Tonawanda News — There is an irony in Foggy Bottom, the Washington, D.C. neighborhood that is home to America’s diplomatic corps at the State Department.
Just as President Barack Obama was starting anew just a few Metro stops down the blue line, his former rival, Hillary Clinton, was finishing perhaps the most surprising chapter yet in a political career that has at points transcended and typified American politics.
Of the major players in Obama’s administration over the first term there’s little argument the single largest benefactor of four years in the Washington tempest has been the woman who would have been president. The irony, again, is that Hillary losing a seemingly inevitable nomination has made a second try — should she choose to run — even more inevitable than the last time, and perhaps enough to get her over the finish line.
My impression of Clinton’s time at the State Department falls much in line with her time as New York’s junior senator. She was surprisingly discreet, though generally perceived as efficient and capable. This, despite the fact her uncanny ability to hone in and address complex issues makes it nearly impossible to offer a simple critique of her performance.
As many retrospectives on her tenure as secretary have pointed out, her instincts tended to run ahead of a White House that made many important foreign policy decisions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — and fell short of the far-reaching agenda Clinton frequently pushed behind the scenes.
Surely, a part of her legacy is the sad and ultimately preventable death of an American ambassador and three others in Libya. As the head of the agency, Clinton bears responsibility for the inadequate security detail guarding the diplomats in an extremely volatile corner of the world, though it seems easier to assign blame with the benefit of hindsight.
History may well prove Clinton right when she pressed Obama — to no avail — to vet the rebel groups fighting against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and arm the ones that might prove useful allies once Assad is gone. Obama, locked in a tough battle for re-election, wasn’t keen on getting America any more involved in another foreign conflict than he had to and reigned in Clinton’s effort.
Ever the team player, Clinton never took her complaints public though there was certainly pressure to do so from the Washington hawks.
And isn’t that the defining question about Hillary Clinton for all these years? When is being the loyal soldier a benefit to her and when is it a hindrance?
A Hollywood screenplay presently all the rage depicts Hillary Rodham, a tough, upcoming lawyer working to impeach Richard Nixon during the Watergate days forced to decide between her own political Beltway ambitions and moving with her husband to Little Rock where he could follow his own path. She went with Bill.
And later, when it finally seemed she’d chosen wisely, he committed the ultimate act of betrayal, both political and personal. She suffered a nation of psychoanalysts and all the mean-spirited jokes with the brave face so many women of her generation know too well — and identify with her for it.
As a Democrat from New York (for all of about five minutes before she took office), she was a good soldier in the party’s dogged opposition to George Bush, though she bowed to what many would come to see as a sheepish march to war — a decision more than any other that probably cost her the nomination in 2008.
And even after fighting through every last primary and caucus, from Maine to American Samoa, she gracefully bowed out, supported Obama and eventually came to forge a solid working relationship and mutual admiration almost unimaginable in the bloodsport that politics has become in the 21st century.
Her popularity is at an all-time high in her political career as she steps off the stage, perhaps (though not likely) for the final time. Such is the benefit of turning in a competent performance at a job that most Americans think is really important but understand precious little about.
Whether she decides to retire, semi-retire or recharge in anticipation of one final run at the White House, one thing is certain. Hillary Clinton is, even more now than before, the most compelling and enigmatic figure in American politics.
Should she choose to use it, she is a woman of unparalleled power and intrigue.
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at email@example.com.