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NMG in the WSJ
What the Diplomats Really Think of Hillary

Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State is a crucial part of her Presidential candidacy, as is her related reputation as one of the wonks. But at least one professional diplomat wasn’t impressed. In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, TAI’s own Nicholas M. Gallagher reviews To The Secretary: Leaked Embassy Cables and America’s Foreign Policy Disconnect, by Mary Thompson-Jones:

Ms. Thompson-Jones is a diplomat’s diplomat: She writes cautiously and precisely, with appreciation for the importance of hierarchy. Yet, in the book’s explosive final chapter, she lays into Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. Both in foreign affairs and in intra-administration turf fights, Ms. Thompson-Jones writes that “Clinton tended to settle for too little and squandered her influence on the small stuff.” Mrs. Clinton shares responsibility for the disastrous “reset” with Russia and the subsequent failure of relations: “The cables leave a damning trail of evidence . . . showing that American diplomats on the ground were sending her plenty of information about Russian destabilization and aggression,” and yet nothing or not enough was changed. Mrs. Clinton, she writes, “had a penchant for racking up second-tier wins,” while critically important countries like Iraq, Syria and Russia, languished and fell into trouble. Mrs. Thompson-Jones is even critical of Mrs. Clinton’s championing of a project to bring “clean cookstoves” to the Third World: “Bravo, but was this the best and highest value use of her time?”

Though the rest of the book focuses on WikiLeaks, in this chapter Ms. Thompson-Jones (logically enough) cannot ignore the other source of unexpectedly revealed information: Hillary Clinton’s emails, initially exposed by the hacker “Guccifer” in 2013 and the vast majority of which were then released to the public following a Freedom of Information Act request in 2015. Mrs. Clinton’s “inner circle acolytes” and their sycophancy— Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin and Philippe Reines—come in for harsh treatment. In Ms. Thompson-Jones’s view, Mrs. Clinton failed to succeed in part because she was insulated by a layer of courtiers who spent their time filling her inbox with emails like this one, from Mr. Reines after a 2010 “Meet the Press” appearance by Mrs. Clinton: “Whenever you do something big on TV we all hear from lots of folks saying you did great. But this time, something is noticeably different . . . You were definitely on your game. You either threw a perfect game—or at least a no-hitter. So this couldn’t have gone better, achieved everything we needed to times 10, and come on the heels of a great 10 days.” The interview had been arranged in order to walk back a minor Joe Biden gaffe on Russia.

Ms. Thompson-Jones sums up Mrs. Clinton as “The Good-Enough Secretary,” but only by diminishing the role of diplomacy and the importance of the U.S. Secretary of State in foreign affairs, arguing that she was a good administrator and politician who “stayed within the lines,” and that to expect more is impossible in an age when “even powerful people have less freedom of action” than the Henry Kissingers or Dean Achesons of yore. This is damning with faint praise indeed—though this election year faint praise may be the equivalent of a full-throated endorsement.

As Gallagher notes, despite the explosive comments in this chapter, “[m]uch of the book consists of captivating descriptions of U.S. diplomats dealing with crises overseas, traveling to exotic locations, meeting with dubious characters and even tracking endangered wildlife.” In that vein, Thompson-Jones tells us something we had not previously known: Walter Russell Mead appeared in the Wikileaks cables, in the context of a planned Public Diplomacy trip to Baghdad that had to be cancelled due to security concerns. (Walter says that it was the only thing that the Bush Administration ever did that his mother, a lifelong Democrat, wholeheartedly approved of.) Several of us have had the opportunity to come along on other outreach trips with Walter, and can attest, as Thompson-Jones argue, that they are an important, under-appreciated tool in modern diplomacy.

Any of our readers who are interested in a future in diplomacy or how the State Department works may be interested in the book. But all of our readers interested in this election will want to read Gallagher’s whole review.

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  • WigWag

    Glad to know about the book though it doesn’t take a genius to know that Clinton’s performance was marginal at best. To be fair to her, she was better at the job than John Kerry and no more incompetent than Condeleezza or Colin. It’s been a very long time since our country has had a good Secretary of State.

    It should also be noted that the coeterie of professional diplomats who serve our country is nothing to be proud of: some are good but to many are self-serving and annoyingly clueless morons.

    As for those “outreach” trips, a label which more accurately describes them is “junket.” As a Walter Russell Mead fan, I don’t want to criticize his taxpayer subsidized trips around the world, but the idea that they somehow provide a service to our country is absurd. Only someone who genuflects to the self-serving philosophy of the out-of-touch American elite could believe they do anything to serve our country at all.

    • Angel Martin

      I am generally skeptical of these sorts of trips as well. But during the time in question, a trip to Baghdad with the mandatory drive along “Route Irish” (the road to the airport) was anything but a junket. Here is what happened to one Protective Security Detail on the way to Baghdad Airport to move civilian clients to the Green Zone.

      attack starts after 33:00 but the whole trip is un-nerving.

  • Beauceron

    Clinton, like Obama, is all about the narrative. Something that is generated not by reality or professionals in the field, but by our media.

    So Hillary Clinton was a massive success and a major player on the world stage, helping to steer this great nation around the rocky shoals of a troubled world. Disagree and you only do so because you’re a racist, a sexist, or a fascist. Or maybe all three.

    This is the country we live in now.

  • ljgude

    Compared to what is going on in the press this post points to the opinion of a professional diplomat who at least has actual diplomatic experience as a basis for judging Clinton’s performance. Most of what the press is doing to Clinton is pretty much what they have done everyone they don’t like since Nixon convinced them that there role was to bring down presidents. Beauceron is right – it is all about the narrative and has been since Watergate, but it is nice to get a reading on what might be the reality of how Clinton did as Secretary of State instead of endless melodrama since it looks like she will become president at this point.

    • Jim__L

      “Mrs. Clinton’s championing of a project to bring “clean cookstoves” to
      the Third World: “Bravo, but was this the best and highest value use of
      her time?””

      She was not Secretary of State for four years. She was First Lady With a Budget for four years. She was the pretty princess showering the world with her magical pixie dust of friendship and goodness.

      She is not qualified to be president.

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