One State Department official praised Clinton's tenure, but talked
about looking forward to the arrival of her presumed successor, Senator
"I came to admire Clinton as secretary of state," this official said,
"her focus on women and innovation in particular. But am really happy
to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions."
A former State Department official said much the same. Clinton was
"brilliant," but her aides' primary concern was how her actions as
secretary of state would affect her political standing in the U.S.
"They were running the State Department like her Senate office," said
the official, who asked not to be named. "It was a political minders'
Clinton, of course, is one of hundreds of politicians to serve in
presidential Cabinets. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is a
career politician. As is incoming Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. And to
Clinton's credit, she has made sweeping reforms at the State Department
and modernized the staid world of American diplomacy.
Still, her tenure is a marker of how politicized our approach to
foreign policy has become. Clinton is not alone. Obama and his inner
circle have politicized foreign policy as well.
After promising a sweeping break with the approaches of President
George W. Bush, the Obama White House has proved just as insular and
controlling of foreign policy as the Bush administration. In fact, Obama
and his inner circle has arguably proven more political.
Loath or love Bush, he embarked on a risky, unpopular and open-ended
troop surge in Iraq. The Obama administration, by comparison, backed an
18-month surge in Afghanistan - just long enough to protect it from
charges of being soft on terrorism. And just short enough to telegraph
to the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan's intelligence service
that they simply needed to wait the U.S. out.
I support Obama's plan to draw-down U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Karzai has proven enormously corrupt and failed to assemble an effective
government despite vast amounts of foreign aid. The best hope for the
country is a new leader, peace talks with the Taliban, a small American
residual force and continued U.S. funding of Afghan security forces.
But with the exception of the Libya intervention and the raid that
killed Osama bin Laden, Obama's first-term foreign policy was marked by
cautious, political calculation. Members of his foreign policy team
rightly point to the president's re-election as proof that their
approach worked. A more decisive Obama approach in foreign affairs,
though, may have helped him at the ballot box.
To be fair, Obama and Clinton are reacting to Bush's disastrous
invasion of Iraq. But the pendulum is now swinging too far toward a smug
isolationism, driven by short-term domestic political calculations. As
Clinton departs, worrying trends are emerging in the way America engages
with the world.