Regardless of where one stands on the political spectrum, one ought to take a moment and appreciate the public service of outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Next to the presidency, no other office in the country bears the responsibility of being the primary representative of the United States to the rest of the world. While it tends to operate above the fray of partisan politics, the (false) charge that the secretary, by virtue of her office, can both control and foresee foreign events, is one that is only shared by the presidency. It should be no wonder that, given this reality, along with a rather brutal travel schedule, the secretary has aged as visibly as she has over these last four years.
Unbeknownst to most Americans is that, for the founding generation of the Republic, the position of secretary of state served as a kind of training grounds for future presidents. Perhaps the outgoing secretary will re-establish that tradition in the future.
Be that as it may, there are five foreign policy decisions undertaken by the Obama administration in which Secretary Clinton, through her cooperation and advocacy, deserves an adequate amount of criticism.
1. The decision to overthrow President Gaddafi in Libya
While the administration has been pummeled by the right over its handling of the Benghazi affair last September, it has received scant coverage of the real failure in its Libya policy: aiding in the overthrowing of Col. Muammar Gaddafi from power. The action not only undermined an ally in the (now defunct) “global war on terror,” it also served as a catalyst for the further destabilizing of an already unstable North African region.
The murder of four Americans last September is proving to be only the beginning of sorrows. Recent actions taken by affiliates of the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AGIM) in Mali and Algeria have their origins in the decision to undermine the Libyan state.
2. The Afghanistan "surge"
An unfortunate lesson that American policymakers have had to re-learn is that one can win every battle in a conflict and still lose a war. To paraphrase Clausewitz, wars are ultimately political engagements. A military campaign that fails to result in a desired political outcome is ultimately considered a failure. Given this understanding, along with Sen. John McCain’s obnoxious line of questioning to defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel from Thursday's hearing firmly in mind, one cannot help but notice what the ultimate outcome appears to be with the recent U.S. surge in Afghanistan.
As it stands now, it is unlikely the present Afghan government will be able to survive long once the U.S. completes its withdrawal of its combat forces from the country in 2014. This is failure, and this result is unworthy of the sacrifices made for it.
3. Granting Afghanistan major non-NATO U.S. ally status
Perhaps the most inexplicable policy undertaken by the Obama administration to date has been it decision to grant Afghanistan the status of a major non-NATO ally. What makes this designation unusual, aside from the company Afghanistan now finds itself with, is that the recipient of the material, logistical and legal support may very well become a failed state post-2014.
4. Maintaining the status quo with Pakistan
Perhaps no other relationship best encapsulates the schizophrenic nature of America’s post 9/11 foreign policy as does its relationship with Pakistan. Long a sponsor of Sunni jihadists of various stripes, Pakistan adopted a quick about face following the 2001 attacks on the United States and became a chief partner in the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan as well as its “global war on terror."
10 years later, following the successful May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan that resulted in the death of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, Pakistan promptly denounced the U.S. and closed its vital supply routes to NATO-bound shipments to Afghanistan. While the situation was eventually resolved some nine months later, it revealed the extent to which U.S. designs in Afghanistan run counter to those of Pakistan.
5. The East Asia "pivot"
There is an expression that says “if it walks like a duck, acts like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.” The same is true for the administration’s “pivot” to the Pacific: If it looks like containment, acts like containment, and sounds like containment, then it is containment.
While China is certainly a rising great power, it does not and will not pose a threat to the United States that would require a policy of containment in the foreseeable future. Such a policy is not only pre-mature but also carries within it its own self-fulfilling fears: attempts at containing China will only fuel Chinese fears of foreign encirclement, that will encourage Chinese assertiveness, that will further encourage containment.
What makes it all the more dangerous is that the “pivot” may actually be a bluff on the part of the administration. Rather than contribute to regional stability, the pivot may very well encourage the exact opposite.