What Could Have Been, and What Is

Over the last four years, I have mentioned many times the joint 60 Minutes interview with President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It is one of my favorite political interviews, for a lot of reasons. I was thinking about that interview again today — specifically the part where Obama talks about why he wanted Clinton as his Secretary of State.
Steve Kroft: It's no secret that your aides cautioned you against— actually were against you offering Secretary Clinton this job. And you were just as determined not to take it. And you avoided taking her phone calls for awhile because you were afraid she was going to say no. Why were you so insistent about wanting her to be secretary of state?

President Obama: Well, I was a big admirer of Hillary's before our primary battles and the general election. You know, her discipline, her stamina, her thoughtfulness, her ability to project, I think, and make clear issues that are important to the American people, I thought made her an extraordinary talent. She also was already a world figure. And I thought that somebody stepping into that position of secretary of state at a time when, keep in mind, we were still in Iraq. Afghanistan was still an enormous challenge. There was great uncertainty in terms of how we would reset our relations around the world, to have somebody who could serve as that effective ambassador in her own right without having to earn her stripes, so to speak, on the international stage, I thought would be hugely important.

...I think everybody understands that Hillary's been, you know, one of the most important advisors that I've had on a whole range of issues. Hillary's capacity to travel around the world, to lay the groundwork for a new way of doing things, to establish a sense of engagement that, you know, our foreign policy was not going to be defined solely by Iraq, that we were going to be vigilant about terrorism, but we were going to make sure that we deployed all elements of American power, diplomacy, our economic and cultural and social capital, in order to bring about the kinds of international solutions that we wanted to see. I had confidence that Hillary could do that.
Obama wanted Clinton specifically because of her extraordinary diplomatic skills, dating back to her tenure as First Lady, and the respect she commanded around the globe after many years as a people's ambassador for the United States.

He was walking into the White House following eight years of George W. Bush having critically undermined the United States' standing with our allies (and our enemies), which had left us less safe. He knew we had to reestablish trust and rebuild diplomatic relationships, quickly and meaningfully, and the person he wanted to do it, the person he knew would be able to do it, was Hillary Clinton.

And she did.

Had she been elected president, the era of increased global respect for a United States that centered diplomacy in its foreign policy would have continued. (That's not to say that a Clinton presidency would not have included foreign policy decisions with which I would have expected to disagree, nor that the Obama presidency did not include the same.)

Instead, the country elected Donald Trump, who has no use for diplomacy and set about alienating our allies with belligerence and ignorance. The State Department that greeted Clinton's arrival with a solid minute of enthusiastic cheering is now being run by an oil executive with no government experience who's running the department as a skeleton crew.

The difference between what could have been and what is is stark.

Only 159 days into Trump's presidency, the Pew Research Center has found: "Global views of the U.S. and its president have shifted dramatically downward since the end of Barack Obama's presidency and the start of Donald Trump's, and they are now at similar levels to ratings from the George W. Bush era, according to a new Pew Research Center report that examines attitudes in 37 countries."

All of the work that President Obama and Secretary Clinton did is gone. Vanished. In 159 days.

Trump has stomped all over their collective legacy, which would be enough, except it's far worse than that, because, in doing so, he has made this country and its every citizen less safe than we were.

Less safe than we could have still been.

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