(Mint Press) – Things in life seem to move in circles. This was seen last Sunday when — on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” — President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — at one time political enemies — sat down together for a joint interview in reflection of Clinton’s tenure as the head of the State Department. Clinton has announced her intent to retire and will step down upon confirmation of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by the full Senate.
President Obama said, as his rationale for the unusual interview, that he wanted to thank Clinton for her service as secretary of state: “I want the country to appreciate just what an extraordinary role she’s played during the course of my administration and a lot of the successes we’ve had internationally have been because of her hard work.”
Secretary of state
Secretary Clinton, who turned 65 this year and has been involved with federal government politics since the election of her husband as president in 1992, cited exhaustion as the reason for stepping down. After a recent concussion, and with reports of the secretary suffering from double vision, concerns about the secretary’s health have dimmed the ever-present call for her to reconsider retirement. She has traveled to more nations and have met with more heads of state than any other secretary of state.
Before her four-year term as secretary of state, she was the junior senator from New York from 2001 to 2009. Prior to her turn as first lady of the United States from 1993 to 2000, she was the first lady of Arkansas from 1983 to 1992. In light of 30 consecutive years of public service, it is understandable to see why she may be tired.
But, many see this “retirement” as a preparatory stage for a second run at the White House in 2016. At the close of her highly-publicized and widely lauded federal career, she is the highest publicly esteemed politician in Washington. The first-ever female senator from the state of New York, the first first lady to run for and win political office, the first woman to run as the frontrunner in a national primary, and the first former first lady to serve as a member of the Cabinet, Clinton is widely considered a trailblazer. Despite her polarizing persona as first lady, since 1993, she has been the “Gallup Poll’s Most Admired Woman” 17 times, beating out Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir in the number of times she won the acclaim. Considering this pool of good will and public affection, most consider Clinton the frontrunner for the presidency in 2016.
Clinton’s tenure will be marked by what David Brooks called new humanism, which is a call for personal and governmental engagement bigger and longer lasting than those that performed the political function. Many of the secretary’s agendas have been toward the end of making this world more just through an outright, honest and non-compromised “one-step-at-a-time” approach. This was seen with the secretary’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative — which addressed world hunger as not an emergency to be responded to, but a long-term foreign policy commitment. She aggressively advocated for a free, open Internet as a tool of democracy and pushed for the empowerment of women and girls worldwide.
Her term at the State Department is also marked by controversies and misplaced priorities. The attack on the American embassy at Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 and 12 exposed critical flaws in how the State Department protects diplomats oversea. This security flaw is compounded by the fact that, in 2009, Clinton ordered the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review — an once-every-four-years audit of the State Department towards analyzing the short-, medium- and long-term plans for the nation’s diplomatic and development efforts abroad. The question of staff security was not considered in this review, although civilian security was.
In the fallout of the Benghazi scandal, three State Department officials resigned after the release of the unclassified Pickering-Mullen Accountability Review Board Report Dec. 19. The report found that “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the ‘Department’) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place. Security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a ‘shared responsibility’ by the bureaus in Washington charged with supporting the post,
resulting in stove-piped discussions and decisions on policy and security. That said, Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi.”
The report continues: “The short-term, transitory nature of Special Mission Benghazi’s staffing, with talented and committed, but relatively inexperienced, American personnel often on temporary assignments of 40 days or less, resulted in diminished institutional knowledge, continuity and mission capacity.”
The report cited that two State Department bureaus — Diplomatic Security and Near Eastern Affairs — for the faults in security and blamed the senior leadership at the State Department for ignoring requests from the embassy at Tripoli for more security.
Another controversial call was her advocacy for involving the United States in the civil wars that emerged in the aftermath of the Arab Spring protests, especially, the Libyan conflict. Her commitment and passion to the Libyan situation even led the president to joke about it: At an annual Gridiron Dinner, the president quipped, “I’ve dispatched Hillary to the Middle East to talk about how these countries can transition to new leaders — though, I’ve got to be honest, she’s gotten a little passionate about the subject. These past few weeks it’s been tough falling asleep with Hillary out there on Pennsylvania Avenue shouting, throwing rocks at the window.”
Her passion led to the convincing of the administration that the nation should oppose Muammar Gaddafi’s forces with the imposing of a no-fly zone in Libya in 2011. With this, as well as other uprisings and insurrections throughout the African continent, Clinton presented a contradictory policy: support rebellion and the people’s right to rule in some cases, while defending established regimes in others. This was seen in Clinton’s assessment of the Mubarak presidency in Egypt, in which her opinion of it went from support to a call for a democratic participatory government to outright disdain for violence against protesters. This is seen by some as a lack of a philosophical core in approaching extranational events and as a reactionary posture.
Recently, the U.S. has agreed to support French forces in their push against Islamic forces in Mali. Despite untrue claims that the United States is involved in more military theaters globally under Obama (in the first term of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. was involved militarily with 20 different nations), the fact that — since 2010 — the United States has engaged militaristically against Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Uganda, Jordan, Turkey, Mali and Chad is a serious issue of concern and a major consideration in the manner John Kerry handles the post.
The state department under John Kerry
While these issues cannot — by any stretch of the imagination — constitute a failing under Hillary Clinton (while the Benghazi situation was tragic, there has not been a year since the Nixon administration where at least one American diplomat was targeted and attacked, as reported by Mother Jones, and — for the most part — most military engagements under Obama have been limited, such as the American intervention in Libya in 2011), they do constitute potential pitfalls and sensitive areas Kerry must avoid as secretary of state.
First, the United States’ use of military drones must be defended. In 2012, the U.S. engaged in 53 drone strikes, a three-fold increase over the 2011 figure. On a Jan. 22 drone attack, three were killed by an assassination drone in the Yemeni province of al-Jawf. According to AFP News Agency, this brings the total number killed in Yemen this month alone to at least 32.
Despite assurances from the Obama administration that the drones are meant only to attack terrorists, civilian casualties have mounted in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia. Despite this, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is seeking an expansion of its covert drone attack program in Yemen.
Yemenis have held anti-US rallies and is calling for the government to sever ties with Washington. The United Nations (U.N.) has also launched an investigation of the use of unmanned drones and targeted killings in counterterrorism operations. While Israel have used the technology, most unmanned drone strikes are done by the United States. The Security Council, meanwhile, approved the use of unmanned surveillance drones to monitor militias in the eastern Congo.
Second, Guantanamo Bay remains a major international concern. Despite the administration’s promise to close the military prison there, it remains open. Currently, the second pretrial hearing for five men accused of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are being held. The government is charged with the assurance that the trial will be fair and transparent. Issues regarding the treatment of prisoners and the use of “black spots” — clandestine facilities outside the U.S. where prisoners were held and tortured — will be issues that Kerry will be forced to address directly.
Third, Mali must be addressed. Since al-Qaeda-affiliated militants seized Northern Mali in March, it has became a major focus for the U.S. to bring stability to the nation. The U.S. has given their support to the African force in Mali towards fighting al-Qaeda, but cannot truly intervene until a new government has been elected. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Don Yamamoto told Voice of America: “As you know, the United States, we cannot provide any assistance to the Malian forces, or really Mali in general, until the restrictions are lifted, that is, a government is elected and we can lift the sanctions … Well, first of all is going for elections and of course you can’t have elections without involvement of the north and so the question comes in is how are you going to bring the north into this process? And those are issues of discussions.”
In part due to the U.S. backing of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the US’ muted response to Mali will ultimately need to be defended, despite America’s support of French involvement in the country.
Finally, during his confirmation hearing, Kerry stated that reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be a top priority. Kerry has confirmed that he favors the two-state solution. In light of the Syrian civil war and and recent concurrence among experts that Israel and Palestine have never been further apart politically, such lofty ambitions may test the future secretary.
However, when all things are considered, Kerry will have to live up to the reputation of an office that was elevated under Clinton’s secretarial service. Ritu Sharma is the co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide. Of Kerry’s following in Clinton’s footprints, Ms. Sharma told Mint Press: “Hillary Clinton famously said ‘women’s rights are human rights’ back in 1995. As secretary of state, she has acted on her conviction and ensured that gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide are major concerns of our diplomacy and international assistance programs. She has consistently spoken out for women, visited with them in nearly every country she has traveled in and has also changed the way foreign policy is made in Washington, insisting that both women and men be the focus of our international efforts.”
She continues: “But this sea-change has just begun, and it’s critical for John Kerry to continue to stress the importance of including 50 percent of the world’s population in our economic, security, and social/cultural relations with the rest of the world. While foreign policy is not made by one person and does not revolve around one issue, we will slide back by decades if he does not prioritize it.”