Thursday, March 29, 2012

what makes a great secretary of state?

Since I spent time making a comparative study of U.S. Secretaries of Defense, I was intrigued by Aaron David Miller's article on "what it takes to be a great secretary of state."  His analysis, however, is deeply flawed.

It seems that the only secretaries of state who win his admiration are John Quincy Adams, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker.  I haven't done enough historical work to make my own list, but I have no problem with the first three.

Kissinger, however, was great -- that is, effective and influential on a historical scale -- as a president adviser before he was given a second hat as secretary. Baker had a wise and supportive president and NSC team and had several important accomplishments. But he was also the official  who thought diplomacy could stop Saddam Hussein, who tried to prevent the breakup of the Soviet empire, and who also ignored the growing crisis as Yugoslavia broke up.

Miller thinks that a great secretary needs presidential support, male swagger, and a negotiator's mindset. Here he's right on two of the three points. Yet he claims that Hillary Clinton can never be great because of her "anatomy."  Ridiculous!

Secretary Clinton has enormous talent and has done a creditable job on a broad range of foreign policy matters. I think she has strong presidential support, a dealmaker's mindset, and the tough persona to prevail in confrontations. It's not clear whether she deserves to be listed in the top tier of secretaries of state, but she certainly doesn't deserve Miller's nasty dismissal.

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