Judging Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State

State Department Photo

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers opening remarks at the 2012 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum to mark Global Economic Statecraft Day at the U.S. Department if State in Washington, D.C. on June 14, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • The simple consensus about Hillary Clinton’s tenure at state is: Meh.

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  • Benghazi throws the spotlight on Clinton in two particularly unflattering ways.

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  • By Clinton's own standards, she accomplished little in the areas she highlighted as most important to her.

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The simple consensus about Hillary Clinton’s tenure at state is: Meh.

By her own standards, she accomplished little and in the areas she highlighted as most important to her – rights for women and religious minorities, Israeli-Palestinian peace and halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program – she batted zero.

Women and religious minorities now have fewer freedoms across the Middle East and North Africa. In Afghanistan, where they might have enjoyed hope, the Obama administration is committed primarily to a “scheduled” exit.

Israel-Palestine? Need you ask?

And Iran is now closer to a nuclear weapon than ever before, notwithstanding ongoing efforts to talk them out of it. For some of this, Clinton is not to blame. She was named to office by a president who viewed her as little more than a threat, and who was determined to run foreign policy with a tiny coterie of trusted West Wing advisers. Clinton was far from the center of decision-making on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East or much else.

Consequently, it’s hard to blame the woman for the lameness of “leading from behind,” the unprincipled decision to watch Syrians die by the tens of thousands, or any of the other myriad foreign policy errors of Obama’s first four years.

Indeed, it has been suggested that Clinton recommended arming the Syrian rebels (along with then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and then director of Central Intelligence David Petraeus), a more courageous and principled policy than the one now being pursued by President Obama. Similarly, it was she (among others) who reportedly persuaded the president of the wisdom of backing NATO intervention in Libya.

But Benghazi throws the spotlight on Clinton in two particularly unflattering ways.

We can surmise that Clinton falsely insisted that the terrorist attack was related to an offensive anti-Muslim video because she wished that terrorists had no role in a country she had advocated liberating.

But the actions of her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, who reportedly ripped the diplomat Gregory Hicks for stepping out of line, reveal a woman more interested in insulating herself from criticism than in truth or principle. This is the Hillary many remember from the Bill Clinton presidency.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


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