- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at a women’s college in Saudi Arabia in 2010 on the condition that her hosts temporarily bend their strict Islamic customs by allowing men and women to sit in the audience together without a curtain between them.

Women and men would be allowed to ask questions, and the entire session would have to be broadcast live on television. The event ultimately went off without a hitch, something of a coup for Mrs. Clinton.

“You had women in full abayas [body cloaks] in the most conservative environment for women in the world, and they literally shrieked when she came in the room,” said P.J. Crowley, who was assistant secretary of state for public affairs at the time.

Mrs. Clinton is stepping down as secretary of state, and Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, has been nominated as her replacement.

Mrs. Clinton’s admirers say the Saudi event shines as an example of her breaking ground by connecting directly and personally with foreign nationals.

Indeed, Mrs. Clinton has visited more nations — 112, according to the official count — and spoken to more foreign populations than any U.S. secretary of state in history.

Impressive as that may be, her critics say Mrs. Clinton has fallen far short of making much of an impact on several foreign policy challenges facing the United States, not to mention the fate of democracy around the world.

“I don’t think she’s been a very successful secretary of state by any measure,” said John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “I don’t know how her speeches have advanced American strategic interests in any way beyond maybe advancing her political career.”

The price of indecision

Like many other Republicans, Mr. Bolton says U.S. strategic interests have undergone a significant regression during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure.

This is perhaps nowhere more evident, her detractors say, than in the Middle East.

With Mrs. Clinton at Foggy Bottom, the Obama administration waffled on whether to support pro-democracy activists seeking to overthrow Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Many conservatives say the cost of that delay is one reason for Washington’s chilly relationship with Egypt’s new rulers, the Muslim Brotherhood.

If nothing else, the U.S. appears to have missed an opportunity to exert influence when it was still possible during the months surrounding Mubarak’s ouster.

The Obama administration — Mrs. Clinton included — took a similar posture toward pro-democracy activists in Iran during the so-called Green Revolution in 2009, and later in Syria, which has since deteriorated into a bloody civil war.

The State Department has sent more than $200 million in communications equipment to Syrian rebels and humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians. But that has not stopped Syrian civilians from complaining for months that the United States has been waffling on the war’s periphery and resisting a leadership role.

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