What did Hillary really accomplish at State?

At the Washingtonian, James Rosen poses an interesting scenario for everyone to consider. Let’s see how well you do with this thought exercise.

Take a minute to play communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. Your task: come up with a 30-second spot to run in the early primary states about your candidate’s four years as Secretary of State.

What part of the world do you start with? Iran? John Kerry now owns, for better or worse, the effort to bar the mullahs from getting the bomb. The “pivot to Asia”? The pushback on China in the Pacific has yet to take any visible shape beyond President Obama’s patented phrase. The “reset” with Russia? Really? Putin’s a pal now?

Anyone putting together a brag clip about Clinton’s tenure at State faces the question a Democratic strategist put to me in a recent e-mail: “Can she translate her record into accomplishments that are meaningful to Iowa farmers and flinty New Hampshire Yankees?”

Perhaps a better question than can she translate her accomplishments might be to ask, point blank, whether she can list any accomplishments. (No… Benghazi doesn’t count. I’m talking about positive accomplishments.) Aside from her already noted record setting pace for racking up frequent flier miles, what did she really do? Was there any great peace deal brokered somewhere? Some breakthrough in trade or normalization of relations with a previously hostile nation? Or even the submission of one to international pressure brokered by the US? Nothing seems to jump to mind.

Rosen also examines exactly how much of a favor Barack Obama did for Clinton by elevating her from the Senate to the State Department after beating her in the 2008 primary. I suppose I was one of those who also assumed that it was an even deal on the President’s part. He needed her cooperation – or at least her silence and apparent forgiveness to win over her supporters – after the trouncing she sustained. In exchange, she not only got a plum assignment, but a perceived step up to be Obama’s successor.

But was it really all that? As the article reminded me, it’s been a century and a half since the last time a Secretary of State moved directly from that office to the White House. The office doesn’t seem to lend itself to the promotion, particularly since voters tend to be more concerned with domestic affairs than foreign policy unless we’re on the brink of war. (The fact that we’ve also tended to nominate people who aren’t even qualified to be President from time to time doesn’t help either.) But the nature of the job also keeps the occupant off the field of play as well. No matter how good a job any Secretary has done, they are pretty much defined as being “outside” of politics (at least in theory), so they spend a full term where they are unable to keep their hand in the game as others position themselves for a run and weigh in on every issue under discussion.

Assuming she runs, when the time comes, will Hillary have a story to tell which inspires confidence among the voters as to the job she’d do? Or will being the inevitable first female president be enough? Until 2008 I wouldn’t have thought so. Now I’m not so sure.