Though it’s probably not intended this way, Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser’s verdict on Hillary Clinton’s legacy as secretary of state is revealed before readers get to the first sentence. The headline of the piece is, naturally: “Was Hillary Clinton a Good Secretary of State?” But the subheadline gives it away: “And does it matter?” Thus, the article seems to be making excuses for Clinton before even revealing what must be excused.
The problem for Clinton is that she has a sympathetic judge in Glasser, who penned a Foreign Policy cover profile of Clinton last year that was celebratory despite not having much to celebrate. Yet when Glasser asks around the foreign-policy community about Clinton’s accomplishments at State, those on the left side of the political isle seem to all bypass the question itself and move right onto why she had no accomplishments. You have to wonder what the answers would be if Clinton weren’t presumed to be the next Democratic nominee for president.
Glasser asked Aaron David Miller for his assessment, which was this:
“Hillary was risk-averse; Kerry isn’t. He’s risk-ready.” Of course, Miller argues, 2016 politics “explains partly why she didn’t own a single issue of consequence.” The other reason is President Obama himself, “the most controlling foreign policy president since Nixon.”
Clinton was inconsequential; the real question, to her fellow liberals, concerns who they can blame for this. (Surely not Hillary!) Miller tosses in the obligatory nod to “the Republican obsession with Benghazi,” but it only serves to remind readers that Democrats are crassly uninterested in the tragedy over which they presided.
Glasser sums up the Democrats’ opinions on Hillary as belonging to one of three groups:
As for the Democrats, Clinton’s advocates tend to come in several camps, which can be broadly summed up as The Timing Just Wasn’t Right group; the Blame the White Housers; and the Asia Pivot Was a Really Big Deal crowd (“her major accomplishment,” the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon told me, and “too often underappreciated”).
Brutal–those are her “advocates.” The first two speak for themselves; the third is obviously grasping at straws, since the administration’s “pivot” to Asia was mostly repairing the damage President Obama’s first term did to our Pacific alliances with the occasional painfully obvious declaration about the region that suggests members of the Obama administration have just recently discovered China’s existence.
Now, it should be noted that some of the justifications for Clinton’s tenure offered by her “advocates” are accurate. Obama really does exercise obsessive control over everything, and his anti-interventionist inclinations did in fact win out more often than Clinton may have liked. Readers may think those like Miller who blame Obama are taking the easy way out, but other Clinton supporters have him beat: Steve Sestanovich, a former State Department official under Hillary’s husband, blames–you guessed it–George Bush. (His logic is that the world existed before the Obama administration–he knows, he was there!–and thus Hillary didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning, etc.)
But Anne-Marie Slaughter, now the president of the New America Foundation, can top that. If you’re wondering just how incoherent an attempt to praise Clinton as consequential would be, wonder no more:
Her case for Clinton, in fact, is explicitly about politics—and Clinton’s willingness to integrate them into the traditionally stodgy, big man-to-big man diplomacy long favored at the State Department (and arguably now being resurrected by Kerry). “Foreign policy has always been the furthest thing from retail politics; she brought them much closer together and institutionalized as much of her approach as possible in the very bones of the State Department. … Hillary took diplomacy directly to the people in ways that cannot produce a treaty or negotiated agreement, but that are essential to advancing America’s interests over the longer term,” Slaughter argues. “What she should be remembered for in a 2016 campaign is proving that she could represent the American people day in and day out in the long, hard slog of regular politics, in between the rare shining moments of success. She was and is beloved around the world, as an inspiration, as an example of an America in which a woman could run for president, nearly win her party’s primary, lose with grace and then prove that adversaries can work together for the sake of their country.”
So there you have it: the case for Hillary isn’t much better than the case against her, but it’s always someone else’s fault anyway. The second half of that assessment is a gift due to her signal that she wants to be the next president. Subtract that, and you’ve probably got what her “advocates” really think of her. But if Clinton does indeed run for president, her opponents aren’t likely to be so kind.