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Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Says Goodbye, For Now

February 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
During her four years as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton traveled almost a million miles and visited more than 100 countries. Ray Suarez examines Clinton's career with Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Susan Glasser of Foreign Policy Magazine.
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JEFFREY BROWN: This was Hillary Clinton’s last day on the job as secretary of state.

Ray Suarez looks at the diplomatic career of the former first lady and U.S. senator.

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON, United States: I am more optimistic today than I was when I stood here four years ago.

RAY SUAREZ: Clinton bid farewell to her staff today as a standing room-only crowd packed into the State Department’s lobby.

HILLARY CLINTON: I have seen, day after day, the many contributions that our diplomats and development experts are making to help ensure that this century provides the kind of peace, progress and prosperity that not just the United States, but the entire world, especially young people, so richly deserve.

RAY SUAREZ: Clinton visited more countries than any previous secretary of state, a total of 112, 401 days on the road, logging nearly 957,000 miles. She’s been a vocal advocate for women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment around the world.

HILLARY CLINTON:  We are now an administration that will protect the rights of women, including their rights to reproductive health care.

RAY SUAREZ: Clinton also worked to help free political prisoners, like Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years under House arrest. She was the first secretary of state to visit that country in more than half-a-century.

Clinton has overseen the State Department while the U.S. military has fought wars on two fronts, in Iraq, where the forces are now gone, and in Afghanistan, where American combat troops have begun drawing down. Clinton also used social media and the Internet in her soft power and public diplomacy efforts.

The secretary garnered high approval ratings, both abroad and at home. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 67 percent of Americans expressed a favorable opinion of her. It’s an open question whether her tenure includes a standout foreign policy achievement. Still unresolved issues include Iran’s nuclear program, the lack of a Middle East peace process, and the raging war in Syria.

Clinton made her final appearance on Capitol Hill nearly two weeks ago to testify about September’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It claimed the lives of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. She took aim at Senate Republicans, who accused the Obama administration of deceiving the nation about what happened.

HILLARY CLINTON:  The fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?

RAY SUAREZ: President Obama gave her high praise in a joint interview Sunday with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretary of states we have had. It has been a great collaboration over the last four years.

RAY SUAREZ: Clinton said her immediate goal is to catch up on 20 years of sleep deprivation. As for any political aspirations, she hasn’t made her intentions known. But an independent super PAC has been created to support her with hopes, that she will run again for president in 2016.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s successor, former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, was sworn in at a private ceremony this afternoon and starts work Monday.

For more on Hillary Clinton’s legacy, we turn to two Longtime foreign policy watchers. Trudy Rubin is the worldview columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Susan Glasser is executive editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

Well, Trudy Rubin, you heard the president just a moment ago say that Hillary Clinton was a great success as secretary of state. Was she?

TRUDY RUBIN, The Philadelphia Inquirer: I think it depends on how you define great success.

If you are talking about implementing his policy within the confines of the policy, then she did a good job overseas, carrying out his ideas and making a terrific impression when she did public diplomacy, because she’s such a talented politician, even overseas.

But if it comes to signature achievements, either any big achievement under Obama’s policy, for example, on Middle East peace, on Syria, on solving still existing issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan, apart from the pullout, or any doctrine of her own or signature issue of her own, I don’t think there is anything you can point your finger to.

She basically was a loyal soldier who presented a terrific image of the U.S. abroad, but not in a way that is going to leave a lasting impact, I feel.

RAY SUAREZ: Susan Glasser, how do you assess her four years as secretary?

SUSAN GLASSER, Foreign Policy magazine: Well, you know, Ray, I do think there is this paradox about Hillary Clinton, right, that as popular as she is, everybody says she is doing a terrific job as secretary of state, and then if you ask them, well, what is it that she has done, nobody has any idea what she has done or even what a secretary of state is supposed to do in this day and age.

I think this phrase implementer is one that Denis McDonough, who is now the chief of staff in the Obama White House, but was the deputy national security adviser, when I asked him who was really in charge of setting foreign policy strategy in this administration, was it Hillary Clinton or was it the White House, he made it very clear the White House was in charge of the big picture, and he described her as the principal implementer.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the president is the boss. Was she an effective advocate for the Obama administration’s worldview around the world?

SUSAN GLASSER: Well, I mean, that’s where clearly she gets marks that are off the chart.

She brought a level of celebrity star power and just sheer wattage to the job, not to mention her absolutely relentless desire to travel around the world. And we did it a slide show the other day of all 112 countries that she went to, from Afghanistan to Zambia, called her the secretary of schlep. And in some ways, there is actually a real debate that has opened up.

Michael Kinsley wrote a column recently trashing her for it and saying that it was a complete waste of time.

RAY SUAREZ: Trudy, the boosters of Hillary Clinton have noted that at the time that she became secretary, U.S. prestige around the world was heavily damaged by very contentious relationships during the Bush years. If you limit the question to whether those have been repaired, how does her record as secretary look then?

TRUDY RUBIN: You know, the Obama administration put an emphasis on alliances. And there’s no question she set out — she repaired the relationship with Europeans. She brought about closer relationships with Southeast Asian countries in an effort to pivot towards Asia and sort of create a buffer against China.

But if you look at how that translates into policy, I think there is a bigger problem. She was very good at going out to a country, soothing ruffled feathers, for example, with officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and speaking out to the public.

But what kind of a lasting impact did it have. For example, in Pakistan, where I was there when she deflected criticism, angry shouts from students, and she had them eating out of her hands. But, in Pakistan, the government is still providing shelter for the Taliban. And there’s still no real solid rapprochement between us and them.

So it is very hard to see that her soothing, her repairing of alliances necessarily resulted in concrete policy achievements.

RAY SUAREZ: Susan, wasn’t it a pretty complicated map, not only with places, as Trudy notes, like Pakistan, but even with some of America’s closest allies?

SUSAN GLASSER: Well, that’s exactly right.

I mean, these are times where, you know, you play the hand you are dealt as secretary of state, not only because the White House decides the big-picture policy, but the world over the last four years has been a complicated place. Who would have expected that actually Europe, our closest allies, would have been in a period of enormous internal turmoil greater than anything that they have seen since the end of World War II?

So Clinton was left to manage those relationships. I think I would say that she was often a soother, but often as not she was also someone who would speak out in a tough manner. Look at her relationship with the Russians. Even as President Obama was proclaiming a reset in our relationship with the Russians, Hillary Clinton was always often cast in the role of the tough guy in that relationship.

And remember that when Vladimir Putin came back to power, he publicly castigated her for seeking to foment a revolution against him. So she wasn’t afraid to speak out in this role either in many ways.

RAY SUAREZ: Trudy, do you think she pulled the Obama administration in a more hawkish direction than its own instincts might have done?

TRUDY RUBIN: Not necessarily.

You know, I think she hewed to the Obama administration’s position on Syria, which was trying to get a deal between the Russians and the Americans and not helping militarily. She stuck with that. On Iran, she was a hawk during the primaries between her and Obama. But Obama has — publicly, at least — advanced a hawkish position.

So she seems to be walking in tandem with him there. So, you know, it isn’t really clear, if she had been left to her own devices or if Obama had played Richard Nixon and made her his Kissinger, whether she would have taken positions very different from his. As it is, because she was the implementer, she tried to carve out some areas of her own, networking, public diplomacy, and working on women’s issues.

But, even in those areas, including women’s issues, I’m not sure how lasting the impact is going to be. For example, if we pull completely out of Afghanistan, all the gains that women have made may be lost.

RAY SUAREZ: Susan Glasser, quick final thoughts?

SUSAN GLASSER: Well, I guess we’re all going to be talking about Hillary Clinton for some time to come. We have got four years to wait and speculate to see whether she runs for president or not.

RAY SUAREZ: Susan Glasser, Trudy Rubin, thank you both.