Hillary plays hardball

The first sign of friction in the Obama camp as Mrs Clinton demands - and gets - a purge of her critics before accepting Secretary of State role

Before Hillary Clinton has been formally offered the job as Secretary of State, a purge of Barack Obama's top foreign policy team has begun.

The advisers who helped trash the former First Lady's foreign policy credentials on the campaign trail are being brutally shunted aside, as the price of her accepting the job of being the public face of America to the world. In negotiations with Mr Obama this week before agreeing to take the job, she demanded and received assurances that she alone should appoint staff to the State Department. She also got assurances that she will have direct access to the President and will not have to go through his foreign policy advisers on the National Security Council, which is where many of her critics in the Obama team are expected to end up.

The first victims of Mrs Clinton's anticipated appointment will be those who defended Mr Obama's flanks on the campaign trail. By mocking Mrs Clinton's claims to have landed under sniper fire in Bosnia or pouring scorn on her much-ballyhooed claim to have visited 80 countries as First Lady they successfully deflected the damaging charge that he is a lightweight on international issues.

Foremost among the victims of the purges is her old Yale Law School buddy Greg Craig, a man who more than anyone led the rescue of his presidency starting the very night Kenneth Starr's lurid report into the squalid details of the former president's sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky were published on the internet in 1998. Despite his long and loyal friendship with the Clintons, Mr Craig threw his lot in with Mr Obama at an early stage in the presidential election campaign. As if that betrayal to the cause of the Clinton restoration was not enough, Mr Craig did more to undermine Mrs Clinton's claims to be a foreign policy expert than anyone else in the some of the ugliest exchanges of the battle for the Democratic nomination.

Until this week he was poised to be the eminence grise of the State Department, organising as total revamp of America's troubled foreign policies on Mr Obama's behalf. Its turns out that Mrs Clinton's delay in accepting the president elect's offer to be his top foreign policy adviser had much to do with her negotiating the terms of the job and insisting on the right to choose her own state department staff and possibly even some of the plumb Ambassador postings. She wanted guarantees of direct access to the president – without having to go through his national security adviser. Above all she did not want to end up like Colin Powell who was completely out-manoeuvred by the hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney who imposed neo-conservative friends like John Bolton on the State Department and steered the US towards a policy of using torture to achieve its aims.

Mr Craig's crime was not so much that he enthusiastically backed Mr Obama for President and helped run his foreign policy advisory panel, it was his lacerating attacks on the putative Secretary of State's claims that she passed the "Commander-in-Chief test" as a foreign policy expert in the Clinton Administration. In a devastating memo of 11 March last, which he addressed "to interested parties," Mr Craig said: 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."

The memo went on to say that Mrs 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." Earlier this week Mr Craig was tapped to become White House counsel, a totally anonymous position, and shunted him out of the line of fire from the Secretary of State.

A question remains about the fate of Susan Rice, the public face of Mr Obama's foreign policy throughout the campaign. She too had been expected to take a prominent position at the State department, but in a conference call with reporters during the campaign she ridiculed Mr Clinton's claims to foreign Policy experience.

She may now end up as Deputy national Security adviser to the president, in the expectation that she would be frozen out by Mrs Clinton at the State Department, a situation that does not augur well for the future.

While having to deal with political enemies fatally undermined Colin Powell, "It would be dreadful if only Clinton loyalists worked at State and Obama loyalists at the N.S.C.," the National Security Council a Clinton adviser told the New York Times.

The line-up

Confirmed:

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle, 60, former Senate Democratic leader

Senior adviser: David Axelrod, 53, Obama's campaign strategist

Senior adviser: Valerie Jarrett, 52, Chicago business-woman

White House counsel: Greg Craig, 63, former counsel to Bill Clinton

Chief of staff: Rahm Emanuel, 49, Political director under Bill Clinton

Political director: Patrick Gaspard, 41, a New York labour official

White House press secretary: Robert Gibbs, 37, political consultant

Vice President's chief of staff: Ron Klain, 31, former chief of staff of vice president Al Gore

Confirmed by sources pending vetting and formal announcement:

Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton, 61

Treasury Secretary: Timothy Geithner, 47

National Security Adviser: James Jones, 64

Attorney General: Eric Holder, 57

Head of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano, 50

Commerce Department Secretary: Bill Richardson, 61

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