Secretary Of State, Not Superwoman

By Clement Tan

Reading The New York Times' David Landler's commentary on Hillary Clinton's first major address as Secretary of State at the Council of Foreign Relations yesterday, one gets the impression that Clinton is Superwoman, repressed by her boss and nemesis in the White House.

Landler calls her speech "an effort to recapture the limelight after a period in which Mrs. Clinton has nursed both a broken elbow and the perception that the State Department has lost influence to an assertive White House." He also situates her speech against the backdrop of the antecedent rivalry between Clinton and Obama from their bruising presidential primary campaigns last year.

What is there to recapture? Politico reported Secretary Clinton has traveled, in her first six months in office, nearly 100,000 miles visiting two dozen countries, many of them more than once--and that's even more than two of her two of her more successful predecessors, James Baker and Henry Kissinger, in their first six-months. Besides, a successful Secretary of State is not necessarily somebody who is constantly in the limelight. Landler's harping on the Obama-Clinton rivalry also comes across as being tired and neglects Clinton's own competence and dynamism.

Instead of over-elucidating the nuances of domestic political theater, Landler, along with other commentators at major news outlets, could have capitalized more on the things that Clinton did not say. While her speech was ostensibly meant to sketch out the intellectual framework for the Obama administration's foreign policy, she did not elaborate, for example, on the direction towards "major and emerging global powers" such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa.

This is especially glaring since she leaves tomorrow for yet another Asian swing, where she will visit India to announce a strategic dialogue initiative and meet with Asian leaders in Thailand at an ASEAN summit, where North Korea is also on the agenda. Political theater is one thing, but this is being distracted by the drama without mentioning the substantive implications of her address. Clinton ain't Superwoman, but she is Secretary of State. Let's judge her based on that.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/07/secretary-of-state-not-superwoman/21478/