Hillary Clinton’s headaches

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
Hillary Clinton (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

I’ve already opined that Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite, albeit not “inevitable,” nominee for the Democrats in 2016, if she decides to run. Nothing I am about to say here alters that, for Democrats are impervious to Clinton’s faults that might be fatal to others (e.g. slowness on gay marriage, scandals). However, when it comes to a general election (and qualms she may have about running), current events are not being kind to her.

I don’t mean “merely” the scandals, which include not only her failure to reply to pleas for security from Ambassador Chris Stevens and a series of misleading statements, but her entire failure to track the rise of al-Qaeda in North Africa and comprehend the deteriorating situation in Libya. Those certainly won’t help her image (a false one, I would argue) of super-competence. But events not directly involving her, at this point, may prove even more harmful.

First, there is the matter of the Federal Reserve chairmanship. The current buzz is that the president will pick the man he really wants, Larry Summers. Summers is identified with Wall Street and with the Clinton administration. Hence, the problem. The left will not block him, but I suspect a great many activists will raise a stink. Did the left labor in two elections only to get economic policy from the pro-business wing of the party? Did they toil in the political landscape to see their favorite, uber-liberal darlings (in this case Janet Yellen) get ignored? Sure, they consented to the president’s lackey and faux-Republican at the Pentagon, but do they have to put up with another Obama pal at the expense of the liberal agenda?

The argument rests on the assumption, a correct one I think, that the left got significantly less than it wanted and expected from the most liberal president in history. Nothing on climate control. No to wiping out all the Bush tax cuts. Nothing on gun control.  And it reminds them that the Clintons were not at the vanguard of the left. These were Third Wave, pro-business Dems — NAFTA! capital gains cuts! Come to think of it, why should the left settle in 2016 for even less in terms of liberal progress than it achieved with its dreamy president. In short, Clinton is unlikely to stir the left as Obama did. After all, her family foundation is the epitome of international elitism in which she benefits handsomely from her connections to the rich and famous. (She and her husband may have invented, I think, crony philanthropy.)

Clinton’s other problem, certainly, is Syria. On March 27, 2011, Clinton was still calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “reformer.” (She tried to backtrack a few days later.) Her ludicrous comment was after mass demonstrations and civilian deaths at the hands of security forces. But, of course, Clinton misread Assad from the get-go, dispensing then-senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to try to “engage” Assad. Throughout 2011 and into 2012, the administration foot-dragged, refusing to call for his ouster for months and then taking useless measures (e.g. three motions in the United Nations Security Council, all vetoed by the Russians) that allowed Assad to survive and jihadis to pour into the country. It is this policy that ironically was handed off to the Assad-ingratiating Kerry.

Clinton was, to put it bluntly, either entirely powerless or grossly incompetent when it came to Syria (and a lot else). Or both (the two are not mutually exclusive).

Depending on where events stand in 2016 (Will Iran have the bomb? Will Assad be enacting vengeance?), she’ll have a horrendous record to defend, whether you believe in realpolitik or American exceptionalism.

Speaking of which, the only exceptional thing about Clinton is that she is Hillary Clinton, a symbol of feminist triumph and a link to happier days for the country. As they say about Jeb Bush, if her last name were “Jones,” it’d be an entirely different matter. Still, Democrats have their heart set on a Big-Business proponent who is a social-issue laggard and has a rotten record at State. Whatever.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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Jennifer Rubin | August 27, 2013