Any Hillary Clinton apologist knows that the most grating thing to hear from Clinton loathers is the question, “What has Hillary Clinton done?” More specifically, what did she do as Secretary of State that gives her not only more credibility on foreign policy matters than any other presidential candidate running, but gives her an accomplishment to stand on as she seeks the presidency?
The position of Secretary of State is not one that can be spun politically to emphasize accomplishments and principled stances the way a senator or governor can. It is a cabinet position that implements the president’s agenda. In other words, her accomplishments and failures are the president’s accomplishments and failures. For example, her recommendation to President Obama to order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden is a good decision shared by both her and the president. She pressed hard for the U.S. to intervene in Libya, and must own that foreign policy failure along with the president. Demanding an accomplishment of a cabinet-level secretary in the same vein as a governor or senator is an unfair political litmus test. The role of the Secretary of State is to carry out our national interests on the global stage. Just doing that would have been a sufficient job. However, Hillary Clinton does have some achievements to her name that she will run on regardless, and that Hillary Clinton apologists can use whenever someone questions her record at State.
As Secretary of State, she logged more miles around the world than any other diplomat in American history. She rallied the U.S. Senate to approve the 2010 New START treaty with Russia after her department had negotiated it with the Russian Foreign Ministry. She led the U.S. response to the Arab spring in the Islamic Maghreb. She implemented the diplomatic aspects of President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia,” namely the negotiation of the twelve-nation free trade Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact. She ended her tenure at the State Department by brokering a cease fire in Gaza after conflict flared in 2012. And it was her back-channel talks with the Iranians that paved the way for the opening of negotiation of the Iran deal.
All of these are incredible feats, but to a diplomat it is one’s duty. Everything Hillary Clinton accomplished as Secretary of State was within the scope of doing her job, and doing it well. That stands in contrast to both of her predecessors. If we are to consider the political situation that Clinton inherited when she first assumed the post in 2009, having no achievements at all is far better than the “accomplishments” of her predecessors.
As Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, Colin Powell sold an intractable and costly war with Iraq to the American public and the international community, causing the loss of thousands of American lives and billions of dollars, shattering our credibility in the Middle East, and leading to the rise of sectarian violence and, eventually, ISIS. His successor Condoleeza Rice, who was behind many of the failures of Bush’s first term as his National Security Adviser, failed to improve upon the performances of her predecessor. It was Hillary Clinton who inherited a nation with its diplomatic relations in tatters. Her leadership and decision-making helped turn around perceptions of the U.S. as a brute force willing to violate international law to advance a morally self-righteous foreign policy over the wishes of allies and neutral state actors.
The fact that we are more respected as a nation willing to engage in diplomacy over unilateral violence around the world is in large part thanks to Secretary Clinton’s work at State. When someone asks what Hillary has done that qualifies her to be President, keep in mind the job of a president as the Head of State and how her work has made the United States that much more respected in the international order.