Hilary Clinton’s legacy at the State Department

clinton 300x225 Hilary Clintons legacy at the State Department

Hilary Clinton (Getty Images)

Former Democratic Senator John Kerry replaces Hilary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State this week. Mrs. Clinton’s legacy heading the U.S. Department of State is largely noted for her personal consistency and professionalism, especially her prodigious work ethic and frequent far-flung diplomatic travels.

Her tenure is criticized, though, for lacking any major foreign policy victory which precipitated a radical shift in global affairs.  “The basic line is that she didn’t succeed at anything big,” stated A Report Card for Hilary from the Brookings Institute. “The Clinton Doctrine of American Foreign Policy,” The New York Times wrote, was defined by caution and working to restore America’s global image but no historic breakthroughs.  Consistency, however, is in many ways a victory for what Mrs. Clinton set out to achieve in her view of “21st century statecraft.”

While US President Barack Obama set his course with the ambition for eights years in office, Hilary Clinton used her sole term as Secretary of State—all she said she would seek—to refocus America’s foreign policy on how the U.S. engages with the world.  Mrs. Clinton, with Chief of Staff Kris Balderston from her time in the US Senate, introduced The Global Partnership Initiative in 2009, hoping to engage actors from both public and private sectors, “to strengthen and deepen U.S. diplomacy and development around the world…[leveraging] the creativity, innovation, and core business resources of partners for greater impact.”

Mrs. Clinton realized the limited role of government-to-government deal-making in an age of increasing globalization. She focused instead on how governments can effectively engage with non-government organizations, corporations, and individuals, capitalizing on areas where their interests coalesce for mutual benefit. “While many foreign-policy pundits have focused on the US ‘pivot to Asia,’ Clinton has also executed a less-publicized, but no less important, pivot to the people,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for Mrs. Clinton at the State Department.

Along with public-private partnerships, the Office of eDiplomacy—part of the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) at the State Department since 2003—took on new importance under Mrs. Clinton. Ideas propelled through open-platform communication technologies, peer-to-peer networks, and social media can help foster greater dialogue and understanding between governments and people, ultimately leading to more effective attainment of foreign policy goals, Mrs. Clinton believed.

She described this as “smart power,” distinct from “hard” and “soft” power of traditional theories of international relations.  “Call it Twiplomacy, Facebook diplomacy, weiplomacy, or simply digital diplomacy, the use of social networks has become an integral part of government communication,” wrote the former head of digital media at the World Economic Forum and digital practice leader at Burson-Marsteller, Matthias Lüfkens, in The Atlantic.

The U.K. has embraced the new trend with internet-savvy diplomats. According to The Canadian International Council, “foreign missions around the world are now willing to explore the full potential of e-diplomacy and follow in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton at the U.S. Department of State and William Hague at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”  Tom Fletcher, British Ambassador to Lebanon, wrote in a publication by the independent research institute Chattam House: “For the first time ever, diplomats can engage directly on a meaningful scale with the countries we live in. We no longer have to focus solely on elites to make our case.”

While there is potential for greater understanding and cooperation through new means of connectivity, Mr. Fletcher acknowledged these methods can incur extremism and conflict. Small acts of hatred can spread with viral influence, but, conversely, the new abilities of eDiplomacy and “smart power” allow diplomats to counter such threats. “Today if somebody is lying about you in the media … we now have the tools to get the real facts out there,” Alec Ross, U.S. State Department social media adviser, said in an interview with NPR.

In an address to the Foreign Policy Group’s “Transformational Trends 2013” forum at The Newseum in Washington D.C. last November, Mrs. Clinton emphasized the limitations of e-Diplmoacy. She said attaining America’s foreign policy goals by “institutionalizing smart power, continuing to tap 21st century technologies,” using social media and making partnerships with the private sector and other governments will be essential, but also “doubling down on good, old-fashioned, shoe-leather diplomacy.”

As Mr.Kerry takes control at the State Department, economic interconnectedness and mutual dependency in the developing world and first world means “many of the constants that shaped American foreign policy for decades are shifting,” according to Mrs. Clinton. Still, she contends America’s military might is necessary and its economic strength critical for setting a global example of democracy.

In her graduation speech at Wellesley College in 1969, Mrs. Clinton spoke of “a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.”  As Secretary of State, her out-of-the-box thinking and paradigm shifting efforts to revitalize U.S. foreign policy may not have achieved any great victory; yet in a newly globalized environment, where enemies and threats are increasingly hard to define, this consistency might be seen as a great success. “Our focus is on results,” Mrs. Clinton said, “not on today’s headline, but on the trend line.”

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  • ryhope1

    The ever-expanding illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories should quite fairly be included in her list of achievements too, even if she wasn’t their sole or pioneering architect.

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