The Clinton Curve

   With rumors circulating that Joe Biden will be dumped in the summer and replaced with Hillary Clinton as President Obama’s vice-presidential running-mate (as predicted here two years ago), Mrs. Clinton’s performance as Secretary of State deserves some analysis. In the media, she regularly receives “high marks” for her tenure, and is “immensely popular” among the American public. So how has she performed?

     The Secretary of State is the face of American diplomacy, and is responsible for setting and implementing policies that advance American interests across the globe. We should concede that Clinton is not solely responsible, that Obama has in many cases seized the diplomatic initiative himself, that Obama may not (or may) be taking her advice, and that other nations have interests as well that they promote that might be antithetical to the USA’s interests that even the most sophisticated diplomacy cannot reverse. But as she is the responsible party for American diplomacy, her real record deserves scrutiny.

     What is most fascinating is to recall how America’s standing in the world allegedly declined to new depths during the Bush presidency, all of which would be undone by the new, more Third World oriented black president and female Secretary. Yet, America’s popularity in the world is even lower today than when Obama took office.

    What is the Obama diplomatic record for which Hillary’s talents have been so touted?Let’s examine countries and regions.


RUSSIA: Clinton began her diplomacy by handing her counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, a “reset” button. (Actually, she handed him a button that translated from the Russian really meant “overloaded;” no wonder he was puzzled.) Since then Russia has slid back to authoritarianism and even Cold War rhetoric, and US-Russia relations remain strained. If there has been a “reset,” it is to suggest that Russia need not fear or even consider American interests in the region or across the world. And the US’s precipitous withdrawal of its “missile shield” over Eastern Europe dismayed allies that Bush had cultivated, and was perceived by the Russkies as weakness. Consequently, at almost every opportunity, Russia has thwarted joint activities and even diplomacy to rein in Iran, North Korea or other threats. A new cold war looms.  Grade: D.

ISRAEL: The more Obama supporters trumpet how the President has been “Israel’s best friend ever,” the more desperate and detached from reality they sound. Hillary’s involvement has been limited to photo ops, and the infamous 45 minute tongue-lashing she gave to Netanyahu when (how nervy!) the Interior Ministry announced during a Biden visit that tenders for new apartment buildings would be offered for construction in Ramat Shlomo in northern Yerushalayim – to add to the other 50,000 people already living there. Besides the rudeness, the repeated references to “settlements in East Jerusalem” showed ignorance of geography and policy.

The “peace process” could not be deader, and trust between erstwhile allies and friends Israel and the USA is perhaps at an all-time low. The military exercises currently underway are a continuation of past policies, but are more a Pentagon initiative than a Foggy Bottom production. There is no ongoing diplomacy worth its name (probably the best thing for Israel – perhaps the only proof that Clinton is pro-Israel). But both Israel and the PA essentially ignore her.        Grade: D-

ARAB WORLD: Obama’s Cairo speech (June 2009) was roundly ridiculed in the Muslim world, who measure America’s standing by its capacity to pressure Israel to act against Israeli interests. It was quintessential Obama – all words, little substance, much fanfare and symbolism. It would be natural to expect that Clinton played a large role in drafting that speech, but that is unknown.

What is known is Clinton’s role in the comically-named “Arab Spring.” Hillary pronounced Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt a “stable ally” just weeks before he was deposed (echoes of Jimmy Carter’s declaration that the Shah’s Iran was an “island of stability” months before he was toppled). American diplomacy was always late to the game – the US could have either defended and propped up Mubarak as a valuable US ally, or sided with the protesters in the hopes of positively influencing the outcome of the riots. Clinton did neither – siding with Mubarak too long but not providing him any support, and then half-heartedly and diffidently lauding the protesters who are in the process of forming a radical Muslim state.

The US was “leading from behind” in Libya, and is not leading at all in the continuing unrest in Syria. Is it in America’s interest that the entire Muslim world becomes radicalized – that dictators from Tunisia, to Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, etc. be overthrown and replaced by rabid, anti-American fanatics? It must be, because that is what the Obama foreign policy is bringing about. The other possibility is that there is no coherent foreign policy and that the Clinton State Department has not the slightest clue how to advance America’s interests in the region beyond the spouting of clichés. In other words, we are witnessing a

comprehensive and ongoing diplomatic failure.      Grade: D-

IRAQ: Perhaps the greatest failure to date was Clinton’s inability to negotiate a continuation to the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that necessitated America’s withdrawal of most of its military forces from that country – albeit, fulfilling an Obama campaign promise. But Iraq has already descended into the mass violence that was predictable, has further divided that already-splintered society, and given Iran a precious opening. Simply put, the US currently has few resources through which it can protect its interests and advance its diplomacy in Iraq. That is a failure whose consequences are not yet fully known.                 Grade:  D+

IRAN: Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been slowed, not thwarted, and slowed only through the Stuxnet virus that set them back a year and the untimely demise of several nuclear scientists who apparently contracted car-bomb-itis. The steady drumbeat of “sanctions,” “harsh sanctions,” and then “severe sanctions,” and most recently “really, really, tough sanctions” have failed to dissuade Iran, which, after all, is a dictatorship not responsive to its people’s economic woes. Most egregious was the abject failure of American diplomacy to support the nascent revolution in Iran in 2009 that was summarily crushed. There was not even an expression of support for the rebellion, much less material aid, something that was noticed and lamented openly by the protesters. The Obama administration goal seems to be just to stop Israel from doing anything, and then proclaiming that we will learn to live with a radical-Islamic bomb. One hopes there is some movement behind the scenes – an October surprise? – but I would not hold my breath for any American strike.                Grade: F

AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN and other STANS: These have been such troubled alliances for the US for quite some time that one would be reluctant to attribute any diplomatic failures to Obama/Clinton – except for the fact that Obama campaigned on the premise that only he could establish warmer relations with these countries that are, unfortunately, primitive and hostile, but critical in the sense that they have been used for staging grounds for aggressive actions against the United States. But the failures have been manifest. Kudos to Obama for defying Pakistani sovereignty and killing bin Laden, even if the hand-wringing over the prelude to that strike was over-the –top. But that relationship is awkward and troubled, and if Obama/Clinton have not made it worse, they have certainly not made it better.

And the American’s foray into brokering negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban – the original hosts of al-Qaeda – is a grotesque admission of failure, even notwithstanding the unreliability of Hamid Karzai as an ally. Negotiations? The point was to defeat the Taliban. That was the original goal of the war of President Bush; that was the “good war” that Obama promised to wage until a successful conclusion. This is an abandonment of responsibility for which we will all eventually pay a steep price. Where is Hillary?                  Grade: D

ASIA:  North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are proceeding apace, even as it transitioned from Kim Jung Il to Kim Jung Dead. China – all the overheated rhetoric notwithstanding – is today a leading creditor of the United States, made even stronger by Obama’s borrowing trillions from the Chinese to partially pay for his social programs. (Repayment is impossible.) But the US capacity to influence or pressure the Chinese, or to more closely coordinate the diplomacy of the two countries, is greatly diminished.   Grade: C-

LATIN AMERICA:  Obama’s embrace of Hugo Chavez was laughed off by that tin pot dictator, who has been even more derisive of Obama than he was of George W. Bush. The left-wing strongmen of Latin America have been untroubled US diplomacy, and their outreach to Iran (and vice versa) should be worrisome to those who live in the Western hemisphere.      Grade: C-
   ALLIES: Obama (and this cannot be completely laid at Clinton’s doorstep, although she still is responsible) began his tenure looking to transform America’s relationship with its traditional allies. He succeeded – angering in succession the British, the Israelis, the Poles and the Czechs, the Australians, and most recently the Canadians (delaying the Keystone pipeline deal). There is no ally of the US with whom relations have improved during the last three years, and none with whom relations have not deteriorated. The interests of all those countries still remain somewhat aligned, so the fallout is not that great and recovery under a new administration likely – but the world has suffered as a result of America’s decline from superpower influence to one nation among many.              Grade:  C-

The major events of American diplomacy in the last three years have been Obama’s, good or bad (mostly bad). Hillary Clinton has played a subordinate role to the extent she has played any role at all. Again, while not all failures can be attributed to her alone, it is difficult to think of a single achievement that merits the accolades for her performance as Secretary of State. She does give speeches, still smiles and giggles at the wrong times – especially in answering uncomfortable questions – and clearly is not fully control of American foreign policy. And certainly, the US’s ability to influence other nations is determined by those nations’ interests and not exclusively American wishes. But the US’s unreliability as an ally, and its unwillingness to use force as a tool of diplomacy, has greatly marginalized America’s influence and weakened its power in the world. And that is a failure of both policy and diplomacy.

Evidently, Hillary Clinton is being graded on a curve.  And by the standards of the Obama White House, she is due for a promotion.

8 responses to “The Clinton Curve

  1. Rachel Davidson

    I realize that personal military service isn’t exactly your strong point, having yourself avoided the Vietnam War even while so many other Americans of your generation served their country and even gave their life in that war. And I know that none of your children did any military service, nor do you have any family members serving overseas. But might you at least consider the fact that for so many many US families, unlike your own, who do have family members overseas, the success or failure of a President or Secretary of State isn’t measured only by how tough they talk and how many wars they begin, but more so by their ability to address foreign issues diplomatically, even while keeping Americans safe.

    But because those aren’t the measures you use, it’s no surprise that your report card makes no mention of the fact that in the three years of Clinton as Secretary of State: (1) the US hasn’t gotten involved in any new wars, (2) tens of thousands of American troops have come home, (3) our country hasn’t been attacked, (4) the mastermind of the most recent attack on America was killed in a highly successful military operation, and (5) one of the most ruthless dictators responsible for terrorist attacks that killed Americans and others was killed through a joint NATO operation that resulted in not a single American causaulty.

    It’s easy to sit in your lounge chair in Bergen County, NJ and write a blog criticizing everything about our foreign policy and talking all tough about all the international battles we should be fighting and wars we should be waging. It’s easy, but completely divorced from reality and any semblance of how the real world operates. Getting into fights with every country is easy. Getting along with countries with different interests is the tough part. But why should we be surprised that your political analysis is so flawed. After all, you’re the person who months ago wrote a piece lauding Herman Cain’s credentials to be the next US President.

  2. Sorry to disappoint you, but I was a child during the Vietnam War, nor are you evidently aware that I have had family members who have been killed in battle. Nonetheless, your points are meaningless, if not downright foolish. If your yardstick for the success of a Secretary of State is keeping America out of war (rather than promoting America’s interests across the world), then you would undoubtedly laud the diplomatic skills of Neville Chamberlain, who kept Britain out of war and forged a peace for his time – until, of course, Britain was caught unprepared.
    You must certainly criticize Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy (Democrats all) who plunged America into successive wars.
    If you did, you would make the mistake of confusing the short-term benefits of inaction with the long-term consequences of that same inaction, for sure emboldening the enemies of America and the West.
    And that is a shame, and short-sighted, and there will be a price to be paid for it, wherever you live. Of course, if you read what I wrote a little more carefully, and with even minimal comprehension, you might have realized that I did not suggest US involvement in even one war – only the protection and promotion of American interests that have waned in the recent past because of the ineffectiveness of US diplomacy under Hillary Clinton. America need not be the world’s policeman, but in modern times, a country that cannot project its force and influence will be the victim of unwanted hostilies from rogue states and their terrorist proxies. Wake up before it is too late, and always be vigilant.
    Additionally, none – repeat, none – of the examples you cite relate to American diplomacy but to American military power (security, bin Laden, etc.) which, you might be curious to learn, is not the province of State but of the Pentagon.

  3. Rachel Davidson

    You write that you were a “child” during the Vietnam War. The war didn’t end until the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Your bio on this site says that you graduated Columbia University in 1978. So unless you did some rare accelerated program or are the original Doogie Howser, MD, it appears that you began college at age 18 (17? 19?) in the Fall of 1974, while the Vietnam War was very much ongoing. Now, in fairness, the US draft for that war ended in 1973. But these dates — which are facts, not just loosey-goosey opinions masquarding as facts — demonstrate that your claim that you were a “child” during the Vietnam War is incredibly misleading, as by the time the war ended you were at least 18, and men of that same age were going off to Vietnam to serve their country while you were in Morningside Heights studying history.

    I wrote that for many Americans “the success or failure of a President or Secretary of State isn’t measured only by how tough they talk and how many wars they begin, but more so by their ability to address foreign issues diplomatically, even while keeping Americans safe.” Your response, in a classic misleading fashion, attacks somthing I didn’t say, rather than something I did say. Thus, you write that “If your yardstick for the success of a Secretary of State is keeping America out of war…” But that’s not what I said. I said “…address foreign issues diplomatically, even while keeping Americans safe.” Perhaps it’s the fault of my “minimal comprehension” that you graciously attribute to me, but, on my reading at least, that doesn’t equate to “keep America out of war”.

    You write that if I read what you wrote “a little more carefully, and with even minimal comprehension, you might have realized that I did not suggest US involvement in even one war.” Well I respectfully suggest that you take your own advice, because here are your words above regarding Iran: “One hopes there is some movement behind the scenes – an October surprise? – but I would not hold my breath for any American strike.” I assume that “one hopes” includes you, and by “October surprise” and “American strike” you mean a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Now unless we’re living in fantasy-land where American fighter jets drop bombs on Iran’s nuclear facilities and there’s no retaliation and everyone just goes home happy (a scenario that no military analyst predicts, regardless of their position pro or con on attcking Iran’s nuclear sites), your “hope” for an “American strike” on Iran means that you absolutely are “suggest[ing] US involvement in even one war”. This isn’t intended to debate with you the merits of attacking Iran. But please read your own post before you attack me falsely for failing to read it “with even minimal comprehension”.

    And finally, your snark comment notwithstanding, I’m very much aware that it’s the Pentagon, not the Secratary of State, that’s charged with the defense of the country. But I also know that the first duty of the Secretary of State is to “Serve[] as the President’s principal adviser on U.S. foreign policy.” See So if you actually believe that Secretary of State Clinton had no role or involvement in the decision-making and strategy regarding issues such as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and the NATO attacks on Libya, I suggest that you study up on American government before professing to have expertise on the topic.

  4. Rachel Davidson, your personal attacks against the Rabbi prove nothing; in general personal attacks rarely probe anything worthwhile.

    Many Americans who served in combat in America’s military conflicts agree with the Rabbi; will you attack them too?

    The leaders of Iran (and North Korea) are fanatical anti-America and anti-Israel terrorist lunatics; for them to get ANY nuclear weapons is a nightmare for both America and Israel, and is a severe threat to our continued existence.

    When Iran gets nuclear weapons, Americans, Europeans and Israelis will look back to the “good old days” when they used to be able to feel safe (assuming that Iran does not start World War III, which is very possible).

    • Rachel Davidson

      Mr. Cohen, I agree with you that personal attacks prove nothing. I don’t think that my responses contain personal attacks against the Rabbi. If they read that way, I apologize to the Rabbi.

      I’m not attacking anyone for their choice to serve or not to serve in combat. And I didn’t say that someone who didn’t serve has no right to argue in favor of war. The point I was making, instead, is that someone who has served in the military or who has sent a child off to war likely would use some different barometers to assess the foreign policy successes or failures of the current administration than the Rabbi uses.

      As someone who has sent a child to serve in the IDF, and who knows what it means to wait anxiously to hear of a child’s well-being as he fights in a war, I consider it highly relevant in assessing the foreign policy performance of Sec of State Clinton that during her three years of service: (1) bin Laden was killed by US troops without loss of life or injury to a single US soldier; (2) Quadaffi was killed through a joint NATO effort, again without loss of life or injury to a single US soldier; (3) tens of thousands of US troops have been brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan safely to their families; and (4) the US hasn’t been attacked. I noted that it’s surpising to me that the Rabbi makes not a mention of any of these issues, although perhaps it an be explained to some degree by the fact that he hasn’t served in combat nor eperienced the feeling of sending a child off to war without knowing whether that child will return home safe. As I said, I don’t think this is a personal attack on the Rabbi, and it certainly wasn’t intended that way.

      As for your points about Iran, I agree with you that a nuclear Iran is a nightmare to Israel and others. As I wrote above, I wasn’t bringing up Iran to debate the merits of an attack on Iran. The Rabbi claimed that his original post didn’t suggest US involvement in even one war. I brought up the comments in his orginal post where he hoped for a US military strike on Iran simply to show that his claim was faulty.

  5. It’s amazing how events can get spun into completely opposite interpretations by people. One could just as easily give the Obama administration high marks for removing U.S troops from Iraq, where there is no credible state threat to our interests, deposing Qaddafi without risking any U.S. troops, keeping effective economic sanctions on Iran, while conducting (or allowing Israeli) cyberattacks and assassinations to stall its nuclear programs, securing tons of radioactive materials in the former Soviet Union, expressing concern about Israel’s internal security while continuing to support her materially in every conceivable manner, refusing to involve U.S. troops in “no-win” situations in the internal affairs of Mid-Eastern countries…

    The idea that Obama would select Clinton as VP for 2012 has been tossed around with absolutely zero backing for years now. I don’t know that it would be good or bad, but I do know that, if I were going to speculate on unlikely events that I have no control over, I’d rather talk about the Giants’ chances of beating the Ravens and avenging the decade-old embarrassment of Super Bowl XXXV….

  6. Dear Rachel: I’m unfamiliar with Dr. Howser, but I graduated Columbia two weeks after I turned 20. I was 15 when the draft was ended, and 17 when the war ended.
    I suppose, by your reasoning, I could have found a war (or started a war) to fight in. How this relates to any of my arguments is a mystery. You still have not named one area of foreign policy in which Hillary Clinton has stood out, made her mark, or advanced US interests. Contrast her performance with even some of her immediate predecessors – both Republican and Democrat – and her inferiority is striking.
    Of course, please feel free to share your military background.

  7. It seems Hillary Clinton failed to convince Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Oh, well. Here’s an additional view of Mrs. Clinton, from Ed Koch: