Grading Hillary Clinton's Tenure as Secretary of State

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How is Hillary Clinton performing as Secretary of State? New assessments are rolling in as she marks nearly a year in her role. The job was initially seen in part as a way to smooth tensions between Obama and the Clintons following the rough-and-tumble 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. Now foreign affairs experts are taking a step back to ask how she's doing as one of America's foremost foreign policy figures. We've gathered the most comprehensive evaluations, assigning each a subjective grade for how they seem to evaluate her work on America's behalf.

  • C, Hillary's Many Gaffes  The New Republic's Michael Crowley wonders if Clinton has lost her "animatronic ability to stay on message," developing "a curious propensity for public statements that require amendment, clarification, and implicit retraction." Crowley catalogs Clinton's gaffes abroad, worrying, "Mistakes on the trail can cost votes. But loose talk in diplomacy can make it hard for enemies and allies alike to know what’s coming off the cuff and what represents official U.S. policy." One such flub over Israel settlements, Crowley writes, led to "months of tension with the Israelis." He thinks the 2008 presidential campaign might be instructive. "In some ways, Hillary the candidate never disappeared [...] Perhaps the campaign feel helps to explain some of Hillary’s verbal burps. While many people think of Clinton as scripted and cautious, other facets of her personality--temper, self-assurance, sarcasm--have always broken through her robotic façade."
  • A, Unfairly Maligned  Foreign Policy's Annie Lowrey defends Clinton from her critics. "She speaks publicly on literally a world's worth of issues every day. She makes mistakes, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, sometimes with effect, sometimes without. To paint with black and white is to miss a very colorful picture. And ultimately, it is the press that paints her in such egregiously schizophrenic, love-her-or-hate-her terms." Lowrey earlier praised Clinton, "she's chastened North Korea, advocated on behalf of Burma, and rallied against Israeli settlement building. She's logged nearly 100,000 air miles. She's tirelessly pursued Obama's diplomatic agenda around the world. And she's done it while fostering or demonstrating little friction with the White House she once hoped to occupy."
  • B, Hillary The Hawk  The New Republic's Michael Crowley also suggests that Clinton's had a hawkish influence on White House policy. "We don't know a whole lot of detail about what Hillary has been counseling in the Situation Room this fall but it sounds like she's leaning towards substantially more troops" in Afghanistan. Crowley thinks if she were president, "we almost surely would have more troops on the way. I don't think dithering would have been the issue for Hillary so much as the fact that her instincts are simply more hawkish than Obama's."
  • D, Clueless Israel Betrayer  The Weekly Standard's Rachel Abrams is furious. "Hillary Clinton has arcked pendulously between Israel and the Arabs, the Arabs and Israel in her various incarnations -- as far back as 1998, with the blood-soaked Arafat at the helm of the PLO, the then-First Lady’s call for a Palestinian state was quickly walked back by the White House, and she was shortly heard, post-kiss, attacking Suha Arafat for 'inflammatory rhetoric' -- and most conspicuously so of late, from ice to tepid dishwater and back to frosty again."
  • A+, Revolutionary Departure From Rice  Jonathan Van Meter pens a very long and very glowing profile of Clinton for Vogue, favorably contrasting her with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "Through the more than 30 countries she has visited since, Clinton has at the very least proved how focused and indefatigable she is," he writes.
One of the refrains I kept hearing from reporters was Condi would never do this. Clinton, a woman from politics, knows how to work a crowd. Sometimes her motorcade would arrive and she would jump out and just plunge right in, getting out ahead of her security team, who often looked a little panicked. She danced her funky little dance at the dinners held in her honor (as seen on YouTube). In Cape Town, she threw a party for the press and drank with the best of us, talking for more than two hours, into the night, with surprising off-the-record candor about everything from her husband to her disdain for certain world leaders. She's fun. She laughs at herself. And she is full of surprisingly sharp, pointy little retorts, barbs, and comebacks. [...]

Everyone around her—her staff, the press—talks about how she has become more attractive with age and that photographs do not tell the story. When you are around her you are constantly struck by her charisma, her vitality, her confidence. Everywhere she goes people tell her that she is prettier in person.

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