing is there are no — I'll use this term — fire-breathing conservative Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nobody who's looking to make points going after Bill Clinton. And Richard Lugar himself, the ranking Republican, is a relative moderate. So I think that there'll be tough questions, but I don't think it's going to be a kind of, you know, bloodbath attack on the former president.
■ ABC News Special Report:
ANCHOR DIANE SAWYER: And you there have it, President-elect Obama and a portrait of a team designed to express an announced purpose, namely that formidable team of rivals in Abraham Lincoln's administration, an inconclusiveness that Senator Obama said he believed in. George Stephanopoulos, nonetheless, all the attention, it seemed, at least from the press corp, were on the face and words of Senator Hillary Clinton. What was your take?
CORRESPONDENT GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about it. She seemed pretty determined there. A little sad about leaving her job as senator from New York. She decided to lead her comments with a thank you to the citizens of New York. I think the most interesting theme running through the press conference, as you pointed out, is not just this team of rivals but as one reporter put it the clash of rivals and the pains that everyone took to talk about how there wouldn't be a clash. Although President-elect Obama said the worst problem in an administration comes when there's group think. He emphasized again and again how everyone on that stage showed the same core principles, the same core values. You even saw Vice President-elect Biden do the same thing. The first time you he's spoken at one of these press conferences.
SAWYER: That's true. And, again, she began by saying, “I will give it my all.” And, I thought in a gracious and deliberate gesture at the end, turned to him to say, “And may God bless you in what you have to do” to the President-elect.
■ NBC News Special Report:
ANCHOR BRIAN WILLIAMS: Andrea it would have seemed so unlikely, just weeks ago, to see these two, Obama and Clinton, as partners, but it has happened today. What kind of confirmation process does she now face as Secretary of State-designee?
CORRESPONDENT ANDREA MITCHELL: Well the ranking Republican, Brian, on the Foreign Relations committee, Dick Lugar, said over the weekend that there will be questions raised about Bill Clinton’s role. Bill Clinton has agreed to some very important concessions, in the last couple of days alone, where he will separate his Global Initiative from his foundation, where he will disclose 208,000 donors, has already, to the Obama team. Where he will give the State Department a pre-look, pre-clearance at future speeches overseas and will not accept foreign contributions. So he has made some big concessions. But those will all be examined by the Foreign Relations committee. But these are her peers, the Senators who are behind her and I think that her confirmation would likely be very smooth.
UPDATE: While none of the broadcast networks brought up Greg Craig's memo in their pre- and post-news conference commentary, New York Times reporter Peter Baker did confront Obama with the past acrimony in the Q&A session:
You talked about the importance, just now, of having different voices and robust debate within your administration but, again going back to the campaign, you were asked and talked about the qualifications of the -- your -- now your nominee for Secretary of State, and you belittled her travels around the world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders, and your new White House Counsel said that her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering if you could talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring.
Obama replied that this was just the press playing games, and that he and Hillary agreed on the same basic vision.
Update 21:01 | Matthew Sheffield. The media's refusal to acknowledge Clinton and Obama's mutual attacks on each other's foreign policy experience constrast sharply with how the media received news that President Bush picked Tony Snow, an occasional Bush critic, as his spokesman.