Skip to main content

President Hillary Clinton? If she wants it

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
January 26, 2013 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years.
HIDE CAPTION
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Photos: Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Photos: Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf says if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016, she'll likely be the next president
  • He says she's most popular politician in country, has political traction and funders in place
  • He says she's excelled as secretary of state, overcome adversity, shown political wits
  • Rothkopf: Whatever your party, hard to deny she lifts political discourse like few others

Editor's note: David Rothkopf is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author of, among other books, "Running The World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power," served as deputy under secretary of commerce for international trade policy in the Clinton administration and for two years as managing director of Kissinger Associates.

(CNN) -- There are few certainties in American politics. But you can write it down: If Hillary Clinton wants to be the next nominee of the Democratic Party to be president, the job is hers.

Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, Mark Warner, Martin O'Malley and the others in the long list of commander-in-chief wannabes will go about their day jobs for the next couple years, but at the back of their minds will be only one question: Will she or won't she?

Because, as the most popular politician in America -- who also happens to be married to America's most popular ex-president and who has in place a nationwide network of donors, campaign staffers and committed supporters -- Clinton has the power to keep potential rivals from raising money or gaining political traction simply by saying, "I haven't decided what my plans are." She's in control.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

That she should be in such a position at this moment is a remarkable achievement and an extraordinary testament to her grit, gifts and track record: She has been the most successful U.S. secretary of state in two decades. That outcome was hardly a foregone conclusion when Barack Obama made the bold decision to pick his former primary rival to assume the oldest and most senior post in the Cabinet.

She had, after all, lost a bruising campaign to him, there was tension between her team and his and no reason to assume the two ex-rivals would work together. She had never run a large organization before. Beyond that, the United States was facing massive crises at home and bewildering complexity abroad. Many of the issues she would be facing would be new to her.

Clinton was so famous already that she could easily be seen to be upstaging the president, something that would have undone her within the administration and made her look bad.

Avlon: Can Jindal change 'the stupid party?'

Her tour de force performance this week before Senate and House committees looking into the Benghazi tragedy illustrated how far she has come. In a charged political environment, she commanded the stage and deftly repulsed effort after effort by Republican partisans to shift the focus away from what the lessons of the attacks were and should be, turning aside their theories of conspiracy and devious motives for the missteps surrounding the event. She defended the president and revealed her character by accepting responsibility.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



She had already set the stage with her swift embrace of a blue-ribbon investigation into the incident and her acceptance of its recommendations for avoiding such problems in the future. She was helped by the bipartisan recognition of her extraordinary tenure at State; her work ethic, miles traveled and commitment were praised throughout both hearings.

Most importantly, Clinton clearly knew her brief better than any of those questioning her. When Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin attempted to score political points with a cynical line of questioning, she showed her strength and stature as a leader with a direct, unwavering response urging him to focus on the bigger issues at hand.

When Sen. Rand Paul announced that had he been president he would have fired her, her response evinced an understanding of the issues and processes at play; it was evident that only one of the two of them had any chance of occupying the Oval Office in the future. When describing the return of the caskets of the American victims in the Benghazi attack, she showed her humanity. Frequently, she showed the comfort with the setting that comes from her experience not just at State but as a senator.

Opinion: Rand Paul vs. Hillary Clinton: Clash of the titans

Clinton's virtuosity in such situations is no accident, nor is it a surprise to any who have watched her grow, first as a senator and then at State. Having been tested as few have been by the extraordinary stresses she faced as first lady, she famously earned her stripes in the upper chamber of our Congress by being "a workhorse not a show horse." Her close aides at State speak with some awe about her hours spent immersed in her briefing papers, her questioning of her staff and top experts to get up to speed, and her political skill in translating her conclusions into actions.

Clinton and Obama: Rivals to partners
Obama, Clinton explain joint interview
Clinton, senators clash over Benghazi

She has worked on forging not only a good working relationship with the president but also in building key alliances in the Cabinet, notably with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and top officials in the military and the intelligence community. When the White House limited her brief and asserted control over key issues, from the appointment of ambassadors to a host of issues in the Middle East, she found alternative paths to make a difference.

The "pivot" to Asia was one concrete example of her success -- not as merely a policy concept but as an initiative made real by active, intensive diplomacy throughout the region. She helped restore U.S. relations worldwide that had been damaged by the bull-in-a-china-shop policies of the George W. Bush administration. She actively worked to reshape the American international agenda for the 21st century, focusing on emerging powers, new technologies and populations -- like the role of women worldwide -- long neglected by the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

She led the way for the United States to be more active in Libya, to manage unprecedented international sanctions against Iran, to stand up to the Chinese in the South China Sea. Indeed, perhaps most importantly, at a time when the U.S. faced distractions and new constraints at home and a national desire to avoid military entanglements worldwide, she recognized that our greatest tools going forward would be active diplomacy and repaired alliances, and she restored them to centrality in U.S. foreign policy.

It is a stand-out record, one that makes her the equal of the likes of James Baker, George Schultz or Henry Kissinger among our leading modern secretaries of state. What is more, she achieved her success by promoting a more humanist international agenda than her peers at the first ranks of American foreign policy leaders. At the same time, she maintained a centrist course more comfortable with the appropriate use of force than many of her more liberal colleagues in the Obama administration. Maintaining such a balance requires exceptional skill. To do so for four years under the conditions she faced is among the reasons she is so widely admired.

Hillary Clinton is likely to be the next Democratic presidential nominee because she is the best-known active Democratic politician, because she has repeatedly triumphed over adversity, because she has made herself well-liked at a time that politicians are typically viewed with contempt.

But she is likely to be the next president, the first woman to be president of the United States, because of the quality of her character and her work on behalf of the American people. With some luck she will use the next two years to restore her energy and prepare for what lies ahead. Because regardless of what political party in which you may find yourself, it is hard to deny that she elevates our political discourse in ways that few, if any, others do on the contemporary stage.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT