Through the eyes of a foreign policy scholar the legacy of a Secretary of State is unique. The position is one of daily conflict and cooperation, the decisions of which, take time for us to gather a complete understanding of before we can pass judgment. There is an element that is often overlooked when gauging their successes and failures. In early twentieth century administrations, the position was the most coveted cabinet appointment, which came with enormous influence over actual foreign policy. In modern US foreign policy, the State Department no longer has such a monopoly.Sec. Clinton Testifies in fron of Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Benghazi
During the past three decades, the State Department’s influence on foreign policy has dwindled, yielding to the encroachment from a bloated Defense Department and the once nonexistent National Security Advisor, . In addition to international events, how effective a Secretary of State is at persuading the president to share their worldview in the face of opposition from the Secretary of Defense and others, is paramount to their historical legacy. An example of this dynamic was displayed by both Powell and Rice, repeatedly butting heads with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cheney during the Bush Administration. Obviously, two very different worldviews were competing to shape President Bush’s foreign policy post 9/11. From these two considerations we can begin to write the legacy of Hillary Clinton as a Secretary of State. Concerning international events, so far, it is not looking so promising.
There is no way to escape the inconvenient fact that she is the first Secretary of State to preside over the death of an American Ambassador in over thirty years. Early intelligence supports the opposition’s criticism that the move to focus on Asia left the United States vulnerable in the Middle East. Add to that, the repeated requests for additional security that went unanswered, which somehow the Secretary of Defense had knowledge of but, Hillary testified she did not. It is possible that the resources were not available to the region, however, Panetta painted a picture of a Secretary of State who is all too eager to lie to cover up a disengaged administration. When questioned by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) regarding the administration misleading the American people with a story about some video, she infamously replied, “What difference does it make?” For Secretary Clinton’s chapter in the history book on the Obama presidency, that would be a serious blow.
In Syria, the absence of American dominance in the region has allowed Assad’s regime to cling to power. Aided by Russia, the civil war has the potential to thrust the entire region into chaos. Tension between Syria and Turkey, another once reliable secular ally in the region, has grown as ammunitions continue to find their way over the border. Turkey has seen a gradual but consistent move from the political center to the religious right. Curiously, their new found identity does not make them anymore inclined to allow the influx of refugees attempting to escape the conflict. To date the conflict has claimed the lives of some 80,000 people.
Prior to the attack on our embassy in Benghazi, praise for the “Arab Spring” had already begun to be overshadowed by disturbing news out of Cairo. What was branded as a secular revolution had resulted in a parliamentary body dominated by the muslim brotherhood. After excessive praise by both Secretary Clinton and President Obama for his role in the cease-fire, President Morsi cashed in his political capital by consolidating power and effectively replaced Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s new dictator. He too, appears to be headed towards a similar fate as Mubarak. Subsequently, Morsi became president after the muslim brotherhood failed to honor an earlier pledge to Clinton to elect a secular candidate. Meanwhile, the Israeli people wait for Egypt’s uncertain fate with a familiar anxiety.
Celebration for the cease-fire that ended the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict was short lived . Sixty-five years to the day that Resolution 181 was adopted, the UN General Assembly voted 138 – 9 (41 abstained) in favor of Palestinian statehood. In response to the monumental setback and historically defeat at the General Assembly, Secretary Clinton called the vote “unfortunate and counterproductive.” Aside from demonstrating the weakening influence of the United States over the United Nations, the vote represents the second biggest foreign policy failure during Secretary Clinton’s tenure behind the murder of four Americans in Libya.
Even more ambiguous than just how wise the decision to “pivot” to the Pacific was, is what role Clinton played in the final decision. Throughout her testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she seemed to be advocating for an almost Bush Doctrine-like role for America in the Middle East. The long-standing relationships between the Clinton’s and various Middle East leaders, once widely viewed to be valuable in the region, have done nothing to ease the transition. The Kremlin had reported, although there is no evidence to support it, that Obama had leveraged those relationships to get Clinton to the helm of secret talks with the Iranian regime. Foreign papers had reported that it was a disaster, and in fact, the true reason for Clinton’s injuries. Again, there has been no evidence to support this claim but, we very well might undercover new revelations.
By all accounts, if we are counting frequent flyer miles, it appears she was by far the hardest working cabinet member in the administration. Although she is on a plane almost as much as Obama is on the golf course, we don’t know who’s agenda she is carrying out. There are many questions that have yet to be answered. Will the decision to reinforce interests in Asia pay dividends so valuable that it was worth sacrificing Middle East stability? Will the sanctions stop the centrifuges from spinning in Iran rendering US/Israeli intervention unnecessary?
Secretary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department is not going to be one in which scholars can point to some grand accomplishment. There was no deal to stop hostile regimes from pursuing nuclear capabilities. They certainly have failed to stop the North Korean nuclear program. The regime has just detonated a nuclear weapon on the eve of the President’s State of the Union address. Until we all get a chance to examine the transcripts of relevant cabinet meetings, we won’t have the whole story. Of course final policy decisions are the president’s to make. For good or bad, how much of that policy is from Clinton’s council is part of her legacy.