Hillary’s persistence continued once we landed: At each of our meetings in Israel, she insisted on introducing us as if we were somehow of equal rank and importance. She has that Clinton touch, the capacity to connect and to make people feel that they matter and are worth investing in. Madeleine Albright, another strong secretary of state, once quipped to me during the Camp David summit that President Clinton ought to add Hillary to the negotiating team so that we might have a better chance to seal the deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
3. Be a team player . . . and very careful: Hillary’s political skills have been on display for years — how she’s managed to gain such a stellar reputation as a great secretary of state is another matter. The accomplishments don’t justify the hype: She’s been a loyal and pretty effective implementer of what the president wanted, but hasn’t taken many risks or led on any big issues.
Her legacy has three parts: She has promoted a kind of 21st-century planetary humanism, consisting of women’s rights, LGBT issues, press and Internet freedom and the environment. She has reorganized and fought for resources for the State Department. And she has relentlessly traveled the globe to improve her nation’s image — and while she hasn’t been successful everywhere (see: the Middle East), she has won enough victories in enough places to mend some of the disaster that was the George W. Bush presidency.
All of this is fine, but none of it gets her into the company of some of her more illustrious predecessors, like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz or James Baker. And forget comparing her to the giants — George Marshall and Dean Acheson. When it comes to issues of war and peace, or matters of high strategy, she really hasn’t left a mark.
To be fair, this isn’t all Hillary’s fault. Obama — the most withholding foreign-policy president since Richard Nixon — hasn’t delegated any major issues to her either.
But here’s the paradox: I think Hillary made a choice early on to keep her head down on the most contentious issues and find her own niche. The president wants to dominate and not delegate? Let him. All of the consequential issues — Iran, Syria, Israeli-Palestinian peace — seemed like losing bets anyway, fraught with the risk of tarnishing her political star. She found her role in the play — not the lead, to be sure — and filled it brilliantly.
(It’s also worth noting, ahem, that the issues she did own all had safe domestic political resonance and could be useful for building coalitions and constituencies should she decide to make another run for the Oval Office.)
As she winds down her term, Hillary Clinton does not have any spectacular successes to call her own — but she has no spectacular failures, either. On Libya, she was willing to fall on her sword, but U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice fell on hers instead. (Why Hillary didn’t sign up to read those famous talking points that fateful Sunday isn’t clear. Maybe she took one look at them and decided to steer clear.) On Syria, it’s the president who seems to be taking the heat for not doing more. And on Israel, it’s again Obama who’s seen to be in a face-off with Bibi.