By Paolo von Schirach
February 2, 2013
WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton just had her last day as Obama’s Secretary of State, punctuated by an informal speech to the assembled and adoring staff in the State Department building. Her farewell speech was not supposed to be a policy pronouncement in which she would enumerate significant milestones of her tenure. Still, it was surprisingly devoid of any substance whatsoever. Not even one major accomplishment was listed. Nothing.
She did say that she had pushed hard to reconfigure US foreign and security policies so that “Diplomacy” and “Development” (her portfolio) would have equal standing with “Defense”), (DOD’s portfolio). But she did not even attempt to evaluate the success of her push.
Indeed, leaving aside her last mostly ceremonial address to her staff, it is hard to pinpoint any major milestone that would bear Secretary Clinton’s signature. It is hard to think of anything at all that she did, in the four years of her tenure as the Head of American diplomacy.
Unprepared for the Arab Spring
The reconfiguration of American policies towards the Muslim world was Obama’s grand idea. And it came to essentially nothing. It was swept away by the Arab Spring, a phenomenon that caught American diplomats, (that means the State Department headed by Hillary Clinton), off guard, with little to propose to the new Arab leaders. As a result of these new developments that America could neither shape nor control the US is just as unpopular among Arabs as it was when George W. Bush was president. .
Russia just as unfriendly
The Russia policy “reset” got us essentially nothing. USAID has been kicked out of the country. Putin is just as uncooperative as he used to be on major issues such as Iran sanctions and solving the Syria crisis. Sure enough, we have a new treaty aimed at reducing the number of nuclear weapons in both arsenals, and this is marginally good, but hardly a breakthrough on the road to global nuclear disarmament.
China rules in Africa
The rest is unremarkable. No new initiative regarding Europe. Nothing special concerning Africa or Latin America. The pivot to Asia seems to be Obama’s idea. However, it is largely an empty gesture that cannot be backed by meaningful military assets that would deter a more aggressive China.
As for the festering crises that Clinton inherited when she took office, well, they are as bad as before. No progress under her four year tenure on the perennial Palestine Israel issue. Nothing new on Iran and zero on North Korea.
Foreign assistance with minimal results
The revamping of US foreign aid was announced; but it did not happen. Most of the USAID money went down the Pakistan and Afghanistan sinkholes, with modest results. The rest of the development assistance budget is sprinkled thinly across so many countries that it makes little difference, one way or the other. In Africa in particular, for better or for worse, China is the new big player. Nothing done by America in Africa under Clinton comes even close to the level of investment made by China.
Last but least there is the recent Benghazi fiasco. Leaving aside the partisan political distortions that enveloped a terror attack that occurred on September 11 and less than two months before the presidential elections, everything we have learnt so far points at the very least to gross managerial incompetence.
Added security for US diplomatic facilities in Libya was requested several times and ignored by the State Department. This does not mean that everybody is incompetent over there. But it means that diplomatic security, a critical function in the al Qaeda era, was handled by sub par amateurs. And all these are high level professioanls who worked for Secretary Clinton.
That said, Clinton’s favorables are spectacularly high, (around 70% , as opposed to Obama’s favorables hovering around 51%). Many people, singularly ignorant about foreign policy, believe that Mrs. Clinton has done a fantastic job as Secretary of State. When pressed to name a major Clinton accomplishment, the same enthusiasts respond with silly generalities like “She has re-established American prestige abroad”.
It is true that Mrs. Clinton is energetic. After she left the White House as spouse of controversial Bill Clinton, she demonstrated her determination to leave her own mark. She run successfully for a New York State Senate seat. She got re-elected.
And then she came within inches of getting the Democratic nomination in 2008. Having lost to Obama, she accepted his offer to become Secretary of State. Certainly Mrs. Clinton has done a lot of high level things.
Still, her undistinguished tenure as globe-trotting Secretary of State, with minimal accomplishments, shows that there is a fundamental distinction between staying busy and being effective.