Did Hillary Clinton Delegate Too Much as Secretary of State?

Which is worse: micro-managing or a hands-off policy? Pictured: Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Photo: Zimbio)

Which is worse: micro-managing or a hands-off policy? Pictured: Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Photo: Zimbio)

Conventional wisdom has it that Hillary Clinton, unlike her husband, is not a natural campaigner. An apparently guarded person, she needs to be reminded to open up and let the public get to know her. Beyond that, though, any character issues on her part are seldom spoken or written about. On October 28, Politico Magazine posted an article by Michael Hirsh titled What Benghazi says about how Hillary Clinton leads. He writes:

Now that Hillary Clinton has her inevitability groove back, not least because last week’s Benghazi hearing left her looking, if anything, more presidential (as even a few frustrated Republicans admitted), maybe it’s time to ask what the whole imbroglio says about her management style. Perhaps we should ask one question that wasn’t asked on Capitol Hill: What does her performance on Libya tell us about the kind of president she would be?

For example:

Why were there no records of any contact between her and the beleaguered Chris Stevens, the man she’d “personally” chosen to handle Libya, for nearly four months after she’d sworn him in as ambassador?

“That’s not to say,” Hirsh writes, that, “she didn’t care or that she wasn’t involved from her palatial suite on the seventh floor of the Harry S Truman building.”

“[I don’t] think she was negligent in any way,” says one former Obama administration official who worked on Libya in those years. Chris Stevens, after all, had arrived in Libya only in June and was in the process of feeling his way over the terrain over the summer, which included a quiet month of Ramadan. As the former official says, “I’m sure he was in regular touch with NEA [the Near Eastern Affairs desk at State]. … And [Deputy Secretary of State] Bill Burns went out over the summer and always reportedly directly to her.”

Nevertheless, the official continues: “The bottom line, tragically, is that none of them saw the immediacy or the severity of the threat despite some early indicators.” Hirsh:

Hillary Clinton’s handling of Stevens, though, fits in neatly with her general MO of handing off major portfolios to people she trusted; indeed, now that she’s running for president, it is interesting to reflect that even as secretary of state she evinced a certain presidential-style aloofness.

… Operating in a well-insulated, tight bubble of aides, she usually avoided dirtying her hands directly with major negotiations—to the point where journalist David Rohde quoted an anonymous State official saying that she might have been concerned about sullying her presidential chances by failure. By comparison, think of John Kerry literally breaking a leg during the months-long marathon Iran talks.

However much delegation is a trait of a successful executive, too much delegation leaves one open to charges of disinterest and/or lack of preparation (aka, laziness). Not to mention a perceived need for plausible deniability when the situation goes south, as, of course, happened in Benghazi. However, her distance from events on the ground only served to make her the target of pointed fingers.  

Meanwhile, also at Politico Magazine, Glenn Thrush and Anne Karni documented Hillary Clinton’s ongoing email scandal.

One longtime Clinton family adviser. … told us, “She’s her own worst enemy.” And many described moments of anxiety as Clinton, backed up by the protective firewall of her legal team, refused to take full personal responsibility even to her own aides. “I have done nothing wrong,” she repeatedly told them.

Whether or not over-delegation is indicative of a character flaw, denial certainly is. More from Thrush and Karni:

… Hillary Clinton is a hard woman to counsel during a crisis. She is at times warm, at times withering—when staffers offer excuses, her favorite rejoinder is “shoulda, woulda, coulda!”—and she’s prone to fretting that her staff doesn’t have her back.

For all the dysfunction on her famously infighting 2008 campaign, Clinton’s team that year was made up of many old friends who knew how to navigate her moods and reassure her when things went sour.

… When the story splashed onto the New York Times website on the evening of March 2, Clinton was above all angry, and in the first strategy sessions—over the phone—she defaulted to what old Clinton hands refer to as “pity party mode,” dismissing the media frenzy over the emails as a whiffle-ball Whitewater while railing against the very real right-wing campaign amassed against her.

… But, just as her campaign was beginning to grapple with the threat Sanders posed, it was again walloped by the New York Times—in a story that reignited the email controversy with a vengeance and sent the candidate, in the words of one adviser, “into a dark place.”

Depression and paranoia are no stranger to presidents: from Lincoln to Lyndon Johnson to Nixon. But in the information age, before they’re nominated or elected, we’re able to get a handle on a candidate’s emotional issues, which, left untended (depression and general anxiety exempted) can become character flaws. The Republican candidates — many of whom might be better off committed — aside, we need to evaluate Hillary Clinton’s ability to handle stress, not to mention the truth, before she’s nominated and/or elected president.