President Barack Obama is sprinting through New York, planning to spend less than 24 hours on the ground and meeting one-on-one with no world leaders gathered for the 67th opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Republicans mocked Obama for spending Monday afternoon with the ladies from ABC’s The View and not, say, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. But for the President, it was a calculated move just six weeks before voters decide whether to give him four more years. Why assume potential risks when he is polling well ahead of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on his handling of foreign affairs? Besides, world leaders certainly don’t vote in U.S. elections; and besides, Obama has Hillary Clinton to fill his shoes.
For a man who has hardly utilized his cabinet in his first term, Obama’s dependence on his Secretary of State is striking. As he and First Lady Michelle Obama reminisced about their first kiss on The View, Clinton was blocks away meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. She also met with Morsy and will get together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he arrives later in the week. By the end of Monday she’d already met with six world leaders; by the end of the week she’s scheduled to meet with dozens more. In practical terms, Clinton is acting as the head of state for this week’s United Nations summit.
Who would’ve imagined that Obama and his former rival would’ve become such a team? It was just over four years ago, near the end of the Democratic primaries, that Clinton put out a television ad questioning Obama’s ability to answer a crisis call in the White House at 3 a.m. When Obama offered her the post of Secretary of State, pundits predicted that the ego of her husband, former president Bill Clinton, would get in the way or that she’d never truly gain Obama’s confidence. But four years later Bill Clinton headlined Obama’s 2012 convention, Clinton insider Jack Lew is Obama’s chief of staff and Hillary Clinton is quite literally managing Obama’s foreign policy while he campaigns and preps for the first presidential debate next week.
Clinton’s ability to fill Obama’s shoes is a testament to her tenure as Secretary of State. Few have such star power on their own that they can step up to that level. If Clinton ever chooses to run for president again – her husband on Sunday said he had “no earthly idea” of her 2016 plans – it’s weeks like this one that burnish her credentials. In a 2016 race, Clinton won’t be talking about landing in Bosnia under fire as First Lady – a story she later had to correct – but how she ran the U.N. for Obama and how, when domestic crises kept him at home, she traveled more than any other Secretary of State in history.