During the last few months, a meme has been reverberating around the conservative echo chamber to the effect that Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) has no record of accomplishments as Secretary of State (SoS) that she can point to as a basis for her run at the presidency in 2016. (1) This view was fueled by the candidate’s own vague reply to the charge, (2) and most recently by the responses of a focus group of self-identified Iowa Democrats. (3) When asked what they could point to as the woman’s “significant accomplishments”, their comments were less than unhelpful.
While conservatives pounced on all this as support for their charge, it must be recognized that the group members were neither screened nor tested for their information level vis a vis HRC’s record as leader of President Obama’s foreign policy team. For that reason, it is best to turn to recorded history to determine just how well the claim that HRC has an “accomplishment deficit” holds up (4), and to put that in some sort of perspective.
The fact is, foreign policy accomplishments of significant magnitude are relatively rare. Indeed, in the last 70+ years, you can point to just three that qualify: The advent of the Marshall Plan (5) that re-built Europe after World War II, Reagan’s achievement of detente with the then-Soviet Union, and Bill Clinton’s brokering of peace in Northern Ireland. Far more often that not, an incoming administration and its Secretary of State will pick up where the previous administration left off and try to make advances towards an identified desirable end-goal. Given this framework, what can be said for HRC’s tenure?
First, there is no question that her time as SoS was not marked by the level of foreign policy gains such as those cited immediately above. That acknowledged, what does her record show? The answer can be found in three well-documented facts: She played a major role in re-building relationships with many of our strongest allies and with other countries as well; relationships that had suffered as a result of GW Bush’s needless war in Iraq. (6) HRC also re-set our relationship with Russia such that our old Cold War enemy joined us in ratcheting up economic sanctions on Iran, and in getting Assad in Syria to destroy his chemical weapons.
Of course, there have also been the setbacks seen in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursion into the Ukraine, the rise of ISIS, and the still-unsettled matter of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But, HRC can look back on her time as SoS and, unlike her predecessor Condi Rice, justifiably claim that she did nothing to drive our country into a misbegotten war with anything akin to the now infamous bogus remark by Rice about a threatening “mushroom cloud”.
In sum, HRC does have a record of accomplishments as SoS. It is not one that will set her apart when the history of the Obama presidency is written. But, it is a positive one, and puts to lie conservatives’ claim that achievements simply do not exist.
1. Jonah Goldberg; “Will an ‘achievement deficit’ undo Hillary?” Houston Chronicle 5-27-2015.
2. HRC spoke figuratively, of taking the baton from her predecessor as one would in a relay race.
3. The focus group was convened and moderated by Mark Halpern of Bloomberg News.
4. The phrase was coined by Jonah Goldberg. See footnote 1.
5. Named after George C. Marshall who was President Truman’s SoS.
6. The Pew Global Polling Center looked at our country’s favorability ratings in several European and Middle Eastern nations from 2000 and extending into Obama’s tenure. The trend line is unmistakable; i.e. when GW Bush entered office the view of our country in England, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt was decidedly positive. But, from the inception of the Iraq war, ratings spiraled downward, only to rise again a year after Obama took office.