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El Pais, Spain

Hats Off To Hillary Clinton

By José Ignacio Torreblanca

Translated By James Johnson

4 February 2013

Edited by Lau­ren Gerken

Spain - El Pais - Original Article (Spanish)

Hillary Clinton is handing over the reins of the U.S. State Department to John Kerry and is doing so amid richly deserved congratulations. When she took the post, things hardly looked rosy: As a woman burdened by the label of (no less than) “Bill Clinton’s wife,” who had lost the primaries to Obama and had precious little experience in foreign policy, many saw her appointment as an internally-motivated move (“keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”). They predicted the worst for U.S. foreign policy when, in the aftermath of Bush’s presidency, it was more critical than ever to put a brave new foreign policy into place.

Well, they were mistaken. Hillary Clinton has been an excellent secretary of state, quickly settling into Obama’s team and acting with loyalty and devotion, seldom seen qualities on this side of the Atlantic – a fact that speaks volumes of American political culture. As Hillary has shown, losing with good grace and winning are two sides of the same coin. Her secrets have been her brutal work ethic, her openness and willingness for dialogue and her ability to assemble crack teams which allow her to take a more advisory role. She has felt no desire to leave her personal mark, preferring to simply do her job well and with professionalism. She has done exactly that.

If there is a paradox in Hillary’s term in office it is that her excellent conduct has not gotten more eye-catching results. The U.S.’s relationship with China is still defined by mistrust and tension over human rights and business interests, especially since the announcement that the U.S. would be realigning its foreign policy to “pivot” towards Asia. Despite attempts to “reset” and start over, relations with Russia are still deteriorating. The impossible conflict between Israel and Palestine remains more or less where it was, with Netanyahu skillfully manipulating a domestic American political scene that has been able to get away with systematically ignoring and scorning Obama. In terms of reconstructing dialogue with the Arab and Muslim world – one of Obama’s priorities since his speech in Cairo – U.S. diplomacy has managed to smooth over some of the most gaping cracks, especially following their intervention in Libya, but there is still a long way to go in changing the prevailing image of the U.S. Elsewhere, both Iran and North Korea continue to play on America’s patience.

How do we read this contradiction between sound management and underwhelming results? Where do we place the blame? One might simply say, with a shrug of the shoulders, that “it’s a complicated world out there.” The U.S. is the main player in this game we call foreign policy, but that in no way guarantees success. As Paul Kennedy pointed out in an interesting article, published Oct. 19 in the “International Herald Tribune”, “drifting gently downstream” without locking horns with anybody also requires a great deal of skill. Bush’s legacy was a foreign policy that stubbornly swam upstream, though it meant conflict with anybody and everybody. To change track and act with humility and awareness of your limitations and weaknesses is proof of great intelligence, in the case of both Hilary and Obama.



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