As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wended her way through chosen portions of Africa, she collected journalistic kudos for her mere existence. In South Africa she was lauded for her willingness to participate in pseudo-African social dancing that is closer to burlesque bump and grind than any Soweto Saturday high life. The local Xhosa ladies were quite amused.
In Nigeria she gave advice to its president to seek out and destroy terrorism while also suggesting that he focus on needed economic development and anti-corruption programs. Supposedly the conversations were more detailed than that, but one shouldn't count on it. On the other side of the continent in East Africa where a virtual think tank of experts are available to the heavily staffed United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, Secretary Clinton worked hard to restrain herself from overwhelming the diplomats and other staff with her exceptional insights.
At each stop Mrs. Clinton is reported to have offered her guidance to local leaders apparently unable to figure out for themselves their nation's problems. This is of course in addition to her well-honed skills in social interaction with the "little people." Sarcasm aside, Hillary's pretence to interest and knowledge is no different than the traveling circus of political appointees, and other patronizing notables from Washington, Hollywood and Cambridge, who circulate about the "dark continent." Possibly with worthy intentions, but with very little in the way of practical experience, these "do-gooders" personally profit from the credit they gain from simply being there. Unfortunately, the advantages for their hosts are minimal.
The hard working professional staffs of American official missions -- to say nothing of the NGOs -- hand carry these VIPs to their pre-arranged informal contacts with ordinary folk as well as the pampered local potentates. It all can be quite enjoyable for the visitors, but of little utility to either the host country or the diplomatic representatives involved. For some reason, however, this sort of high profile visiting, while not new, has become particularly fashionable during the Obama Administration.
To be fair, Hillary appears to enjoy traipsing around the world. She is not a good administrator and being away from the seventh floor of State allows her to avoid her executive duties. Reportedly she is a very social person who loves being the center of attention. In this sense her interests and personality coincide with White House political desires. It's as if President Obama had hired a former Czarina as the official American top envoy.
The White House has sold the idea to the developing world that Hillary Clinton as the wife of former president Bill Clinton carries more political weight as Secretary of State than others have in the same position. That's considered an advantage in American diplomacy. The truth is that the Obama Administration wants to keep Hillary as far away from foreign policy decisions as possible. Having her swan about the world as she recently did keeps her active, feted, and out of the way.
Upon winding up her whirlwind visit to various sub-Saharan countries, Secretary Clinton was spirited off to Ankara supposedly to coordinate a U.S./Turkey response to the tragically unfolding events in Syria. Nothing more clearly displays Madame Secretary's lack of knowledge of key matters of foreign affairs than to put her in the middle of a breaking military/political crisis. Hillary knows little to nothing about Turkey, Syria, the Levant, insurgency in general or, for that matter, complicated Sunni/Shia Islamic issues. But then neither does Barack Obama. Actually, she may know a bit more.
Hillary Clinton is usually quite attuned to the domestic political nuances of her role as chief of American foreign affairs. Why would she allow herself to be shunted about on a seemingly perpetual "Grand Tour"? The answer is simple. There is nothing she can do about it. Obama's national security insiders don't want to take a chance on Hillary edging some of the foreign policy spotlight away from her boss. Out of sight, out of mind is the best way to handle the Hillary Clinton issue. They have Bill Clinton sewn up with a major appearance at the Democrat convention in North Carolina. That's all the Clintons they can stand.
All this "to-ing and fro-ing" must drive the hardworking American career ambassadors and their staffs abroad quite crazy. "Who the hell needs to coordinate yet another visit by a Washington bigwig -- especially the ever-demanding Secretary of State?" The job of the U.S. foreign diplomatic mission is to represent the interests of the country. Visits by high- ranking politicians, officials of all kinds, and certainly big donor film stars must be carefully orchestrated. Even then such occasions can be counterproductive. To have the Sec. of State drop in with her own "take" on current events -- and you know that's Hillary's style -- is at best of doubtful utility, to put it diplomatically.
Nonetheless, this may be a lucky break for some countries that may need the U.S. Secretary of State to give them a sense of contemporary relevance. As soon as the White House can figure some place to send her, she'll be on the road again and out of the domestic spotlight. Of course, there is that unfortunate scene of her "standing by her man" at the forthcoming North Carolina convention. At least she won't hear any shouts of "Monica, Monica" from that crowd as she did leaving the U.S. Consulate in Alexandria, Egypt.