Ruminations, August 25, 2013
The best secretary of state ever?
Amidst the support we hear for Hillary Clinton and her campaign for the presidency, some of her supporters claim that she has been the best Secretary of State ever – a bold claim, to be sure.
Ranking political figures and statesmen is a useless exercise. Certainly we can recognize those who have made extraordinary contributions but can we rank one from one era as better than another from another era? For example, we recognize Washington and Franklin Roosevelt among our better presidents. Would Washington have handled World War II better than Roosevelt? Would Roosevelt have handled the establishment of the United States better than Washington? We can agree that they were both outstanding but let’s forego ranking them.
What about secretaries of state? It might be useful to review some of the more outstanding ones since the dawn of the 20th century and see how their accomplishments stand-up to Hillary’s. There are three things we need to bear in mind: (1) We will only address what these people accomplished while secretary of state (with one exception; see Kissinger, below). Certainly, William Jennings Bryan and Charles Evan Hughes, for example, were quite accomplished in other venues but while secretary of state their accomplishments were minimal. (2) We are not endorsing everything that these people accomplished while in office but merely saying that the accomplishments were significant at the time. (3) There have been some 25 secretaries of state since 1900 and most of them have had journeymen careers. We have selected 8 who have been the most consequential.
• Frank Kellogg (secretary of state 1926-1929). Bolivia, Chile and Peru had warred in the 19th century and then achieved a precarious peace. War threatened to break out again when Kellogg, mediated an agreement that resolved the matter amicably. In 1929, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts with French foreign minister Aristide Briand in constructing a treaty that renounced “war as an instrument of national policy;” the treaty was signed by 54 nations.
• Cordell Hull (secretary of state 1933-1944) served longer as secretary of state than anyone else. Dealing with nations while the U.S. was conducting a war in the Pacific and in Europe was no mean feat. At the same time, Hull master-minded the creation of the United Nations. For those efforts, Franklin Roosevelt called him “the father of the United Nations” and in 1945, the Nobel Committee awarded him the prize for peace.
• George Marshall (secretary of state 1947-1949) announced in 1947 the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan. To a great degree, this program was not only a humanitarian success but kept Western Europe from dominance by the Soviet Union. Marshall was named Time magazine's Man of the Year for 1947 and, largely for his efforts as secretary of state, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953
• Dean Acheson (secretary of state 1949-1953) succeeded Marshall and played a pivotal role in implementing the Marshall Plan. As a cold warrior, Acheson had a major impact on the creation of the Truman Doctrine, the policy of containment and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He argued strenuously (and successfully) for American troops in Korea and advisors in Vietnam. He also argued against introducing American troops into China.
• John Foster Dulles (secretary of state 1953-1959) is the author of brinksmanship ("The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art “) and supported building a robust NATO. He argued against accepting the 1954 Geneva Accords on Vietnam and instead advocated a program to support the government of South Vietnam. He was the architect of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), created in 1955, which, among other things, provided military protection for South Vietnam.
• Henry Kissinger (secretary of state 1973-1977). Although Kissinger’s formal term of office began in 1973, he functioned as the de facto Secretary of State from 1969 to 1973. As an advocate of realpolitik, he developed the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and negotiated the opening of U.S. relations with Communist China. As a result of his negotiations with North Vietnam to establish a ceasefire and withdrawal, he was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize. He developed what was termed “shuttle diplomacy” for his efforts in negotiating an end to the Egyptian and Syrian war with Israel. He negotiated with Rhodesia’s government to transition to black majority rule. In 1972, he and Nixon were joint recipients of Time magazine’s Man of the Year award.
• George Schultz (secretary of state 1982-1989). The United States considered Taiwan an independent republic and China considered it a renegade province of China. Schultz negotiated an amicable solution with China in which the Chinese agreed to seek a peaceful solution. The oil pipeline between Western Europe and the Soviet Union provided much of the fuel necessary for Western Europe which objected to the sanctions that the U.S. had placed on it. Following Schultz negotiations with Western European leaders, the U.S. dropped those sanctions in return for others. When Gorbachev ascended to power in the Soviet Union, Schultz was at President Reagan’s side as the two leaders negotiated. Schultz also was instrumental in an agreement between Israel and Lebanon as well as initiating a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization,
• Warren Christopher (secretary of state 1993-1997) was instrumental in the signing of the Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinian Authority was created in return for Palestine’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist. He was also a key player in creation of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty of 1994 and in normalizing relations with Vietnam. In the Dayton (Ohio) Agreement, he mediated peace talks among Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, ending the Bosnian War.
And that brings us to Hillary Clinton. Is she the best secretary of state ever? She is certainly one of the most traveled but the best ever? Not by a long shot.
One of the basic precepts of a foreign policy is that other nations must be able to rely on your word and that, especially in a nation like the United States where the policy leaders can change every four to eight years, the policy will remain consistent. Yet what did Clinton do? Upon assuming office, she immediately called foreign leaders and told them that the policies of George W. Bush were inoperable. "We have a lot of damage to repair.”
Now every administration upon assuming office wants to set its own foreign policy but must recognize that it is constrained by the policies of previous administrations. No doubt that this was especially true of the Obama Administration. But yet, when an administration goes into a radical shift in policy and abrogates existing policies (as the Obama Administration did, for example, on the promise of missiles to Poland and the Czech Republic), it forces other nations to call into question any promises that the current administration will make. And that undercut the ability and credibility of Obama and Clinton to make new policy.
Clinton sought to underscore that change in policy by presenting Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov with a “reset” button – indicating that there was to be a reset of U.S. relations with Russia. She got it wrong and misspelled to Russian word for reset and that error seemed to serve as a symbol for getting the new relationship with Russia wrong. In spite of this new attitude and in spite of the U.S. acceding to Russian demands that the U.S. kill the Polish-Czech missile program, Russia has not reciprocated. Russia has blocked virtually all U.S. initiatives at the U.N., has refused to support sanctions against Iran, has supported the Syrian government against the rebels and in the latest symbol of defiance, has granted asylum to Edward Snowden.
When the Benghazi crisis erupted, Clinton said that she would take full responsibility. When one takes full responsibility, it is assumed that the taking of responsibility will be followed by action. If all one does is say that one is taking responsibility, then that is nothing but words. That’s all Clinton did – except when she tried to shift the blame from herself to an amateur film maker.
And when the green revolution in Iran erupted in 2009, Clinton advised President Obama to do and say nothing. Why? She was thrown a curveball by her Iran advisor Trita Parsi. Parsi has been labeled by the Pro-Democracy Movement of Iran as ”an intellectually dishonest regime apologist and an unofficial and unregistered lobbyist for the Iranian regime." So, instead of supporting the nascent uprising, Obama, acting on the advice of Clinton, said, “I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran's affairs."
Did Clinton do substantial things as secretary of state? Of course. But so have the 17 secretaries of state that we left off the list. In 2009, Clinton attended the historic signing of a treaty between Turkey and Armenia (negotiations which had begun one year earlier). She was on the winning side in internal Obama Administration debates to send an additional 21,000 troops into Afghanistan. She favored military intervention in Libya (naval blockade, missile strikes and shelling). And she issued a memo saying that the Sate Department would begin to use biometrics to identify foreign diplomats.
All in all, she must have other qualities and experiences that recommend her to be president. But her time as secretary of state is not among them.
Quote without comment
Author, professor and social critic Camille Paglia, in an interview in Salon.Com on the presidential campaign for 2016, August 21, 2013: “As a registered Democrat, I am praying for a credible presidential candidate … It remains baffling how anyone would think that Hillary Clinton … is our party’s best chance. … And what exactly has she ever accomplished — beyond bullishly covering for her philandering husband? … I for one think it was a very big deal that our ambassador was murdered in Benghazi. In saying “I take responsibility” for it as secretary of state, Hillary should have resigned immediately. … As far as I’m concerned, Hillary disqualified herself for the presidency in that fist-pounding moment at a congressional hearing when she said, ‘What difference does it make what we knew and when we knew it, Senator?’”