Was Hillary a good secretary of state?

Clinton was an influential secretary of state and a savvy manager with a clear agenda that, at least in part, she translated into policy. So how did it all work out?

The answer: Historians will probably consider Clinton significantly more successful than run-of-the-mill secretaries of state such as James G. Blaine or the long-serving Cordell Hull, but don’t expect to see her on a pedestal with Dean Acheson or John Quincy Adams anytime soon.

She weighed in hard and strong in favor of the president’s risky but ultimately justified decision to attack Osama bin Laden’s last refuge. The focus on Asia — relabeled a “pivot” before it became a “rebalancing” — reinvigorated America’s Pacific alliances but also elicited a more aggressive China, which has taken a harder line with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam since the pivot began. The “reset” with Russia enabled concrete cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program and at the United Nations (notably on the resolution authorizing intervention against Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi), but it would be hard to argue that Washington and Moscow have ended up in a good place. Here again the rhetoric of the “pivot to Asia” may have encouraged Putin to think that the United States was taking its eye off Russia’s revisionist ambitions.

In her new memoir, Clinton highlights her attempt to reorient U.S. foreign policy around “smart power” — the integration of military, political and economic tools with grass-roots outreach and efforts to strengthen civil society — but this approach also yielded mixed results. The outreach to Burma led to political reforms and helped move one of China’s closest regional allies closer to Washington. This was an important success, but continuing problems in Burma, including brutal violence against the country’s Rohingya minority, demonstrated the difficulty of integrating human rights with classic geopolitical strategies.

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