The Right Hearts Hillary

Why are conservatives so pleased that Mrs. Clinton will be secretary of state? She beats the alternatives.

12.04.08 6:00 AM ET

The clue to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy's opinion of the nomination of Mrs. Clinton to be the new secretary of state is the same sort that Scotland Yard's Inspector Gregory missed until he asks Sherlock Holmes, "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes responds, "To the curious incident of the dog in the night time."

The dog that didn't bark is not only the ingenious way Holmes solves the mystery of Silver Blaze, but also the solution to my Republican colleagues' reactions in the face of this astonishing turn of events. We are not barking. We are not even whimpering. We are cagily silent. And why?

This is the same posse that once chased the Clintons to impeachment and trial by Senate and harassed Mrs. Clinton as a harridan from Hades. Now she is greeted with stealthy hosannas.

The secret truth of it is that everyone is guiltily, honestly, deeply relieved that foreign policy is now with a veteran team of Washington hands led by Hillary Clinton at State and General Jim Jones as national security adviser, supported by old Bush family consigliere Robert Gates at Defense and Clintonista champs Eric Holder at Justice and Janet Napolitano at Homeland.

I heard a deep sigh from every Republican I pressed to talk—and this was followed with a grin of consternation as they remarked that it could have been much, much worse. They sounded like survivors of a Prius crash. How much worse? Naming John Kerry or Bill Richardson made my colleagues gasp for air.

Will any Republican go far enough to say they love it? No. Yet when you consider that this is the same posse that once chased the Clintons to impeachment and trial by Senate and harassed Mrs. Clinton as a harridan from Hades, the fact that no one is launching a website war against the nomination process, not a single Republican senator has offered a disconsolate word, neither a talk show doll nor a robo-talking head has popped up out of the trenches to aim an RPG—and even trusty Fox News shrugs in resignation—then this all translates into stealthy hosannas.

She is not one of them, of course, but she is respected. Listen to the predictable caution mixed with backhanded admiration. "A gamble for the price of experience, sobriety, competence, and D.C.-insider know-how," commented a stalwart conservative columnist. "This is the best Republicans could have hoped for short of nominating John Bolton," said another unflinching conservative voice. "[She] will pursue a foreign policy that's more moderate that the one Mr. Obama campaigned on," said a think tank executive. "Conservatives are enormously relieved he isn't saddling them with Ramsay Clarks or Dennis Kuciniches," said an acerbic Clinton critic.

The GOP's affection for Mrs. Clinton is more than its having confidence that, with her at Foggy Bottom, the Obama administration will not mass-produce plowshares and fly directly to Munich. After eight years of Mrs. Clinton in Congress, the GOP remnant in the Senate is in genuine agreement with her on war policy. "There has been something of a melding of minds with Mrs. Clinton on a number of international issues, including Israel and the war on terrorism," said a conservative senior editor at a major network. "She will be tougher and better rounded than the other candidates," said a senior military analyst. "[Her] liberal internationalism is better than the alternative of isolationism, [and is] the lesser of two evils," said a veteran war correspondent. "[The] nomination brought sighs of relief to some Jerusalem officials," said a foreign correspondent.

What stands out from all this is that Mrs. Clinton has developed a gritty reputation with the GOP on the Senate Armed Forces Committee as a friend to war-fighters. Speaking with State Department vet Bob Earle, who accompanied a daring CODEL of Mrs. Clinton, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham in February 2005 that toured anarchic Baghdad wearing Kevlar body armor and then flew to still burning Fallujah and Kirkuk, I learned that HRC was relentless and not unsympathetic to the scale of the tragedy. The soldiers liked her, the officers admired her, the generals felt bolstered, and the Iraqis recognized she possessed courage.

Today, General David Petraeus' CENTCOM team has communicated to Republican policy-makers that it is "comfortable" with Mrs. Clinton at State, and that General Petraeus has come to an informal agreement with her, and with the new NSA Jim Jones, that CENTCOM "has latitude to pursue the war up to limits." Important to note that General Petraeus is freshly viewed as a steely Republican presidential candidate in the Douglas MacArthur or Dwight Eisenhower mold for 2012; and that President-elect Obama has more to worry about General Petraeus' standing than does the new secretary of state.

A final surprising turn that fortifies Mrs. Clinton is that the Israeli right wing is making clear to the American right wing that HRC is a certain friend of Jerusalem now and in the future. The turmoil in Israeli polling for the March election points to a surge for the hard liners, led by the reawakened Bibi Netanyahu; and the Likudnik players are hinting that Mrs. Clinton is as sound as the City of David. She is trusted on Iraq, trusted on Iran, trusted to deal with the medieval Wahhabists of the House of al-Saud, the degenerate modernist Assads of Damascus, and the cynical Hamas gangsters of Gaza. Open-handed, open-minded respect from this quarter gives Mrs. Cinton latitude no other figure on the Obama team has in the Middle East.

More intriguing, the harshest reservation voiced so far for Mrs. Clinton is that, as a woman, she is "ill-suited to negotiate with states such as Iran," or Saudi Arabia, where misogyny trumps diplomacy. There is no answering this concern for now; however, the body language from Jerusalem suggests that Secretary of State Clinton may discover that her strongest supporters in Washington will be among the neocons who, about to be banished from power, are showing deference to a woman they once demonized.

“Obviously,” Sherlock Holmes declares triumphantly as he solves the mystery, “the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well.” The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is not yapping at all.

John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.