Hillary Clinton for 2016? Look to Her Legacy as Secretary of State
A little over a week ago, Hillary Clinton was the cause of an internet sensation. A photo taken by Diana Walker for TIME had been fashioned into a clever meme that painted Madame Secretary as the purveyor of all things badass. She sits calmly in the middle of what looks like a frantic day. Staffers are busy behind her, she’s clearly in transit to some foreign land, yet she's solemn, confident, solo, focused on her phone and ultimately on the task at hand.
In the aftermath of the meme, she was even suave enough to reply (albeit with some help from her staff) cleverly, by creating her own pun on the infamous scrunchies she wears in her hair. And, this weekend we even saw proof that she unwinds with a cool one, just like the rest of us.
It’s safe to say that Hillary Clinton is enjoying a moment as the coolest woman in American politics.
But this isn’t just a fleeting moment of popularity. Clinton is enjoying her 10th year as Gallup poll’s most admired woman. And it’s a distinction she’s earned through hard work, perseverance, focus, dedication, and her recent efforts at the Department of State.
Upon starting at State, Clinton emphasized the use of what she deemed “smart power,” or the use of “diplomacy and development alongside defense.” Getting off on the right foot, Clinton chose to emphasize a pragmatic and more diplomatic handling in all her efforts at State.
This approach has been instrumental in her achievements. Clinton has orchestrated some of the most tactful diplomatic successes the department has seen in a while, and she’s looking to make changes for the long-term. Through her vast network of personal relationships with leaders around the world (developed during her time as First Lady and continued as Senator of New York), Clinton has been able to subtly mastermind some moments of great diplomatic effort, from forming a coalition to stop Qaddafi’s massacres in Libya (though some progressives disapprovingly saw this as aggressive action justified by humanitarian intervention) to convincing Russia and China in the UN Security Council to help isolate Iran and North Korea (whether right or wrong, she succeeded in her pursuit).
Coupled with boosted efforts at diplomacy, Clinton has been an advocate for developing relations with nongovernmental organizations to act as local advocates for development, to ensure that changes are long lasting and that American support yields positive results. Whereas in the past, efforts had primarily been conducted on a government-to-government basis, Clinton has stressed the importance to all at the Department of State of engaging civil society and making sure that the voices of the people are heard. Most evident in this pursuit have been her efforts in supporting women's rights around the world. Much like she did as First Lady, Clinton has continued her commitment to the advancement of girls and women around the world. She established the position of Ambassador for Women, and appointed former White House Chief of Staff Melanne Verveer to serve. Recognizing that the status of women around the world correlates to and impacts development, she has stressed women’s rights as a way to promote peace, vibrant civil society, and long lasting change.
As she stated in ELLE magazine: “A lot of the work I do here in the State Department on women’s or human-rights issues is not just because I care passionately — which I do — but because I see it as [a way] to increase security to fulfill American interests. These are foreign-policy and national-security priorities for me.”
Also aiding this effort has been her ability to embrace and promote the use of social media. Seen as a direct way to promote the wants of the people, and a straight route for citizens to reach those who rule, Clinton has urged governments around the world not to restrict internet access. She’s also encouraged those at State to use social media to promote and showcase the work they do in hopes of creating a more direct connection between government and its people.
Surely, the cornerstone of her legacy is the Arab Spring. Here, Clinton's handling of the immense challenges associated with the revolutions across the Arab world was mixed. On one hand, she has done a good job at letting protesters do their work. Initially, the United States remained on the side lines, and allowed those on the street to take the reins in demanding their basic rights and dignity. Though, of course, the U.S. eventually stepped in later (most forcefully in Libya), it’s admirable that she was able to sympathize with the aspirations of protesters, rather than upholding the status quo and supporting the authoritarian regimes that the U.S. had previously defended .
On the other hand, the U.S. has certainly chosen selectively about which revolts to support and highlight. The U.S. ignored many protests around the region, including the Green Revolution in Iran and protests in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. This strategic choosing of which protests to support is very disappointing, as it not only highlights the hypocrisy so often equated with America, but most importantly stifles the brave efforts of those demanding fair representation and their basic rights as humans.
In addition, Clinton’s handling of the Wikileaks exposure was anything but satisfactory. She was able to draw on her personal relationships with many of the world’s leaders to reassure them and essentially brush the revelations of Wikileaks aside. Disappointingly, no major changes or shifts have come from Wikileaks' revelations.
Though the president, and this one in particular, normally spearhead most foreign policy ventures, Clinton has admitted to taking part in all large decisions, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which disappointingly has yielded no results whatsoever. Even the so called settlement freeze has so many loopholes it's hardly effective.
Overall, Clinton has done an impressive job at State. By adjusting the approach the Department takes in handling international affairs, she has successfully (though of course not entirely) bolstered the image of the United States and made some strong decisions to help promote better government and lasting changes around the world. Certainly, a large part of how Clinton will be remembered as Secretary of State will have to do with what develops in Syria over the next few months. Any action, or lack thereof, will dictate and direct a big portion of her legacy. Assad continues to conduct systematic killings and reign rampant terror down upon the citizens of his country. It's pretty safe to say that Clinton wouldn't want to have the same feeling of regret that her husband has in relation to his inaction during the genocide in Rwanda, but we still have yet to see how Syria will pan out.
Despite all of this though, one thing is for sure: If it's 3am and "something's happening,"it's reassuring to know Hillary Clinton is the one who is "on it."