The New York Times has a readable piece exploring some features Hillary Clinton's tenure at State and provides a window into the type of Presidential leadership we could expect from her should she choose to run in 2016.
Beginning with a statement by the somehow-deemed quotable Richard Armitage, himself a controversial architect of Bush's neo-con inspired foreign policy (and a key if discreet actor in the Iran-Contra scandal which effectively neutered the Reagan Presidency), the Times begins its analysis with a reflection of his frank admiration:
“Secretary Clinton has dramatically changed the face of U.S. foreign policy globally for the good,” said Richard L. Armitage, deputy secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. “But I wish she had been unleashed more by the White House.”If someone as demonstrably bereft of strategic sensibility as Armitage is praising Clinton's tenure at State, that should be enough to give anyone pause. The Times fairly assesses, among other things, Clinton's role in handling our response to the Syrian crisis as well as her influence in opening the door to relations with Myanmar (Burma). She is credited for her hard work in the article, for which the Times conducted:
[I]interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials also paint a more complex picture: of a dogged diplomat and a sometimes frustrated figure who prized her role as team player, but whose instincts were often more activist than those of a White House that has kept a tight grip on foreign policy.I question whether her latter days at State were actually "marred" by the contrived Benghazi fixation of the right-wing media, a meme that the Times unfortunately chooses to accept as fact. The "fact " is that the American public by and large couldn't have cared less about the attacks in Benghazi, as was amply demonstrated by Romney's foolish attempt to gain traction from the issue during the second Presidential debate.
The disclosures about Mrs. Clinton’s behind-the-scenes role in Syria and Myanmar — one a setback, the other a success — offer a window into her time as a member of Mr. Obama’s cabinet. They may also be a guide to her thinking as she ponders a future run for the presidency with favorability ratings that are the highest of her career, even after her last months at the State Department were marred by the deadly attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya.
More troubling from my standpoint are Clinton's apparent efforts to reach a consensus about arming the Syrian rebels, an action which the Administration has up to this point essentially ruled out:
[R]ebel fighters were clamoring for weapons and training. The White House has been reluctant to arm them for fear that it would draw the United States into the conflict and raise the risk of the weapons falling into the wrong hands. Rebel extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda had faced no such constraints in securing weapons from their backers.Clinton apparently allied herself with Petraeus who wanted to arm the rebels after a "vetting" process. This sounds like a recipe for disaster. The Syrian rebellion, at least at this point in time, was incoherent, with many disparate factions and allegiances. This approach would have (arguably) taken on faith the assumption that such arms would not have ultimately ended up in the hands of groups hostile to American interests if not outright terrorist. As the Syrian opposition gels into a recognizable structure the debate is worth having--in fact several Republican-leaning pundits have, for various motives, held the same position as Clinton--however, it strikes me as reckless of that time frame. In a backhanded sort of way, Clinton herself appears to acknowledge this after the fact:
She added: “Having said all that, Assad is still killing. The opposition is increasingly being represented by Al Qaeda extremist elements.” She also said that the opposition was getting messages from the ungoverned areas in Pakistan where some of the Qaeda leadership was believed to be hiding — a development she called “deeply distressing.”Yes, Assad is still killing. But had Clinton's efforts been accepted by the Administration, we may have seen more killing of a different sort.
The article fairly notes that Clinton was instrumental in bringing about an opening to diplomatic efforts in Myanmar, a country which has made some significant strides in permitting a degree of political freedom over the past few years, despite remaining under the rule of a military junta.
The article concludes by citing Clinton's efforts in 2010 to insert herself into China's claims over some islands in the South China sea. The results of that effort are not particularly encouraging as to her abilities.
In July 2010, she provoked a sulfurous reaction from China when she announced that the United States had an interest in helping to resolve territorial disputes between China and its neighbors over the South China Sea.While the US undoubtedly has an interest in containing the expansionist projects of the Chinese Politburo's Standing Committee, it doesn't appear that Ms. Clinton made a great deal of headway in that regard:
And yet Mrs. Clinton’s involvement has done little to quell the tensions. China feuded recently with the Philippines over a rocky shoal claimed by both countries, and farther north, in the East China Sea, it is enmeshed in a dispute with Japan over islands.
* * *
Mrs. Clinton insisted that her involvement had put China on notice that it could not brush off international legal norms in pursuing its maritime claims. “There’s still going to be belligerence, and there’s going to be a lot of very hot rhetoric,” she said. “But I think we’ve helped support a strong case for the kind of framework we believe in.”
To be fair, I think that Clinton's position here was probably what could be expected from any Secretary of State. The question remains whether it had any substantive impact, and the answer appears to be "no."
Ultimately this article is dissatisfying and doesn't really come to much of a conclusion. It also appears to leave out some significant aspects of her tenure such as the run-up towards the international intervention in Libya. My own take is that what we see in Hillary is someone who is still a work in progress and was proceeding in this tenure as Secretary of State less by political impetus than a practical sense of trying to get things done. At State she could just as easily have toed the line but the article credits her with making a real effort to effect positive changes. These are not simple issues and they demand a degree of nuance and understanding of their ultimate implications. One of the possibly unintended impressions I take away from this piece is that President Obama frankly appears to have a better grasp of those implications than Hillary Clinton does.
Hillary's domestic policy leanings are a little more predictable, but they're hardly devoid of ambiguity. She's clearly a feminist and advocate for women's rights in both domestic and international affairs. Her positions on "social" issues fairly track the Democratic mainstream. Her economic views are less than clear as up to this point she seems to follow her husband's general bent of moderation, seeking bipartisan, compromise solutions that plainly are not possible under the status quo. It's not clear to me whether she would continue to adhere to this philosophy given the current implacable environment as a Presidential candidate, or whether she would tack to the left, at least rhetorically, following the example of President Obama.
Ultimately, I'm inclined to be charitable, up to a point. I think what we see here is a persona with a terrific work ethic, relatively conservative in her impulses, but nevertheless someone who has her heart in the right place in terms of basic Democratic values. While she's widely perceived as hawkish and voted for the Iraq fiasco, I think it's fair to assume those positions owe a lot to political expediency rather than her core beliefs. And I'm not at all certain President Obama would have behaved differently had he been in the Senate at the same time.
The unprecedented, relentless buffeting and vitriol she has received from the right wing over the entirety of her career could not help but influence her personal attitude towards the Republican Party, but the question is whether that experience would impact her attitude as President. I would hope and expect and that her experience in the Obama Administration--which has already accomplished more than her husband's, would guide her philosophy going forward, regardless of her past experience. I think that's an area worth further examination. The question from a Progressive standpoint is whether she has absorbed the inherent bankruptcy of the right's positions or will continue to, even subconsciously, seek to appease or mollify those same interests that sought to destroy her.