Noting her pending departure in a talk to the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday, Clinton said: “And though it is hard to predict what any day in this job will bring, I know that tomorrow, my heart will be very full. Serving with the men and women of the State Department and USAID has been a singular honor.”
Clinton leaves with a mixed record: She has garnered wide admiration around the world but has no major diplomatic achievements on par with those of other well-known secretaries of state, such as Henry Kissinger or George C. Marshall.
She oversaw a diplomatic opening to Burma and the difficult birth of the world’s newest country, South Sudan. She helped hold together a fragile world coalition opposed to Iranian nuclear development but saw the U.S. partnership with Russia disintegrate. It’s too soon to score her stewardship of U.S. interests in the fallout from the Arab Spring uprisings, but she was unable to stop Syria’s slide into civil war and the resulting deaths, 60,000 and counting.
Rand Corp.’s James Dobbins, a former ambassador and longtime troubleshooter for both Democratic and Republican administrations, said Clinton was denied big diplomatic breakthroughs but also leaves without “catastrophic failures.”
“She turned out, perhaps rather surprisingly given her reputation for sharp elbows, to be a very competent and even quite popular manager of a large, complex bureaucracy and a highly collegial player on a ‘team of rivals,’ ” Dobbins said.
Clinton accepted responsibility but not blame for the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya last year. It was the biggest debacle of her term and became a white-hot political issue for Republicans. A former Clinton Senate colleague, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), said she “got away with murder.”
Many of Clinton’s successes appeared to be due largely to her personal popularity and famous work ethic — attributes that were on display in her final days in office.
Still recovering from a concussion she suffered in December, Clinton barreled through high-wire testimony about her handling of the deaths in Libya, a dozen ceremonial appearances, a flurry of media interviews and a parting gala dinner in her honor hosted by the British foreign secretary.
There was also one final “townterview,” a Clinton creation featuring questions — often softballs from foreign students — in a town-hall setting.
The event Tuesday showcased Clinton’s ready command of policy and obscure facts (seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa, she noted at one point) and her signature cause, the bettering of women’s lives.