Foreign Policy Blogs

“Hillz” Highlights: Reflections on Hillary Clinton’s Four Years as SecState


[State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Last Friday, Hillary Clinton left her post as Secretary of State as one of the most traveled secretaries of all time.  She’s leaving with an approval rating of 70%, higher than any outgoing secretary of state measured since 1948, with the exception of Colin Powell.  Clinton has said she’s going to catch up on 20 years of sleep deprivation, but there’s already talk about a 2016 bid for the presidency.  One super PAC, “Ready for Hillary,” has filed with the Federal Election Committee and says it’s ready to receive aid for a future Hillary campaign.

So, in honor of Clinton’s service, here’s a round up of five of the biggest moments in her tenure as secretary of state — memes and all.

  1. “Texts From Hillary” and the rise of social media in diplomacy: On April 4, 2012, the first post on flew up, featuring a picture of President Barack Obama lying down while on his phone and Clinton wearing sunglasses with texting from a military plane.  The meme was a massive hit, earning the recognition of the president — who said during the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner that Clinton “won’t stop drunk texting me from Cartagena” — and the secretary herself.

    “Who you gonna call?!” cf.,

    One week and thousands of shares later, the secretary submitted her own version of the meme thanking the creators of the “lolz,” which, I should note, her husband has not done.  Wisely, TFH’s creators figured they might as well quit while they were ahead, asserting — and rightly so — that you can’t top a post from the secretary herself.  That, of course, could not stop the internet from taking the meme and running with it, but their point was certainly taken.

    But “Texts from Hillary” isn’t all that went on in the social media world, although it might be the most humorous use of by the secretary.  More importantly, the use of social media by the Department of State and other agencies has signified a broader change in diplomatic strategy — what Clinton dubbed “smart power.”  Social media and technology has changed the playing field — not necessarily making it “more even,” but definitely different — and U.S. diplomatic efforts need to reflect that.  So whether it’s getting State’s message out at home through social media, funding technology for dissidents, or even submitting your own meme, Clinton’s wielded the power of social media and has been unafraid to shrink away from it.

    Seriously, that's one intimidating subway platform. Photo Credit: David Shankbone, via Wikipedia

    Seriously, that’s one intimidating subway platform. Photo Credit: David Shankbone, via Wikipedia

  2. Hillary Clinton travels a lot: Four years and 112 countries later, Hillary is probably pretty tired.  Now dubbed the”Secretary of Schlep” by Foreign Policy, Clinton’s epic, and decidedly ambitious travels, have culminated in a total of 956,733 miles and up to 2084.21 hours (or 86.8 days) spent hopping around the globe.  If it’s not blatantly obvious by now that it’s a lot, let us tell you: That’s a lot of countries.  And that’s not even counting the ones she went to multiple times, such as her stop offs in Britain and France (eight times) or Belgium, Egypt, Germany and Mexico (six times each) as well as her treks to China (seven times). In other words, a 65-year-old made your (and don’t worry, I’m including my own here) college European backpacking trip look like my daily less-than-100-feet stroll from the subway to the office.
  3. The Pivot to Asia: Defense and diplomatic priorities have changed in some pretty drastic ways.  Obviously, the internet — and subsequent social media — boom has changed how diplomacy, warfare, spycraft and psyops are conducted, but so has the rise of the BRICS.  Sino-American relations have, in particular, been put in the spotlight. Seeing as China has the second-largest GDP in the world (not counting the European Union) and the largest population in the world, it’s no wonder it’s a huge spot on the U.S.’ foreign policy radar.  As Clinton said in her November 2011 article in Foreign Policy on the topic:

    Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas, the region spans two oceans — the Pacific and the Indian — that are increasingly linked by shipping and strategy. It boasts almost half the world’s population. It includes many of the key engines of the global economy, as well as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. It is home to several of our key allies and important emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia.

    It should be noted that this isn’t just Clinton’s legacy, but she played no small role in the Obama administration’s change in strategy.  Regardless, it’s still a core aspect of her diplomatic portfolio.

    "Did somebody say Bill?!" Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/The New York Times

    “Did somebody say Bill?!” Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/The New York Times

  4. Breaking Away from Bill: Clinton’s career after Bill’s presidency was Kassebaum-esque (Nancy Kassebaum, a U.S. Senator for Kansas, was the first woman to be elected to the Senate without a husband who previously served in Congress); that is, she became the first First Lady to be a candidate for elected office and, later, the first former First Lady to serve in a president’s cabinet.Echoing Eleanor Roosevelt (the similarities between the two women are pretty astounding), Clinton seized the potential power of her unelected office as First Lady and ran with it, albeit accomplishing much of her work out of the spotlight, especially after the initial struggles over health care. Even if much of this work didn’t find its way into the media spotlight, it helped Clinton keep her “voice” (a concept that is of tremendous rhetorical import in many of her speeches, particularly on gender), drive and independence, all of which became crucial in the post-White House years.Furthermore,  Clinton’s ability to navigate crises, both personal and political, has been crucial to her career both in and beyond the Clinton administration. Maybe her flop of a statement about a “right wing conspiracy” against her husband in the ’90s wasn’t the best example of this, but it’s a trait that’s popped up in other ways as well, including…
  5. Benghazi: More has been said on Benghazi than I could possibly cover in one to two paragraphs, so it seems silly trying. Clinton’s role has been, both reasonably and to the point of absurdity, examined on a number of fronts, beginning with the Accountability Review Board convened to gather and analyze the facts surrounding the September 11, 2012 attacks (if you are so inclined, you can download the report here). Clinton took personal responsibility in her testimony, saying “as I have said many times since September 11, I take responsibility.” The system, which obviously includes Clinton, failed — and it failed big time. However, she also emphasized

    Our men and women who serve overseas accept a certain about of risk to protect the country we love, and they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation. They cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. So it is our responsibility to make sure they have the resources they need and to do everything they can to reduce the risks.

    Clinton’s not alone in her thinking here. A New York Times Magazine piece in November posited a similar point: Bunkers may (sometimes) keep threats on the outside, but they also keep information from flowing freely. Benghazi was a gigantic screw up on numerous levels, none of which were bound by partisan affiliation. While the U.S. government ought to continue to push for better, safer workplaces for overseas employees, we ought to remember that diplomacy cannot happen in a void, and Benghazi shouldn’t let us isolate ourselves even more. Stevens understood — or would have understood — this as does Clinton.

All in all, rest well, Madam Secretary.  Perhaps we’ll see you in four years.



Hannah Gais
Hannah Gais

Hannah is assistant editor at the Foreign Policy Association, a nonresident fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and the managing editor of Her work has appeared in a number of national and international publications, including Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, First Things, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, Truthout, Business Insider and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gais is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, where she focused on Eastern Christian Theology and European Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahgais