Hillary’s Real Problem

The State Department Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s establishment of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State poses a big problem for her bid to win the presidency.  That’s because the report not only contradicts some of the Clinton talking points about the whole ill-advised email escapade, but also reveals new information that accentuates why many people are leery of Clinton in the first place.

The report is, I think, a devastating rebuke for Clinton.  It can’t be reasonably depicted as a partisan hatchet job, because it was ordered by Secretary of State John Kerry and performed by the inspector general’s office during the Obama Administration.  And it recounts, in brutal detail, Clinton’s violation of State Department policies.  The report states that, according to officials, Clinton’s server was not, and would never have been, approved.  It concludes that Clinton failed to preserve federal records in conformity with the Department of State policies under the Federal Records Act.  It reveals that there was an apparent hacking attempt on the server, and that people who asked questions about the server were told not to discuss it.  In short, it confirms the worst-case scenario that Clinton and her minions have been downplaying ever since this story first broke.

David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote an interesting piece on why he thinks Hillary Clinton is so unpopular.  He postulates that it’s because she’s presented as a kind of workaholic and never displays the human qualities that make her tick — what her hobbies are, what her interests are, and the other pieces of intimate knowledge that our nation supposedly craves in this internet age.  I think Brooks got it precisely wrong.  It’s silly to think that public perception about Clinton would change dramatically if we learned, for example, that she makes crafts in her spare time or enjoys skiing.  I think the root problem for Hillary Clinton is a combination of general “Clinton fatigue,” because she and her husband have been in the public eye, demanding our attention seemingly forever, and the fact that, in the eyes of many people, she projects a strong sense of entitlement and being above it all.

When those people watch Hillary Clinton, they get the sense that she’s annoyed at having to go through the motions, give the speeches, and pretend she’s enjoying it, when deep down she resents the fact that people just don’t bow to her paper resume and acknowledge that she is the most qualified person to serve as President and give the job to her, already.  It’s not that she’s not displaying human qualities, it’s that the human qualities she displays are the kind that many people find totally off-putting.  She’s like the kid who rolls his eyes and smirks when other kids give wrong answers during a spelling bee or a flash card contest and just wants to be reaffirmed as the smartest kid in the class.  Those kids tended not to be the most popular kids in the grade.

And that’s where, in my view, the IG report is especially troublesome for Clinton.  It reveals that Kerry and former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Madeleine Albright all cooperated and answered questions as part of the Inspector General’s investigation — but Clinton didn’t.  In fact, she not only didn’t cooperate and sit for an interview, but her chief of staff and top aides didn’t either.  Really?  They got paid salaries by the taxpayers, but they won’t participate in an investigation that deals with issues of compliance with federal records laws and potential exposure of highly confidential government documents?  Who the heck do these people think they are?

As for Hillary Clinton, she’s apparently got plenty of time to give speeches to Wall Street firms and trade groups for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and pose for grip and grin photos with high rollers, but she can’t be bothered to answer questions as part of an investigation by an official in the department she once headed?  It’s the kind of high-handed behavior that we’ve come to expect from the Clinton camp, expressing irritation and exasperation at doing the things that everyone else accepts and endures.

That’s why so many people don’t care for Hillary Clinton.  If she took up knitting or skeet-shooting, their views aren’t going to change.

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The Secretary Of State’s Security Screening

On Tuesday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in the Middle East trying to arrange for a cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza, met with the Egyptian President.  Prior to the meeting, Kerry’s aides had to go through a metal detector, and Kerry himself was scanned with a security wand.

Reuters reports that such a security screening of a high-ranking U.S. official is “unusual.”  I’d say it’s unprecedented.  I cannot remember any instance where the American Secretary of State was screened, or wanded down, prior to meeting with a foreign dignitary.  And, it’s hard not to feel a certain sense of schadenfreude at seeing a guy who is usually ushered from meeting to meeting by limo and subject to elaborate courtesies have to undergo a security scan like the rest of the masses. 

Obviously, though, there’s a more important issue at work here.  We know the Middle East is a place where symbolism is important and people are deeply sensitive to perceived slights; showing the sole of your shoe can be viewed as a deadly insult.  I’m confident that the security screening was an intentional effort to send a message; no one could reasonably believe that the Secretary of State was packing heat or posed a security threat.  The message therefore has to be that the Egyptian government doesn’t view representatives of the American government as needing special treatment, and they wanted Kerry and his aides to understand that new reality in a very tangible, personal way.  With the incident being widely reported, and with the groupthink mentality at play in the Middle East, the Egyptian view may well be shared by other governments in the region, too. 

If American diplomats are treated like security threats by governments in countries that we hope will help to keep the peace in that deeply troubled region and American power and influence in the Middle East in fact is waning, it is bad news for America and bad news for the world. 

Secretary Clinton Stands Down

Hillary Clinton has stepped down from President Obama’s Cabinet.  After battling health problems, she has been replaced as Secretary of State by John Kerry.

With so much of international diplomacy conducted behind closed doors, it’s very difficult to gauge the performance of any Secretary of State until the years pass and secrets become public.  In Clinton’s case, we know that the United States has managed to avoid become embroiled in any new wars during her tenure and that our roles in Iraq and Afghanistan are finally winding down.  We also know that efforts to “reset” relations with the Russians haven’t made much progress, North Korea, Iran, and Syria remain rogue states, and Pakistan seems to be teetering on the brink of chaos.  And the Holy Grail of American diplomacy — brokering a conclusive Middle East peace deal — eluded Secretary Clinton just as it eluded every one of her predecessors.  Her legacy as Secretary of State may be dependent, in significant part, upon what historians conclude about how, if at all, her stewardship affected the takeover of the American compound in Benghazi and the killing of the Ambassador and three other Americans.

What we can also say about Secretary Clinton, however, is that she was a good soldier for the President.  She didn’t make any trouble, didn’t try to upstage him, and by all accounts worked hard at her job and developed good relations with the career diplomats at the State Department.  She didn’t seem to let her ego get in the way — and in these days of celebrity politicians, that’s saying a lot.  When John Kerry’s tenure at the State Department has ended, I wonder whether we will be able to say the same thing about him?

Mr. President, Please Don’t Shoot Yourself In The Foot!

Can President Obama actually be considering nominating Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?  Some are reporting that Rice is his choice, and at a press conference yesterday he forcefully defended her against criticism by John McCain and other Senators. The President said Rice has done “exemplary” work at the UN and that if he decides she would be the best choice, he will go ahead and nominate her.

It seems inconceivable that Rice would be on the President’s short list for the most visible position in the Cabinet.  For many Americans, she is the face and voice of what they consider to be an unconscionable attempt to mislead and cover up the truth about the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  When Rice went on the Sunday talk shows and attempted to blame the Benghazi attacks on a YouTube video, she was presenting a false narrative that, increasingly, has been shown to be at odds with the facts known to many in the Administration — that the Benghazi incident was a planned and carefully executed terrorist attack, not a a spontaneous mob reaction to an incendiary video.  As a result, many angry Americans view Rice as either a know-nothing shill who was out of the loop but faithfully presented the phony talking points given to her or a knowing participant in an effort to deceive the American people.  Either way, she has little credibility with them.

If the President nominates Rice, he will be guaranteeing a bruising confirmation fight and extended hearings into what Rice and others knew about the attack.  Why run that risk?  Rice may be capable — although I’m not sure what has been “exemplary” about her service at the UN — but there undoubtedly are hundreds of people who also could capably serve as Secretary of State.  Can’t the President pick someone who won’t serve as a lightning rod for criticism about an ugly, poorly handled foreign policy disaster that involved the death of four Americans?

I cringed when I read the President’s statement that “[i]f Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.”  We don’t need silly macho posturing right now.  When the President won re-election, people wondered whether he would be more of a compromiser in his second term, or whether — freed from the need to ever again stand for election — he would demand that things be done his way, no matter what the opposition.  If the President insists on nominating Rice, he will be indicating that he is following the latter course, which in turn will just harden the opposition and make compromises less likely.  If the President shoots himself in the foot by sending Rice’s name to the Senate, we may be in for more long years of bickering, gridlock, and inability to tackle our debt, deficit, and entitlement problems.  We can’t afford that possibility — and the President can’t either.