Sunday, February 3, 2013

Clinton’s legacy

Jonh Kerry will start working on Monday as the top diplomat of the United States and he probably read most of Clinton obituaries published in the mainstream media to see what his predecessor left for the new secretary.

But he obviously wasted his time. Although Hillary Clinton flew nearly a million miles and spent almost three months in the air, she did little tangible that could be pointed as a success. She did not solve lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear standoff and the Taliban problem in Afghanistan, she could not contain Russia in its near abroad and she could not display a leadership in nudging authoritarian states to open up and become more transparent. In a nutshell, she did little to mitigate challenges the U.S. is facing and achieve a considerable breakthrough in areas that matter much for Washington or its allies.

What she did was keeping the U.S. power across the world from further deteriorating. There were six important foreign policy challenges Clinton faced in the past four years and she did very poor on all these:

1)    Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Clinton’s grade: - 5

2)    Arab Spring. Grade: 1 (For not succumbing to hawks for intervention)

3)    Iran’s nuclear standoff: 1 (For marshalling international sanctions against Tehran)

4)    Relations with China: 2 (For displaying resilience against N Korea’s provocations in 2010 and weaning Myanmar off China’s orbit)

5)    Relations with Russia: -1 (For making matters worse than where they were four years ago)

6)    Afghanistan: -1 (For unnecessary surge)

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, things are worse than where they were when Clinton started her tenure and the prospects for a two-state solution is almost dead for two reasons. First, there has not been any Israeli administration since 1967 that avoided expanding Jewish colonies in the West Bank -- or what the world calls “settlements” -- and agreed to a viable and armed Palestinian state living side-by-side with a secure Israel. Second, realities on the ground make it extremely difficult for the establishment of a Palestinian state. 

With respect to the Arab Spring, Washington did what it should have done. It led from behind in Libya, where interests of its allies were at stake. It took a cautious approach in Tunisia and Egypt and it did not rush to the judgment in Syria and put much of the burden on the shoulders of regional powers such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Arab Spring was not an American invention and for this reason the U.S. deserves no credit on that. But Clinton’s virtuoso diplomacy in dealing with the uprisings in the Arab world deserves plaudits.

On Iran, Washington is too weak to face public opinion at home – where diplomacy with Iran means compromise -- in having direct talks with Tehran. This and some other factors put the Iranian nuclear standoff into a standstill while Iran continues with the uranium enrichment and fears of surprise Israeli attack looming large in the offing. But Clinton could boast for marshaling international alliance in putting unprecedented pressure on Iran to give up its suspected nuclear program.

Although Clinton last year announced a new U.S. policy of Asia pivot, hardly she did anything to advance this policy. When North Korea torpedoed a South Korean ship killing several dozen soldiers and shelled an island in 2010, the U.S. stood firm by Seoul and Clinton did a superb job in sending a message to both North Korea and China that U.S. did not abandon its Asian allies. Clinton also was successful in offering some goodies for Myanmar to wean it off from China’s orbit.

Initially, it seemed Washington could clinch a beneficial deal with Russia with US President Barack Obama’s “reset” policy in the face of common interests they share and threats they face. But there are a number of areas where Russia and the U.S. differ. The biggest of them are NATO’s expansive policies, anti-missile program and differences on issues related to the Arab uprisings.

Afghanistan has been a total failure for the Clinton administration as they have achieved nothing by putting more American lives in danger and begging its allies to send more reinforcements. Obama and Clinton's troops surge in Afghanistan could be regarded as one of their biggest foreign policy blunders. It effectively buried any possible peace talks with Taliban and pushed the insurgents to point more guns at Americans and their allies in the war-torn country.

In general, Clinton’s lack of initiatives in a variety of foreign policy issues prevented Washington from losing its interests at a time when US clout around the world is deteriorating. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, invaded Iraq, alienated Russia and China and took a stricter pro-Israeli line among others that only increased anti-American sentiments around the world and damaged U.S. interests in many places. This is what Clinton administration did not. Advancing U.S. interests in a multipolar world is riskier than it was during the Cold War. And doing nothing -- as Clinton administration did -- is the best option Washington could do.

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