John Kerry's 2013 Is Cramping Hillary Clinton's 2016 Style

By a two-to-one margin, Americans approve of John Kerry's deal with Iran according to a poll released on Wednesday. At least one American may be less pleased with the breakthrough: Hillary Clinton.

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By a two-to-one margin, Americans approve of the John Kerry-brokered deal on Iran, according to a poll released on Wednesday. But there's at least one American who may be less pleased with the breakthrough: Kerry's predecessor as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Clinton is in danger of being outshined from the left even as she's overshadowed from the right.

It's been less than a week since the interim Iran deal was finalized, so the poll from Reuters should be considered a snapshot more than a solidified response. It offers "rare good news" for President Obama, in Reuters' words, with 44 percent of respondents supporting the deal versus 22 percent opposing. But it's not only Obama who deserves credit. The agreement was the result of several weeks of direct negotiation, but its apparent genesis was a 2011 trip then-Sen. John Kerry took to Oman to establish secret negotiations with Iran. This deal and its immediate success, in other words, belong to John Kerry.

According to a story in Wednesday's The New York Times, that doesn't make Clinton loyalists very happy.

[S]ome people close to Mrs. Clinton worry that, because of the high profile given to her work for women’s rights, and the headlines now being generated by the hyperkinetic Mr. Kerry, her efforts on trickier diplomatic situations have been eclipsed.

What about her 13 trips to Libya in 2011 to build the coalition that led to the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, they ask. Why is no one talking about how she brokered a cease-fire in Gaza? Anyone remember that she furthered economic sanctions on North Korea?

There's a quick and easy answer to those questions, of course — news outlets tend to focus on those things that are new, versus those things that bolster possible future candidates' credentials.


A deeper question about Clinton's State Department legacy is, however, unavoidable. As the Times notes, Republicans have been deliberate about trying to set that legacy in stone with a one word epitaph: Benghazi. The on-going effort to suggest nefarious intent or negligence in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens hasn't borne much evidentiary fruit. Regardless, the word has become a shorthand used by the right to suggest scandal. Protests often have signs that say nothing more than "Benghazi." In two years time, with Obama still in the White House and Clinton likely looking to replace him, the word will become only more prominent.

In The Atlantic, David Rohde contrasted the styles of the two secretaries. "Political calculations may have constrained the risks Hillary Clinton was willing to take," Rohde writes. "Kerry, in contrast, no longer needs to heed political consultants" thanks to having already run for the presidency, and lost. Clinton aides countered that, too.

One of Clinton’s State Department deputies, who did not want to be named, told me that the former secretary would have taken bolder risks but was reined in by the White House—especially during her first couple of years in office, when hostility from the bitter 2008 primary campaign still lingered between the Obama and Clinton staffs. … Two other Clinton aides I spoke with insisted that she was never that constrained or risk-avoidant—and said that, furthermore, she actively engaged in Middle East talks, at one point meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for seven hours in New York.

Clinton will have plenty of more opportunities to explain her time at the State Department and in the Senate as 2016 approaches. (Reminder: It's still three years away.) Next summer, the Times notes, Clinton will release a memoir, in which the positives and negatives of her work will certainly be carefully balanced.

Though it goes without saying that this is not where she hoped to be with her legacy in the Cabinet: disparaged by the right and outperformed by her replacement. The deal with Iran could still stumble and public opinion could turn against it. Clinton certainly doesn't want that to happen. But at least one person involved in her not-yet-a-campaign has probably thought of it and smiled.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.