December 18, 2013

The conservative oppo group America Rising begins the expected debunking of Hillary Clinton’s claim to have been a great secretary of state. Tuesday, it started with Libya, arguing that “new reports in the past week show just how much this policy has unraveled. [Monday], the U.N. Security Council voted to pass a resolution expressing ‘grave concern’ with the country’s deteriorating security situation. None of the Benghazi suspects have been captured because of fears the country will further descend into chaos. The terrorist group responsible for the Benghazi attack is expanding. John Kerry issued a travel warning citing instability and violence.”

All of that is true, as was her inattentiveness to the security of our ambassador, her misleading after-attack statements, her bogus internal review and her failure to recognize the growing al-Qaeda menace in North Africa before it was too late. Still, this is sort of small potatoes in the field of Hillary debacles.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (listens to U.S. President Barack Obama speak during a meeting with members of his cabinet at the White House in Washington November 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Clinton, contrary to President Obama’s assertions, is not among the best secretaries of state but among the worst. If you want to be generous you can say she was an ineffective bit player in a foreign policy run out of the Oval Office. Let’s recap her tenure:

Failure to negotiate a status of forces agreement in Iraq

Premature pullout from Afghanistan without regard to consequences

Russian reset

Victory lap on Osama bin Laden giving a false impression of al-Qaeda’s decimation

Fixation on the “peace process” and obsession with Israeli settlements

The ensuing bad relationship with the Israeli government

Blindsiding the Israeli prime minister with a public declaration of U.S. policy on “1967 borders”

Backing Hugo Chavez’s candidate in Honduras rather that the middle and business classes’ choice (who was also pro-American)

Relaxation of Cuban sanctions followed by Alan Gross’s imprisonment

Surprising Poland and the Czech Republic by pulling out anti-missile sites

Embracing Hosni Mubarak (calling him a family friend) just when pressure was needed to prevent what ultimately became
his overthrow

The lack of a cogent approach to the Middle East

Trying to engage Bashar al-Assad and calling him a  reformer

Failing to take decisive action in Syria before jihadists poured into the country

Downplaying human rights, especially with China

Failing to robustly support the Green Revolution

Engagement of Iran and foot-dragging on sanctions, allowing Iran to reach the cusp of a nuclear weapons capability

Announced “pivot” to Asia without carrying through

I may have missed a few, but you get the idea. These don’t account for the sins of omission – for example, the failures to initiate and complete new trade agreements, to maintain and extend productive bilateral and multilateral relationships outside the U.N. and NATO and to improve our standing in the world as she promised.

In the largest sense, Clinton was handed some national security wins (in Iraq and Afghanistan, in strong relationships with Middle East states) and frittered them away, failing to construct a sustainable and effective policy architecture for the post-Bush years.

The best and most honest defense is that she wasn’t really in charge of foreign policy; the president was. That leaves two significant problems: 1) How does she lay claim to a legacy, and 2) If she was so at odds with the president, why didn’t she leave after a couple of years to share her wisdom with the country?

It will be interesting to see what defenses she will come up with. Right now there is a powerful case to be made that she was the secretary of state during the worst period of foreign policy for at least this century and the last.

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