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14 June 2014

The New Republic: Hillary Clinton Was a Mediocre Secretary of State

From Issac Chotiner of The New Republic:

If you want to get a sense of how puny Clinton’s accomplishments at State were, you should read not her haters but her admirers. On Sunday in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof devoted a whole column to praising Clinton’s record, and yet was unable to list anything that wasn’t a broad generalization. Kristof began by noting that, “Clinton achieved a great deal and left a hefty legacy—just not the traditional kind.” What was this legacy, you might ask? 

Clinton recognized that our future will be more about Asia than Europe, and she pushed hard to rebalance our relations. She didn’t fully deliver on this ‘pivot’—generally she was more successful at shaping agendas than delivering on them—but the basic instinct to turn our ship of state to face our Pacific future was sound and overdue. 

So Clinton “recognized” what is surely the single most noted thing in every discussion of American foreign policy, and even in Kritstof’s opinion wasn’t really able to do anything about it. What else? 

A couple of times I moderated panels during the United Nations General Assembly in which she talked passionately—and bewilderingly, for some of the audience—about civil society, women leaders and agricultural investments. Pinstriped foreign and prime ministers looked on, happy to be considered important enough to be invited. They listened with increasingly furrowed brows, as if absorbing an alien language, as Clinton brightly spoke about topics such as “the business case for focusing on gender in agricultural development.” 

This is all well and good but it isn’t much of a legacy. When he tries to turn to specifics, the best Kristof can come up with is that Clinton mentioned Muhammad Yunus in a speech. Kristof’s piece peters out after a few more moist, unspecific paragraphs. 

The reason I quote Kristof at length is because his case is essentially the same as that of her opponents, who claim that she served without much distinction. It’s true that she put an admirable focus on women’s rights, and played a role in isolating Iran. But the Afghanistan surge didn’t seem to have a huge effect; Syria policy has been a failure, even if the alternatives were all bleak; Iraq has collapsed since our departure (again, good alternatives did not clearly present themself); she was probably too cautious about the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, although that didn’t keep him in power; she backed the Libyan campaign, which currently must count as a mixed bag; and she did a lot of what Kristof describes, in terms of trying to streamline and broaden American diplomacy, and repair our relationships with the world. Even if she had some relative successes in these areas, America’s global popularity has declined since she took the job.

Of course, Chotiner implores us not to judge the mediocre Hillary because it's not all her fault. 

Like Obama, it never is.

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