When I reflect on Hillary Clinton’s first year as secretary of state, I can’t help but think about the controversy surrounding her selection to the post. She was (and may still be) anathema to many of President Barack Obama’s staunchest supporters. For them, her selection was a head-scratcher, at best, and a capitulation to the status quo, at worst.
There were concerns about the extent to which she would be a team player, and some wondered, if not predicted, that she (along with her ever-present husband) would try to undermine the President for her own political gain.
I think even some of her harshest critics would concede that those concerns, in retrospect, have proven unwarranted. Weighing all of the available evidence, it is clear that Secretary Clinton is a hard working advocate for President Obama’s foreign policy (It’s probably easier to be such as there probably aren’t that many substantive differences between the two on most international issues) and a credit to the administration.
She deserves kudos for bringing women’s rights to the forefront in a way that never was previously done, despite the fact that two of the last three secretaries of state were women.
According to recent reporting, “rarely does [Clinton] venture abroad without pushing the case for ‘women empowerment,’ a signature issue of her nearly one-year tenure as the top U.S. Diplomat.”
This is no small achievement and still badly needed. After all, we live in a world in which a 16-year-old Bangladeshi girl was recently given 101 lashes on her back for becoming pregnant as a result of being raped. Too many women around the world still live under gender-based oppression and her work on their behalf should be duly noted.
Clinton’s presence at “Foggy Bottom” also appears to have shaken up diplomatic corps around the world. The Washington Post recently reported that there are 25 female ambassadors posted in Washington, D.C., “the highest number ever, according to the State Department.” Eleven of the 25 female ambassadors are from Africa and four from the Caribbean. The “Hillary effect” as it has been dubbed, is helping to create a new political order that will include more women in decision-making positions than ever before.
It’s not all wine and roses, however. Her timidity with regard to China is clear and a significant contrast to her tone when she was First Lady. She traveled to China in 1995 , and gave a stirring indictment of the nation’s human rights record.
As secretary of state, her talk of “principled pragmatism,” as she called her view toward human rights in China in a late 2009 speech at Georgetown University, reminds me of Reagan-era talk of “constructive engagement” with South Africa.
Going forward, it is my hope that she will continue to push the envelope on women’s rights and continue to remake the international diplomatic corps.
And while problems in North Korea, Iran, Haiti, and other parts of the world will continue to loom, it’s clear that, at least so far, Secretary Clinton has proven up to the task, or at least not the disaster some predicted.
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University. He is the author of “Republicans and the Black Vote” (2008) and “Home Rule or House Rule? Congress and the Erosion of Local Governance in the District of Columbia” (2003). His work has been featured on The Huffington Post, The Root, and TomPaine.com. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com.