Washington Prowler

From Senator to Lowly Secretary

Hillary Clinton and her State Department are out of the loop -- and incompetent.

By 5.29.09

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Word coming recently that due to a series of diplomatic oversights, Queen Elizabeth was excluded from a planned U.S.-French commemoration of D-Day, despite her, as well as Britain's, role in the war and the D-Day campaign, has put renewed focus on the inner workings of the Obama State Department and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

According to State Department sources, while the U.S. State Department was not part of the full planning for the D-Day commemoration, American staff involved did not raise the issue of the Queen's involvement with the French. "It was French planning," says one State Department employee. "We were advised; we made sure we would have the necessary people in place, including the President, that was all."

But some State insiders say that the department in previous administrations would have taken a greater hand in shaping the events, particularly those with great symbolic or patriotic significance for the United States. "That's not a priority with this crew," says another State Department employee. "But this isn't the first time these guys haven't connected the dots or done their research in advance of meetings and the like."

The most high-profile embarrassment for Clinton was when she provided Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a gift to mark their first meeting: a prop "reset" button. "I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: 'We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together,'" Clinton said, presenting Lavrov with the red button. What the foreign minister got, however, was a button that said "peregruzka," which in Russian means "overcharge."

In a more embarrassing moment for the Administration, the White House was seemingly unprepared for the diplomatic and ceremonial requirements of the visit of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. While the State Department was not the lead on the ceremonial portions of the meeting between Brown and Obama, the department was consulted and seemingly gave the White House inaccurate information for what was considered a standard meeting between two world leaders.

But there have been other gaffes, many of them private, say State Department employees. Clinton has often showed up for meetings seemingly unprepared or not fully briefed, misidentified officials, and at times seemed unsure of Obama Administration policies. Further, she and her senior staff have been cut out of personnel decisions, particularly on the selection of ambassadors, positions one would think the highest ranking foreign policy official in an administration would have a say in filling. "All them plum ambassadors slots were handled out of the White House," says another State Department official. "In part, this is due to the political nature of the positions and the payoffs for campaign support, but still, in previous administrations, it was State that often took the lead in vetting the nominees."

Early stories on Clinton's State Department highlighted the slow pace of hiring for her senior staff, but the current issues have little to do with that, say the State Department employees, who say there is a growing impression that Clinton is frustrated by her inability to be front and center on foreign policy, taking the back seat to Obama, and chafing at White House control over foreign affairs. 

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