Secretary Clinton has done a reasonably good job: She conducted the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), traveled relentlessly to represent the United States and engage both governments and societies, and is often a vocal advocate of human rights and political liberties.
But it is difficult to think of a major achievement for which she was a motive force. The possible exception is the 2009 decision to surge troops in Afghanistan, which Secretary Clinton supported; it may not have gotten White House approval without Defense and State in lockstep, given the White House's enmity toward the Pentagon during the Afghanistan reviews.
Still, the policy was poorly thought through, most particularly on the diplomatic grounds that are her responsibility. Announcing a time-limited surge virtually ensured the major regional actors started hedging against our withdrawal. Our relationships with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan -- on which the success of our war efforts fundamentally relies -- are a shambles, and those, too, are the secretary's responsibility (even if other cabinet members complicate her work, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently did in India).
The QDDR was not carried through to changing either the culture or the practices of the department. Both architects of the review left just after it was concluded. Working groups chartered to implement its decisions are still considering what needs doing. Indeed, all that has been achieved is the reorganization of senior responsibilities in the department (sample: the Under Secretary of Global Affairs was renamed the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights). Clinton's State Department has no management plan for implementing the QDDR, and institutional change cannot succeed without attentive leadership at the top.
And leadership is essential in this job. Whether it was her choice or a White House decision to appoint numerous special diplomatic representatives (Holbrooke, Ross, Mitchell), the effect was to distance the secretary of state from the most important foreign-policy problems.
Clinton's judgment seems particularly lacking with respect to democratizing countries. From her early statement that there is more to U.S.-China relations than human rights, to her insistence during the Arab Spring that Syria's Bashar al-Assad was a "reformer," to last month's unconditional waiver on assistance to the Egyptian military, she has been slow to recognize change occurring and more tied to the status quo than I would have expected.
Still, the difficulties are not entirely of her making. President Obama seems to exclude his cabinet and military leadership from major national security decisions; journalistic accounts of this administration routinely describe NSC meetings at which Secretary Clinton and others speak, then the president retires with political aides to make decisions. When prompted by Foreign Policy to describe Clinton's contribution, deputy national security advisor Denis McDonough called her the "implementer in chief," which is pretty faint praise. This is simply not a president who likes to share the limelight.
Kori Schake is fellow at the Hoover Institution and associate professor at the United States Military Academy. She has previously worked in the Pentagon, National Security Council, and State Department. She is author of State of Disrepair: Fixing the Culture and Practices of the State Department.