Cautious politicians rarely have diplomatic successes. True diplomacy requires patience, hard work and creativity. It is not the life style for the superficial or the risk adverse. The problem for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is that boldness has never been one of her assets. Her background as a veteran politician harmed her. American politicians rarely get out in front of any problem. They poll every issue and attempt to determine the risks of asserting any leadership on that issue. This consensus style of management puts a Secretary of State in the position of reacting to crises rather than preventing them. Examples abound, including the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, which might not have collapsed if she had accepted the risks and personally committed herself to the negotiations.
Now that Secretary Clinton has left the U.S. diplomatic stage, various actors have published their report cards of her tenure. A well-respected Marvin Kalb wrote his analysis a few days ago for the pro-Obama Brookings Institution. While he gave Secretary Clinton an A-, he struggled with explaining such a high grade. All he could really point to is an opening in Myanmar (ignoring that regime’s continuing military campaigns against ethnic tribes in its border areas).
Secretary Clinton appeared last week before the Council on Foreign Relations and spent most of her time emphasizing that America’s foreign policy is a reflection of important American values. It is not clear whether the Secretary is ignorant of global perceptions or simply blind to them. Unfortunately, the image more and more people have of the United States is not Lady Liberty and her inspiring message, but orange-hooded prisoners, secret prisons and drone killings. There is less and less transparency and more and more secrecy.
Over the past four years the American people have been bombarded with horrific audit reports. They revealed that billions of dollars in foreign aid and climate change funds had been squandered, yet Secretary Clinton refused to discipline a single diplomat or USAID employee. Likewise, she refused to discipline any of the security officials responsible (in-part) for the deaths of four embassy employees in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Remember that U.S. security officials abandoned the U.S. Ambassador and then “lost” him for the rest of the night, never realizing that he had been dragged from the consulate and was lying in a local hospital morgue.
Secretary Clinton publicly supported human rights in Iran, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria, while publicly ignoring them in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Jordan, Bahrain and Uzbekistan. This selective outrage against abhorrent conduct by adversaries, while remaining silent regarding America’s brutal friends, is apparently an example of Secretary Clinton’s heralded philosophy she calls “smart power.” There is nothing smart or ethical about such a policy, it only encourages mistrust and hatred of the United States.
Secretary Clinton never missed an opportunity to have her photograph taken with visiting delegations of women from the developing world, but she refused to take any substantive action against the trafficking in women. Despite years of prodding from the Kabul Press, she refused to speak out against the brothels in Kabul that arose to service United Nations and NATO officials and their contractors. She also never visited any of the women in Afghanistan’s prisons, sent there under harsh Sharia law verdicts delivered by appointees of Afghan President Karzai. It has been all show and no substance.
It is difficult in a short article to summarize a career. The reviews of Secretary Clinton are at best mixed. She left office at a low point after a final Congressional appearance in which she was combative but ultimately ducked most of the key issues, leaving many questions behind. Her final appearance was predictable and cautious, the same traits she demonstrated over her career. The risk for Secretary Clinton is that history may likewise be predictably cautious in awarding her a good grade for her tenure.