Monday, June 15, 2009

Grading Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State: A Foreign Policy Superstar

In today’s post, Peter Keating at Daily Intel, NY Magazine, answers with tons of high praise the question: How is Hillary Clinton doing as secretary of state? But in order to get to the good stuff you first have to swallow the obligatory offensive comment in the opening paragraphs; I mean, no good ol’ boy media rep could simply report the facts regarding her outstanding performance as America’s top diplomat without first reminding readers of one of the worst attempted smears from the primary days.

That would be candidate Clinton’s RFK reference distorted by the Obama camp and shamelessly amplified by the likes of “liberal” pundits including E.J. Dionne, Bob Herbert, and Eugene Robinson, all of whom jumped at the chance to accuse Clinton of wanting Barack Obama dead.

Only John F. Harris, senior editor at Politico and former staff member of the Washington Post came clean by admitting that Clinton’s comment was a non-story hyped by the media for the sole purpose of increasing site traffic – ethical standards in journalism be damned. Harris failed to mention the reality that the media had already selected Obama as the Democratic Party’s nominee and would stoop to any level to make it happen.

Now that I’ve gotten his good ol’ boy swipe out of the way, take a look at Secretary Clinton’s accomplishments as compiled by Keating (subheads mine):

Hillary secures 10 percent increase in State’s budget while Geithner was still figuring out how to turn the lights on is in his office

On the inside, Clinton has steadily accumulated power while expending hardly any political capital. For one thing, she has stirred an effective mix of politicos and diplomats into the top tiers of the State Department. Hillary has Cheryl Mills, a lawyer best known for defending Bill Clinton during impeachment, running her staff. And she has divided the position of Deputy Secretary of State into two jobs: supersmart Jim Steinberg, who was deputy national security adviser under Bill Clinton but supported Obama in 2008, is her policy maven, while Jack Lew is her management chief. Lew helped Hillary secure a 10 percent increase in the State Department’s budget from Obama while Tim Geithner was still figuring out how to turn the lights on in his office.

Hillary has made no mistakes

Further, Clinton hasn’t made mistakes. There have been no Joe Biden–like gaffes, Tom Daschle–like embarrassments, or Judd Gregg–like turnarounds coming from Hillary. Or from her husband — these days, Bill Clinton would have us believe he spends his time shopping for trinkets, unable even to get Hillary on her cell phone.

Time’s Mark Halperin gives Hillary an A-; National Security Advisor Jim Jones gets an incomplete

Meanwhile, nobody else has developed an alternative foreign-policy power center within the administration. Obama likes Biden, but the vice-president is no match for Hillary in mano-a-mano bureaucratic combat. For example, Clinton favored sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while Biden opposed the move. The result: “She crushed him,” according to Republican Mark Kirk of Ilinois. At the same time, National Security Adviser Jim Jones has been an utter cipher; when Time’s Mark Halperin graded the Obama administration, he gave Hillary an A- (“significant, powerful, worldly, respected”), but had to give Jones an “incomplete.” And Obama’s presidential envoys, such as Richard Holbrooke in Afghanistan and Dennis Ross in Iran, are mostly old Clinton hands who aren’t about to usurp any authority from Hillary.

Clinton realigns American foreign policy from reliance on military force to smart power

In public, Clinton has spent the last six months fundamentally realigning American foreign policy away from reliance on military force, toward what she calls (in a wise abandonment of the lefty academic phrase “soft power”) “smart power” — more diplomacy and international economic assistance. She has also been striving to ensure zero daylight between her and Obama on any issue, big or small, whatever positions she might have taken as a New York senator or presidential candidate. If Clinton minds toiling in Obama’s shadow, or representing her former rival as America’s best face to the world, she hasn’t shown it. With Hillary, it’s always hard to tell where duty stops and happiness begins, and her new job has brought out her cheerfulness and indefatigability at the same time; as she put it on her first trip to Asia, “Showing up is not all in life, but it counts for a lot.” And whether it’s laying down conditions for Cuba’s readmittance to the Organization of American States or appearing on the Indonesian teen variety show Awesome, Clinton has been showing up, albeit fairly quietly, all around the planet.

The Secretary demonstrates her power

On April 23, Hillary smacked down Representative Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who had tried to scold Obama for “warmly greeting” Hugo Chavez. “We spent the last eight years trying to isolate Chavez, and what has been the result?” Hillary replied. “We want your feedback, but President Obama won the election. He beat me in a primary, in which he put forth a different approach, and he is now our president.” Something similar happened last weekend, when she told George Stephanopoulos that Obama had passed the “3 a.m.” test that she had posed in the primaries. Clinton has become a master of selling Obama simply by stating her support for him. And conversely, by expressing that support as an act of volition, she is demonstrating her power, if not her independence.

She’s bolstered her reputation for being smart, effective, and a team player

The overall effect of Hillary’s efforts has been to bolster her reputation for being smart, effective, and a team player without associating her too strongly with the wrenching policy changes, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Obama has thrust himself far into the spotlight. And the results have been fairly amazing. Clinton’s approval ratings have been consistently above 70 percent — higher than Obama’s — with majority support even among Republicans. And media coverage has been orgiastic, probably peaking so far with Andrea Mitchell calling Clinton a “foreign-policy superstar” on the Today show. Even Obama probably never imagined how much mileage he and Clinton would be able to get out of their "kiss, make up, and go off to work around the globe" routine.

A sane, sober alternative to the crazies running the GOP

Finally, nobody has enabled Hillary’s rehabilitation like congressional Republicans and their talk-radio allies. Since Obama’s election, the neocons have doubled down on full-throated Cheneyism, pushing torture and preventive if not endless war. And from William Kristol and Newt Gingrich calling for an attack on North Korea to John Bolton wanting Israel to bomb Iran to Daniel Pipes saying, “I would vote for Ahmadinejad,” the leading lights of today’s GOP are pushing George H. W. Bush–type Republicans, such as Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and a large chunk of the country straight out of the Republican Party. There’s nothing but upside in that dynamic for Clinton: Already established in the public mind as less multi-culti and quite possibly tougher than Obama, she now also appears to be a sane, sober alternative to the crazies running the GOP.

Financial donor: “I realized today that I’d be a happier person if Hillary Clinton were president”

And for the moment, the opposition doesn’t realize how much it should care. “I realized today that I’d be a happier person if Hillary Clinton were president,” a financial contributor to National Review Online wrote last week. “That scared me enough to make a donation.” Keep sending those $100 checks, pal, and your fantasy could still come true.

Interesting readers’ comments after Keating’s post; here’s a sample:

Hillary rocks! That RFK comment was completely distorted by the Obama campaign and the press. The point she was making was that primaries have continued well into June in the past. It was repellent to suggest that she meant anything more sinister than that--and you repeat it again here. People have very preconceived notions about Hillary without studying her history. These caricatures were deliberately created to undercut her (and her husband's) influence. Unfortunately, many on the Left have parroted the same right wing lies about her. If you research her work since law school, you will find a brilliant, incredibly hard-working public servant who has given almost 40 years of service to this country. She did great things right out of Yale for the Children's Defense Fund, has worked tirelessly in AK & DC (and then NY) for human & civil rights, health care, education, and economic development. She brought Muhammad Yunus to AK 30 years ago--long before he won his Nobel Prize in Economics--to create microfinancing for poor rural people. She's also as disciplined and strong as they come. I hope she does want to run again--I'll be first in line to volunteer.

By fran20 on 06/15/2009 at 10:43am

1 comment:

  1. Hillary is not inclined to be impressed by her position, or the number of high roller heads at the table of world politics.

    To her credit, and to Obama's, he could have made many stupid moves, but getting Hillary to agree to her job is not one of them.

    She (and her spouse) can only help Obama achieve some measure of credibility in the world that might not be available otherwise, except for his charisma.