Schoen Wrong On Hillary Clinton's State Tenure

Hillary Clinton

Fox News contributor Doug Schoen is the latest media figure to push the false allegation that Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State lacked accomplishments, ignoring her record of achievement.

Hoping to derail a potential Clinton presidential campaign, the GOP and its media allies have begun to attack her record. Some mainstream journalists have followed their example, producing the emerging narrative that Clinton lacked significant achievements at State. This new conventional wisdom is attractive to reporters because the old and accurate conventional wisdom that Clinton was an accomplished Secretary of State “makes for dull copy,” as Slate's David Weigel explained.

Earlier this month, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus detailed the research effort underway to aggressively define what Clinton's “done or hasn't done” in an interview with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt. For his part, Hewitt has spent weeks quizzing political reporters on what Clinton did at State, trying to promote the canard that she was ineffective. Meanwhile, right-wing pundits have been depicting her record at State as an unalloyed detriment, citing a purported lack of successes on the one hand at the pseudoscandal of Benghazi on the other.

This conservative effort is shaping the reporting of more mainstream outlets. An agenda-setting December 8 piece in Politico Magazine drew heavily from dubious conservative sources to promote the storyline that Clinton had been an ineffective Secretary of State, while depicting sources who contradicted the storyline with facts about Clinton's record as engaged in a campaign of spin.

Schoen -- who was a strategist for Bill Clinton in the 1990s but in recent years has largely been known for attacking progressives and promoting corporate interests -- is the latest to push this false narrative. In a December 13 Wall Street Journal column he writes:

Another major obstacle is Mrs. Clinton's foreign-policy record: She can point to no significant accomplishments as secretary of state. Now that her successor, John Kerry, has forged an interim agreement with Iran, good or bad, to limit its nuclear program, questions will inevitably be asked about why Mrs. Clinton failed to achieve anything on that front--or to strike a similar bargain with North Korea or make any progress with the Palestinians and Israelis.

Mrs. Clinton also still faces serious questions about the 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. During the 2008 primary campaign, Mrs. Clinton said she was the candidate best equipped to answer the 3 a.m. emergency phone call. Americans will want to know how she answered that call in Libya.

Schoen's reference to Benghazi points to the dishonesty of his argument. While conservatives have spent the last year exploiting the terrorist attacks to smear Clinton, no evidence has emerged to suggest that the Secretary of State was at fault.  Contrary to Schoen's suggestion, Clinton has extensively detailed her activities on the night of the attack, including communications with the White House, Pentagon, CIA, Foreign Service officials in Libya, and the president of Libya's National Congress.

With Secretary John Kerry winning plaudits for his diplomacy with regard to Iran, his recent success has had the unfortunate side effect of making journalists and pundits like Schoen bury Clinton's own successes. 

As she prepared to step down from office in January, journalists and experts detailed her legacy, which included: opening up Myanmar by becoming the first secretary of state in 50 years to make an official visit to the nation;  negotiating a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in late 2012, which many credit for averting an all-out war; overseeing the negotiation of the new START nuclear arms accord with Russia; building an international consensus to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power; and tightening sanctions on Iran to their highest level ever.

National Journal's Michael Hirsch observed that “Because of her worldwide popularity and tireless travel -- she set a new record for a secretary of state by visiting 112 countries - Clinton helped undo the damage that the habitual unilateralism of the George W. Bush administration had done to the global image of the United States.” He further wrote:

Indeed, her most lasting legacy will likely be the way that she thrust soft diplomacy to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. By speaking out about Internet freedom, women's rights, public health, and economic issues everywhere she went, Clinton sought to transcend traditional government-to-government contacts. She set out to create -- or at least dramatically expand in scope -- a new kind of people-to-people diplomacy, one designed to extend Washington's influence in an Internet-driven world in which popular uprisings, such as the Arab Spring, could quickly uproot the traditional relationships between governments.

As Hirsh notes, Clinton traveled the world speaking about the importance of international women's rights, and made a series of structural changes at State intended to deepen that focus.

Clinton also led the administration's effort to “pivot” toward Asia, and has been praised for helping the U.S. to resume “its leadership role in setting East Asia's security and economic agenda” while keeping the U.S.-China relationship “on a more solid and realistic footing.” 

It's a long list of victories that conservatives want the American people to forget. The question is whether the media will help the right-wing in that effort to distort Clinton's State tenure.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State via Flickr.