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Hillary in Midair


The problems of that campaign were crucial to how Clinton would decide to lead the State Department. In accepting the State job, Clinton insisted on hiring her own staff. In addition to her top aides, Huma Abedin and Philippe Reines, she enlisted stalwarts of campaigns and administrations past: Maggie Williams, Cheryl Mills, and Verveer, who have been with her since her days in Bill Clinton’s White House. Among Hillary’s inner circle, this is viewed as a returning lineup of all-stars who were iced out of her campaign by a five-person team led by Patti Solis-Doyle, a group who in their telling became the agents of the campaign’s troubles. “They’re the A-team,” says a top aide. “They weren’t the B-team that got elevated. They were the A-team that got deposed by [Solis-Doyle].”

The 2008 campaign was seen by many as an echo chamber, closed off from the best advice, and the lesson for Clinton was clear: “The takeaway is, ‘Don’t only listen to five people,’ ” says the aide.

When she arrived, Clinton did a kind of institutional listening tour at the State Department. “She felt like she was too closed off from what was happening across the expanse of the [2008] campaign,” says a close aide at the State Department, “and that became a hallmark with the leadership in the State Department, and it served her incredibly well.”

To keep things operating smoothly, she hired Tom Nides, the COO of Morgan Stanley, who’d contributed heavily to Clinton’s past campaigns. Even Nides was wary of the Clinton drama he might be stepping into. “I had heard all these stories about the Clinton world and what all that meant and ‘Did you really want to get wrapped up in that?’ ” he says. But he reports that “all of the stuff did not exist at the State Department for the last four years.

“The relationship between the State Department and the White House and the State Department and the Defense Department was probably the best it’s ever been in 50 years,” he adds. “That starts from the top. No drama. And that was started by her.”

Among Hillary Clinton’s greatest hits at State were the new focus on Asia, pushing for the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and building a coalition for strong sanctions against Iran. But she also saw the job as a kind of reformatting of the State Department itself to prepare for the longer-run issues. “I’d been told that it was a choice that had to be made: You could either do what had to be done around the world, or you could organize and focus the work that was done inside State and the Agency for International Development, but I rejected that,” says Clinton. “I thought it was essential that as we restore America’s standing in the world and strengthen our global leadership again, we needed what I took to calling ‘smart power’ to elevate American diplomacy and development and reposition them for the 21st century … That meant that we had to take a hard look at how both State and A.I.D. operated. I did work to increase their funding after a very difficult period when they were political footballs to some extent and they didn’t have the resources to do what was demanded of them.”

Clinton’s State team argues that Clinton was a great stateswoman, her ambition to touch down in as many countries as possible a meter of how much repair work she did to the nation’s image abroad. Along the way, she embraced with good humor a parody Tumblr account, Texts From Hillary, that featured a picture of her in the iconic sunglasses looking cool and queenly. “She insisted on having a personality,” says Jake Sullivan, her former deputy chief of staff and now the national-security adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden. “And on stating her opinion.”

For foreign-policy critics, some of this could look like wheel spinning. The major critique was that she didn’t take on any big issues, like brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, or negotiating the nuclear disarmament of North Korea. And the suspicion was that she didn’t want to be associated with any big failures as she prepared for 2016. She was, after all, under the tight grip of the Obama White House, which directed major foreign-policy decisions from the Oval Office.

“Whatever one says about how [Secretary of State] John Kerry is doing,” says the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, “he has nothing left to lose. You can see he takes risks. He’s plowing into the Middle East stuff when people are saying this isn’t going to get you anywhere. Hillary never would have done any of this stuff.”


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