As Hillary Rodham Clinton finished her last few weeks on the job, after a month of convalescence, how can we assess the secretary of state’s contributions?
The question is worth asking simply because of the job’s importance and its significance for U.S. national security. It is also relevant given Clinton’s unprecedented role in our national life over the last two decades.
She is probably the most politically powerful woman in U.S. history — at least in terms of positions held. She has come closer to being elected president than any other woman. She may well try again, and her record as secretary may be the best way to judge her candidacy for the highest job in the land. So how has she done?
My bottom line is this: Clinton has been a very good secretary – if more solid than spectacular. Pick your cliché or sports metaphor – she is more work horse than show horse, more an indefatigable marathoner (despite the setback last month) than a sprinter.
For someone who almost won the presidency before becoming a subordinate to her rival in his Cabinet, and who was already among the world’s most famous women before taking the job, this is a remarkable testament to her work ethic, her humility and her selflessness. It does not necessarily place her in the top tier of U.S. secretaries of state of all time – but even if not, she is certainly in the very next level.
No assessment of Clinton, of course, can be considered complete now. The issues she labored on hardest are works in progress. It will not be possible to gauge her contribution until we see more about where a number of key issues — concerning China, Russia, Iran and Syria – as well as broader matters – like the fight against global poverty and nuclear weapons proliferation – wind up in a few years’ time.