When this blog began in 2008, Hillary Clinton was a Senator and a former presidential candidate. She was campaigning for the Obama-Biden ticket, and she and all of the rest of us fully expected that after the election she would simply return to the Senate and put her pretty nose to the grindstone once again. The focus here has been on Hillary’s work and not on her job, and the blog handle has never included her titles. So while the past four years have necessarily focused on foreign policy because of her job, there has never been an intention for this blog to be mistaken for one that lent more attention to State Department matters than to the last Secretary of State.
That said, I am drawn back to matters of State today due to yesterday’s Politico article by Glenn Thrush, John Kerry: The un-Hillary Clinton. Thrush’s take on the Kerry secretariat, stunningly premature since all Kerry has done so far is make a speech and board the Big Blue Plane, overwhelmingly shifts the paradigm back to years not only before Hillary Clinton, but pre-Rice and pre-Albright. It is as if he is broadcasting “Thank God, mature white men are back in charge at Foggy Bottom.”
Prejudgment this predictive has not been seen since Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize prompting a clear-sighted Michelle Obama to remark, “But he hasn’t done anything yet,” unless you count all of the hysterical momentum behind Hillary 2016 PACs and the assuredness with which they insist that she will run and will win. We shall see about that when she makes her decision and not when third-hand rumors abound.
Thrush begins with this astounding statement.
… she’s not necessarily his model for how to do the job. He’s more drawn to power players of recent history — George Shultz, James Baker, Henry Kissinger and George Marshall — secretaries who have wielded considerably more influence inside the White House than Clinton.
“He’s going to be more willing than Hillary was to tackle the big things… If he were able to help broker an exit for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, for instance, that would be huge for him,” says a veteran senior diplomat who knows Kerry and has served as an adviser to officials in both parties.
People who “knew” Hillary, in late 2008, insisted that she would remain in the Senate and not accept Secretary of State. There were cries of protest from certain Hillary quarters when she agreed to tackle the job. Dark scenarios arose wherein the sub-secretaries for regions-at-risk, Holbrooke, Mitchell, and Ross (her idea) would steal her fire. Some feared security players in the White House, particularly Susan Rice and Samantha Power (the latter of whom Thrush apparently is unaware), would override her every agenda, a fear resoundingly overturned when, between stops in Paris on March 14 2011 and March 19 2011, both women were instrumental in helping her change President Obama’s prior stance on joining the No Fly Zone cooperative over embattled Libya. If this was not tackling a “big thing” I do not know what is. The trio also helped prove that government by women can be every bit as bold and risk-taking as government by men.
Issues surrounding Syria are unlikely to differ simply because the U.S. has a new SOS. If a trustworthy opposition coalition does not emerge, aid to the opposition is unlikely to change. Kerry heroically driving Assad out is wishful thinking on the part of Thrush.
It’s not that Clinton didn’t try to do big things, State Department watchers say. But Obama’s determination to avoid new foreign entanglements — and his insistence on tight control over diplomacy — dictated a narrower approach, focusing on women’s rights and smaller international initiatives, like re-establishing relations with Myanmar.
Oooohhhhh!!!! Suddenly I see! First of all that word “entanglements” somehow implies military rather than diplomatic. We should pursue the latter in avoidance of the former, and HRC was never Secretary of Defense. She certainly generated plenty of treaties (many of which the administration failed to push for ratification) and memoranda of understanding during her tenure . Anyone who thinks Hillary Clinton’s efforts on the part of women and girls was Obama’s idea, has not been paying attention.
Folks have pointed to several of HRC’s major speeches as ground-breaking, her internet freedom speech of January 2010 among them. For my money it was the very low profile Barnard commencement speech of May 18, 2009 that laid out her agenda very clearly. There she truly broke new ground, but hardly anyone noticed. Can it be the “girls’ school” venue, the emphasis on conditions for women globally, the encouragement to make bold moves using everyday social networking tools, the notion that half the world’s population should and might finally be spotlighted as deserving a place at the table? Nothing about that agenda was narrow. The degree to which she was able to weave her agenda into a single cloth of a foreign policy that can rightly be dubbed Clinton Doctrine is highlighted in the following as she wrapped up her tour as Secretary of State.
Former State Department official Aaron David Miller says Kerry can afford to be “more ambitious” because he poses less of a threat to Obama’s team -
Interesting remark! The team-player non plus a threat? What would make them think that?
Thrush goes on to quote Kerry on George Marshall. Certainly, in the course of her many remarks as SOS, Hillary made clear her admiration of Marshall and agreement with his motives and strategies. At least once, as a vehicle to explain how foreign policy is also domestic policy, (the topic of Kerry’s maiden major address as SOS – and not a new idea), she put the Marshall Plan in the context of her own family, the plan following on the heels of her father’s return from war, just as Kerry did from the perspective of his father’s diplomatic service in post-war Germany. Where is the great difference there?
Discussing Kerry’s decision to travel first to Europe and the Middle East, Thrush suggests he will tackle the Middle East peace process more robustly than Hillary did, ignoring Hillary’s tough stance against settlement construction in East Jerusalem in late Spring 2009, and Netanyahu’s intransigence at the time. Recent Israeli elections are likely to affect Netanyahu’s position. This does not guarantee Kerry a success where every secretary of state since 1947 has failed, and we wish him luck. But if he does succeed it will be arguably not that Hillary was weak, but that Netanyahu has been weakened. I am not even factoring in here Obama having reined Hillary in by November 2009 (Secretary Clinton’s Remarks With Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) when she stated:
What the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described – no new starts, for example – is unprecedented in the context of the prior two negotiations. It’s also the fact that for 40 years, presidents of both parties have questioned the legitimacy of settlements.
All of this is not to say that Secretary Kerry will not do well. In fact it has little to do with Kerry and more to do with Thrush’s POV which appears to be one of relief that after 16 years DOS is finally back in the hands of someone who is not going to nag about inclusion of women and girls at the big table, someone who is more likely to be spending time behind closed doors in ministerial halls and not imposing upon the office the indignity crawling into tents – as Condi Rice did – to talk to women in African refugee camps or tour women’s start-ups, give town halls, visit the marketplaces, and mix with civil society on every continent she visited, as Hillary Clinton did.
Hillary Clinton brought statecraft into the 21st century. Thrush’s psychic predictions see foreign policy moving backward into the 20th century – an “ambitious” time machine agenda that is stale and stuffy. No matter what John Kerry said or the “insiders” intimate, it is unlikely that a smart man like John Kerry will abandon Hillary Clinton’s innovations.