Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State was supposed to be the ace up her sleeve in the run for the White House. It was the cherry on top of an impressive career in public service, the type of resume line that causes pundits to gush about being “the most qualified candidate in recent history.” It not only allowed her to portray herself as a foreign policy expert at a time when the world is in turmoil, but gave her a visible platform to champion issues like women’s empowerment and gay rights around the world.
But over the past few months that narrative has taken a tumble. It began with revelations that her family’s charity—the Clinton Foundation—accepted millions of dollars in donations from questionable regimes with dubitable records on human rights. It took hold with questions over Clinton’s decision to exclusively use a private e-mail system while serving as Secretary of State, a move that shielded her communications from review. And it has been whipped into a frenzy by reporting that establishes shady connections between Clinton Foundation donations and State Department decision-making, which has drawn questions over whether Clinton’s influence was for sale.
Taken together, the stories, all of which exist in that uncomfortable space between barely legal and probably unethical, re-kindled the sour connotations that were once associated with the Clinton brand.
“Part of the reason the story is gaining traction is that it reminds people of what the Clinton White House was like,” American University political science professor Jennifer Lawless told the Washington Post. “It reminds people of the scandals, the secrecy and the lack of transparency that were often associated with Bill Clinton’s eight years in Washington.”
Ultimately, all of that may prove a sideshow. The quid pro quos may never be proven. The shady dealings may be exposed and then forgotten by a forgiving public. And the email firestorm will inevitably fade unless new details emerge to fan the flames. But the real problem with Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, and the real reason she may not be able to run on her record, is that the world became less safe when she was at the helm.
Her signature accomplishment was supposed to be the “reset” of Russian relations, which remained strained despite the thawing of the Cold War. But the policy was doomed from the start. Even the exchange of a lighthearted gift—a red button, which said “Reset” in English and “Peregruzka” in Russian”—went horribly wrong. As it turns out, “peregruzka” doesn’t mean reset, it means overloaded.
“We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” Clinton asked Lavrov.
“You got it wrong,” Lavrov said. “This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means overcharged.”
The silliness soon gave way to disaster. The Russians clearly viewed the reset as a sign of America’s weakness and President Obama’s unwillingness to extend American power into the region. Not long after the exchange, Russia invaded and ultimately annexed part of Ukraine. Russian fighters continue to wage war in Donetsk and Lugansk, the predominantly Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine that Putin has long coveted.
Sadly, that’s far from the only foreign policy misstep that occurred during her watch. The Afghanistan surge was a dud; the Syrian civil war has turned into a regional conflagration that has grown into a worldwide concern; post-drawdown Iraq has collapsed into chaos; the Libyan campaign she supported has resulted in a power vacuum filled by Islamic extremists; her strategy of amicable “engagement” with the Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak Egypt created tension; her opposition to Iranian sanctions was countermanded by a Senate sanctions bill that passed 100-0; her “rebalance” to Asia hasn’t dampened Chinese aggression in the South China Sea; and the U.S.’s relationship with Israel appears to be on the verge of a contentious breakup.
But, as Mark Davis sarcastically wrote for US News, “To be fair, Clinton does have one solid accomplishment – she broke a record for the number of countries she visited. As it turns out, however, the presidency is not something you can actually redeem with frequent flyer points.”