So everybody is wondering whether Obama will choose Hillary to be his Secretary of State.
I’ve been thinking that he might do that ever since I heard Obama speak, during the primaries, about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln shrewdly, wisely, disarmingly followed the advice to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. He brought his harshest political rivals into his cabinet, where he could watch them and where their interests were aligned with his. “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”, he once said.
Naturally, Obama’s way of thinking immediately resonates with mine in at least one way: He instinctively looks to history for lessons and guidance in the here and now. I instinctively do the same. It is the premise of my book.
So here is another story from history that Obama might like. The first emperor of China’s Song dynasty was fighting against a rival, King Liu, to consolidate his rule. Song won and brought Liu to his court, where he offered him a glass of wine. Liu assumed that Song was about to kill him, with poisoned wine, and begged for mercy. Instead, Song laughed, took the glass and drank it himself. Then he made Liu a high-ranking adviser at his court. Liu would be one of the most loyal servants in Song’s retinue.
A while later, Song defeated another king. Song’s ministers lobbied to have this king killed or locked up, presenting reams of documentary proof that he was plotting to kill the Song emperor. The emperor had him brought before him. Then he promoted the man, appointed him to high rank, and sent him home with a package to be opened later. When the man did open it, he found all the documents proving his plot to have the emperor killed. He also became one of the emperor’s most loyal servants.
The benefits of this sort of thing are clear: If your enemies are at large (as Hillary would be in the Senate), they can cause mischief and plot revenge. Their success is your failure, your success their failure. But by bringing them close and aligning their success and failure with yours, you disarm them. Bonus: Because everybody knows that they are former enemies, they must forever work harder than the others to earn their trust.
Wild cards: None of Lincoln’s or the Song emperor’s enemies had a spouse such as Bill. And Bill would still be at large. Oh boy.