The XX Factor

Tina Brown’s Silly Swipe Produced Some Real Answers

Like Jessica , I also think Tina Brown’s big, bad, quasi-racist swipe at Hillary Clinton was opportunistic and somewhat misguided. But Mark Landler’s New York Times piece, penned seemingly in response to Brown’s potshot, raises an interesting history, and attempts to answer fair questions about the obviously awkward role in which the Secretary of State finds herself vis-a-vis her formal rival and his foreign-policy heavy White House. It’s not necessarily melodrama , but, for instance, the fact that George Mitchell, special envoy to Israel/Palestine, and Karl Eikenberry, ambassador to Afghanistan, report to both her and to president Obama, could get messy once in a while. Add to this the need for foreign diplomats to believe with absolute clarity that Clinton speaks for the president, and you see how Foggy Bottom would want to nip any accusations in the bud.

However-bureaucratic hierarchies aside-when it comes to the actual projection of strength as Secretary of State, Clinton has a mixed record. Ben Smith at Politico makes a great point about spin surrounding Clinton’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations this week. I watched the speech in Washington, which countless commentators described as “muscular” (After Mark Lynch, I put this performance in the “swagga” category previously reserved for flashy rappers ). But, he says

The focus on Clinton’s strength is familiar. Mark Penn’s leaked campaign memos show an obsessive-and very successful-focus during her campaign on showing strength at every pass, a major reason she refused to apologize for backing the Iraq war. The focus is an understandable effort to combat gender stereotypes, and a cornerstone of remaking Clinton’s image after she left the White House.

But the early spin gave, at best, a very partial and misleading sense of what Clinton actually said yesterday. The most “muscular” portions were the carefully-drafted signals to Iran and Saudi Arabia, which represent the White House’s formal stance, not Clinton’s personal vision. The more personal elements of the speech-the ones that actually carry some meaning for her stature and role as Secretary of State-were in the realm of what used to be called “soft power,” and is now called “smart power.”

Though she stood up for American hegemony a few different times, insisting to American enemies that “our willingness to talk is not a sign of weakness to be exploited,” Clinton has always been a fan of this more cerebral methodology. So it’s fascinating-and on some level, totally awesome and welcome-to see her affect a “tough guy” posture at the slightest sign of a challenge. Even if the provocation was silly, yellow journalism.