Fundamentally Freund: The ‘Seinfeld’ secretary of state

Much of the mainstream American media promptly went out of its way to swoon over Clinton, giving her a send-off replete with the usual flattery and fawning.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 370 (R) (photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 370 (R)
(photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
Last Friday, after four tumultuous years, Hillary Rodham Clinton cleared her desk at the US State Department and officially completed her term as Washington’s top diplomat.
Not surprisingly, much of the mainstream American media promptly went out of its way to swoon over Clinton, giving her a send-off replete with the usual flattery and fawning.
Newsweek, for example, glorified Clinton on its cover, describing her as “the most powerful woman in American history” and wondering just how “the world after Hillary” will look. Not to be outdone, NBC’s Today show decided to tackle the question that was surely on everybody’s mind: “Sleep In Saturday: How is Hillary Clinton Spending Her First Day Off the Job?” Few journalists actually bothered to take a look at Clinton’s record during her tenure at Foggy Bottom, preferring to treat her with kid gloves.
Or, as veteran media critic Howard Kurtz put it, the media “are almost portraying her exit as walking on water.”
Don’t let yourself be fooled by the organized love-fest. The fact of the matter is that never has one woman gotten so much credit for accomplishing so little over such an extended period of time.
Indeed, Hillary Clinton was the Seinfeld secretary of state; her term little more than a show about nothing – other than highlighting the main character’s personality, of course.
Consider the following: Clinton made no major contributions to America’s foreign policy doctrine, she did not formulate or even articulate any memorable vision of where the country is headed, and she presided over numerous failures and fiascos.
Remember the much vaunted “reset” of US relations with Russia that Hillary touted? That went nowhere. Or how about when she referred to Syrian Butcher-in-Chief Bashar Assad as a “reformer” back in March 2011, even as his forces were brutally attempting to quash opposition to his rule. The Iranian ayatollahs are now four years closer to a nuclear bomb than they were at the beginning of Hillary’s tenure while North Korea continues to threaten American allies in the Far East with impunity.
Clinton also presided over the September 11, 2012, Benghazi debacle, when four Americans were killed, including the US ambassador, in an attack on the US consulate in eastern Libya. The State Department she ran bungled security at the Consulate and ignored repeated requests to improve it, and then could not or would not level with the American people about what actually had happened.
IN LIGHT of the above, it hardly seems proper to suggest that Clinton belongs in the pantheon of outstanding secretaries of state. Clearly, she was no George Kennan or Henry Kissinger.
And that is precisely the reason why her spinmeisters have been stressing the fact that she visited 112 countries and traveled nearly a million miles, as if that were an accomplishment in and of itself.
After four years as America’s top diplomat, is the number of nations one managed to visit really a good barometer of one’s achievements? Simply because Hillary graced a record number of airport lounges, or sipped more cappuccinos abroad than anyone in recent memory says nothing about her professional qualities or success.
To be sure, her time in office was not a complete flop. She helped to push forward a diplomatic opening with Myanmar, encouraging that country to pursue continued democratic reforms. And Clinton did play a role in America’s pivot towards East Asia as a way of countering China’s rise.
But that is hardly much of a record to gloat about, and even some of her defenders admit as much. As Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution acknowledged in an otherwise favorable account, Clinton’s “positions were not usually remarkably imaginative.”
“Even an admirer,” he added, “must acknowledge that few big problems were solved on her watch.”
And when it came to Israel, her performance was also far from stellar.
Though widely portrayed as a close friend of the Jewish state, Hillary’s record belies such a conclusion.
Take, for example, the speech she gave at the Saban Center just two months ago, on December 2, where she lambasted Israel for a “lack of generosity” and “lack of empathy” toward the “oppressed” Palestinians, as though two decades of Israeli territorial concessions had slipped her mind.
And Clinton has repeatedly criticized Israeli housing construction in eastern Jerusalem as “provocative” and also labeled Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as “illegitimate.”
So no matter how one looks at it, there really is not much reason to lament Hillary’s departure from the State Department, although it could mean she will now start preparing for a possible 2016 presidential run.
In any event, I don’t feel any ill-will toward her, and I truly do hope she enjoys her retirement. So much so, that just like Seinfeld, she will remain a relic of the past.