Wednesday, April 4, 2012


The Economist has a comprehensive portfolio analyzing Hillary Clinton's time as Secretary of State, with both an article and an extended interview with Clinton herself.

This assessment of Clinton's performance at State provides a very useful overview of her relationship with the president (convivial and smooth, but for the fundamental constraint that in dire times, the power center shifts from Foggy Bottom to the White House); her style (notably extensive travel, importance placed on person-to-person relations, and the choice to delegate major dossiers); as well as her primary priorities (executing the Asia pivot and the push into Asian multilateral organizations, economic statecraft, and women's rights).

Cursory mention of failures is also made - such as the possibility that the US fails to stand on the right side of history in the Arab Spring by botching its response to Syria; or the abject failure of the Israel-Palestine peace process. And partisan Republicans are quoted grumbling about style over strategy while also suggesting that the language of the Asia pivot alienated traditional allies and citing the administration's ineffectual management of ending its inherited wars.

And like most recent articles about Clinton (and echoing the statements of NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi) this one evokes Clinton's potential future presidential ambitions, citing her 70% popularity rating and her age in 2016 (a viable 69 years old).

The author is recognizes the constraints of his own analysis: the relative lack of influence of State versus either the White House or Pentagon in wartime, or the apparent harmony between hers and Obama's views of foreign policy (thus making it harder to identify public battles and decrypt the consequences on policy). The aforementioned barriers can prove frustrating to a reader looking for greater editorial scrutiny. To compensate, the extended interview is essential, with extraordinary depth about the decision-making context and process, as well as Clinton's own evaluation of how foreign policy evolutions are situated in a longer-term reflection on how the US's comportment in the world.

But as long as Clinton is still in function, the lasting impact of both the content and approach of her leadership cannot be fully known. And we all wait to see how the initiatives she has launched will fare once she is gone:

Will the quadrennial strategy review, and her notion of "holistic" diplomacy, continue with her successors? Will Clinton's relentless advocacy for the advancement of women take hold? Will the world's most reticent leaders accept her arguments for equality based not on morality but rather on economic efficiency? And more importantly, will the US foreign policy machine carry the mantle of women's rights after January 2013?

Will Clinton be known as a terrific executor, a highly-intelligent and tireless global ambassador, who revitalized America's relationships in the world? The steward of Smart Power with a keen understanding of how to foster closer diplomacy in the technological age? Will there be a strategic legacy to take away from the past four years, with measurable outcomes and broader consequences on the US's global position? Or will her influence remain in the realm of cult of personality? And will the successes and progress made during her tenure catapult her into the pantheon of the Great secretaries of state?

What Hillary Did Next (both at Economist)
An Interview With Hillary Clinton

photo credit: Forbes