Hillary Clinton is widely admired for her intelligence, drive, and success as secretary of state. Her four years in office have been marked by a series of noteworthy accomplishments and near lack of serious missteps. Replacing her is a daunting task even for someone with Senator Kerry’s impressive foreign policy credentials. Below are 5 highlights from Clinton’s tenure:
1. People-to-People Diplomacy
Clinton understands the importance of strengthening ties with friends and allies while simultaneously engaging adversaries. Through intensive personal interaction, she has deftly built new relationships and managed old ones in a way that advance U.S. interests. In her own words, she has endeavored to ensure that the U.S. has “…a seat at every table that has the potential for being a partnership to solve problems.” For example, she expertly led efforts to rescue Chen Guangcheng, the dissident who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in May 2012, without crippling U.S.-China relations. Clinton has been the most active secretary of state in history, as a result. She has traveled more frequently and visited more countries than any of her predecessors; to date, her travels have spanned nearly 1 million miles and 112 countries.
2. The Importance of Economics
Clinton articulated a new vision of Economic Statecraft that made domestic economic growth – e.g. helping U.S. companies win business overseas – a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy. She made foreign policy relevant to the broader economic conversation, taking place in the U.S. in a show of political savvy few previous secretaries could match. And Clinton appointed the State Department’s first ever-chief economist to help implement Clinton’s vision. She also supported the more traditional economic aspects of foreign policy – such as sanctions – including those that crippled the Iranian government – and free trade – including Free Trade Agreements with allies Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.
3. Restoring American Credibility
Building on people-to-people diplomacy, Clinton has promoted U.S. values in a firm but respectful way that restored international faith in the U.S. that eroded during the Bush administration. Her outreach to Burma balances unwavering support for human rights with the promise of support to a previously suspicious regime and has opened that country to the world for the first time in decades. Aung San Suu Kyi is now free and her party actively participating in the governance reform effort in Burma. Clinton also rejuvenated U.S. engagement in the Middle East by brokering a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel earlier this year. Her shuttle diplomacy and coordination with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi will likely give the U.S. greater leverage to pursue a robust peace process in 2013.
4. Diplomacy is National Security
The now iconic picture of senior officials gathered in the Situation Room during the Osama Bin Laden raid will forever memorialize one of the principal national security achievements of the first Obama administration. Clinton supported the raid and was a key player in adjusting U.S.-Pakistan relations afterwards. She was also a strong proponent of NATO airstrikes in Libya that eventually led to Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster. Her active diplomacy was critical to securing United Nations Security Council authorization of the Libya mission and maintaining strong European and regional support for it. Without such robust diplomatic effort, the use of military force – in Pakistan and Libya – would not have been nearly as effective. Clinton’s role in these two military campaigns highlights the central role foreign policy plays in U.S. national security in the 21st century.
In 2012, Clinton became an internet sensation because of a series of memes depicting her having fictitious, comical text exchanges with other celebrities while wearing her trademark sunglasses. Texts from Hillary became so popular that Clinton herself submitted her own caption to the website and invited its creators to meet with her at the State Department. Her star power and ability to capture the imagination of individuals around the world is one noteworthy aspect of her success.
Senator Kerry will likely succeed Hillary Clinton in early 2013. Her tenure as secretary of state is filled with accomplishments that taken together demonstrate the resurgence of U.S. diplomacy and restoration of American credibility. Her specific successes – such as Burma’s opening to the world or crippling effect of Iran sanctions – are important, but so too are her focus on people-to-people diplomacy and economics. Senator Kerry would do well to build upon Clinton’s impressive record once he moves over to Foggy Bottom.