Hillary Clinton

Dan Balz

Dan Balz
June 18, 2014 at 7:42 PM

It is a near-perfect storm that has come together as Hillary Rodham Clinton tours the country promoting her new book and preparing for a possible presidential campaign in 2016.

At a time when she is drawing attention to her record as secretary of state, the Middle East has become dangerously chaotic and President Obama’s approval ratings are sliding. That has left Clinton in a difficult position of trying to claim success when she was in office while shielding herself, carefully, from real or perceived weaknesses in the administration’s handling of crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other trouble spots.

Clinton has two messages. One is touting her accomplishments. She says her biggest success as secretary of state was to restore American leadership and prestige in the world. At the same time, as Iraq descends into sectarian conflict, the other message is that she would have dealt with Syria differently than Obama has and that, perhaps, things would be better there and in Iraq today had he listened to her and others.

Her claims of restored American prestige are in comparison to this country’s standing as a result of what happened during George W. Bush’s presidency, when the unilateralism practiced in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, turned off many of the nation’s allies and the public soured on the U.S. mission in Iraq. But her assertion about the United States’ restored standing comes at a time when other countries wonder now about the nation’s, and Obama’s, resolve, and when public appetite for international engagement is at best tepid.

As with some other questions she has been asked during her tour (her financial situation and her evolving position on same-sex marriage, for example), Clinton did not initially have a ready or crisp response to what she would point to as her major accomplishments at the State Department.

But under questioning last week from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), a friend for two decades, she cited several specifics: laying the foundation for nuclear negotiations with Iran, Senate passage of the New Start treaty with Russia, “making clear we were going to stand up for peace in the Middle East,” stopping a war in Gaza and strengthening the nation’s relationship with China.

In her new book, “ Hard Choices ,” and during a series of interviews, Clinton has acknowledged that the U.S. relationship with Russia deteriorated badly once Vladimir Putin regained the presidency, and that it could be that way for some time. She has expressed doubts that the foundation laid with Iran will lead to a successful conclusion. As for the Middle East, what was a terrible situation in Syria has expanded into Iraq, where the conflict is threatening security far beyond the region.

Clinton has been upfront about her disagreements with Obama over Syria. She devoted a chapter in her book to the conflict there and makes clear that she and others on the national security team, among them then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, urged Obama to take more assertive steps to arm the moderate opposition fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

To read entire column, click here.