Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Debating Hillary Clinton’s Legacy as Secretary of State

by Isobel Coleman
May 13, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) meets with Afghan women during a Civil Society roundtable discussion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul October 20, 2011. From left are Selay Ghaffar, Maria Bashir, Fawzia Koofi, Clinton and Dr. Sima Samar (Kevin Lamaruqe/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) meets with Afghan women during a civil society roundtable discussion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul October 20, 2011. From left are Selay Ghaffar, Maria Bashir, Fawzia Koofi, Clinton and Dr. Sima Samar (Kevin Lamaruqe/Courtesy Reuters).

In light of the ongoing controversy over Benghazi, the New York Times’ Room for Debate asked contributors to weigh in on Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of state.

Clinton drew significant praise from some contributors. Philip Seib of the Center on Public Diplomacy said, “More than any previous secretary of state, Clinton ‘got it’ in terms of understanding the importance of public diplomacy as a foreign policy tool.” Professor Minxin Pei at the Claremont McKenna College lauded Clinton’s work in Asia, concluding that “despite the growing underlying antagonism in U.S.-China relations, the ties between the U.S. and China are now on a more solid and realistic footing.”

Other views were more mixed. Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote about Clinton’s generally rocky relationship with Russia’s leaders. When it comes to Israel-Palestine issues, UC-Davis professor Zeev Maoz reasoned, “The gap between the professed goals of the administration and the outcomes of its policies is substantial. But the Obama/Clinton team faced an uphill battle.”

Clinton also attracted sharp criticism. Paul J. Sanders of the Center for the National Interest portrayed Clinton as unstrategic, criticizing her record on Syria and Libya in particular. Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute claimed that the Obama administration has a “misconceived vision of a new Middle East and the sources of rage against us.” Danielle Pletka for the American Enterprise Institute argued, among other things, that “Women and religious minorities now have fewer freedoms across the Middle East and North Africa.” This view misses the complex impact of the Arab uprisings on women–yes, conservative forces have come to the fore, but women have also achieved new levels of engagement and mobilization to fight for their rights in the new systems. It also misses Clinton’s extensive efforts to advocate for women abroad. As I wrote in my own Room for Debate response:

When Clinton first made an international name for herself on this issue, at the UN’s 1995 Beijing Conference on Women–where she memorably asserted that “women’s rights are human rights”–she framed the challenge in moral terms. But as secretary of state, she persistently connected the dots between women’s rights and major foreign policy concerns such as global economic development, food security, extremism and political stability.

You can read the Room for Debate responses here.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Francis Palazzolo

    With the goal of standing up for women’s rights, why is Clinton not a greater advocate for abused women in the US military and the women of Afghanistan? Both communities have had terrible setbacks recently. Not only has Clinton’s voice been absent, the rise of sexual abuse in the military and the Afghan vote against women’s freedom gained momentum while she was in public service.
    Where are leaders that role up their sleeves and produce solutions? The phrase, ‘leading from behind’ that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton championed better defines an outspoken follower or pundit, rather than a political leader which is sorely missed by many around the world.

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