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Obama-Clinton Relationship Will Bring New Dynamic to White House


President-elect Barack Obama is getting generally positive reviews for choosing former rival Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state. But political experts say Clinton's appointment carries the potential of both risk and reward. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

In announcing his national security team, Mr. Obama said he chose people who share what he called "a core vision," but who would not shy away from debate.

But the president-elect also made it clear that when it comes to foreign policy, his voice will carry the day.

"I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions," he said. "I think that is how the best decisions are made. But understand, I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made. So as [former President] Harry Truman said, 'The buck will stop with me.'"

Hillary Clinton said the decision to give up her seat in the U.S. Senate to accept the post of secretary of state was not easy. But in the end, Clinton decided that she wanted a new challenge.

"President Kennedy once said that engaging the world to meet the threats we face was the greatest adventure of our century," she said. "Well Mr. President-elect, I am proud to join you on what will be a difficult and exciting adventure in this new century."

Most experts see advantages for Mr. Obama in having Clinton as his secretary of state.

"Having a secretary of state who can speak for the president, but who also has enormous international stature, is a critical element," said Norman Ornstein, a political scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute. "Hillary Rodham Clinton brings that to the table."

Others see at least the potential for friction between two former rivals who waged a long and sometimes bitter primary battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination this year.

"The pros are her abilities and her background. She has traveled all over the world. She has had extensive experience," said James Pfiffner, an expert on the presidency at George Mason University in Virginia. "Also, she has a very positive image around the world. The potential downside, I suppose, is that she is a very independent politician with her own base of support because of her presidential run and, theoretically, there could be conflict."

University of Texas scholar Bruce Buchanan sees the Clinton appointment as a bold but risky move by President-elect Obama.

"It is potentially a brilliant move if it works, but the degree of difficulty is high enough to make us necessarily cautious in predicting success," he said.

Professor Buchanan questions whether Senator Clinton will be willing "to subordinate herself" to the new president.

But Buchanan also says the Clinton appointment could have a unifying effect on the incoming administration.

"Should this work, even though the prospects are uncertain, should this work, what Obama will have done is not only bring to his side a great talent with a high profile who will, for the most part, be well accepted around the world, but will also unify the Democratic Party in a way that you really can't fully do without taking the Clinton's into account in some significant way," he added.

In the past, some presidents have forged close bonds with their secretary of state. Notable examples include President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and President George H. W. Bush and his longtime friend, James Baker.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have had a contentious relationship as political rivals. But Rutgers University expert Ross Baker says that could change.

"I think that she is a very adaptable person," he noted. "And I think that she realizes that there is one boss and that is the president of the United States, and that whatever she does as secretary of state has to be in conformity with what President Obama wants her to do."

The appointment of presidential rivals as secretary of state is rare, but not unprecedented, in U.S. history.

Presidents John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison all appointed former rivals to the post of secretary of state during their terms of office.