President Barack Obama and his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seem to have smoothed over a recent tiff over his foreign policy. It’s the latest chapter in what has been a long and complicated political relationship between powerful Democrats -- one who became president in 2009 and another who may run for president in 2016. That relationship could change yet again if Hillary Clinton decides to make a run for the White House two years from now.
It is sometimes easy to forget that before they became political allies, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were fierce rivals for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008.
Obama emerged victorious in that battle and later went on to become president. He surprised many by choosing Clinton as his first secretary of state.
Foreign policy critique
But their relationship appeared to take another turn recently when Clinton criticized Obama’s approach to foreign policy in an interview with The Atlantic magazine.
“Great nations need organizing principles," Clinton told the magazine and that "‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
The critique seemed to revive some of the old tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps. It also followed her to a bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard as she signed copies of her book, Hard Choices, where she downplayed her differences with the president. “We have disagreements as any partners and friends, as we are, might very well have. But I am proud that I served with him and for him.”
Conciliatory words also came from the White House and Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz.
“They continue to agree on a broad majority of issues confronting our country even if they have the occasional policy difference," he said.
Evolving political relationship
Some political observers like Tom DeFrank of the National Journal saw the interview as an attempt by Clinton to put some political distance between herself and Obama.
“It’s quite possible that the American people are ready for a third Clinton term. But they are definitely not ready for a third Obama term.” DeFrank said on VOA’s “Issues in the News” program.
But analyst Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution has a different take.
“She is more hawkish in her views," Mann said. " I think she was speaking quite frankly about what she believes in foreign policy. I don’t see it as brilliant tactics for setting herself up for the election.”
Republicans are also preparing for a possible Clinton campaign. But who might emerge from their presidential field is far from certain, according to expert John Fortier. “So Republicans are certainly aware of some of her strengths and weaknesses, but really I think it is more of a challenge for Republicans to have a candidate who gets to be as well-known as Hillary Clinton and then can go one-on-one with her.”
Hillary Clinton and President Obama will hit the campaign trail soon in advance of congressional elections in November. But Mann says it is Republicans who have a clear advantage in this year’s balloting.
“It is especially the case when the president isn’t terribly popular, when people still have economic anxieties and when they believe the country is moving in the wrong direction," Mann noted.
It’s possible that Clinton will find herself in more demand from Democrats looking for campaign help than President Obama. Some Democrats, especially those in Republican-leaning states, want to maintain some distance with the president, who is suffering through some of the lowest public approval ratings of his presidency.