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Rubin: Who's telling stories now?

Published July 17, 2014 10:13 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For this administration, failure is always the result of a "communications" problem. Otherwise, failure might be taken as evidence of misguided ideology and incompetent execution, right? It's a weird excuse for the president who fancies himself to be the most eloquent man on the planet. And it is equally weird when someone whose job it is to communicate U.S. policy makes that excuse.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton. On Tuesday, she had this bit of mumbo-jumbo for the chattering class: "We have not been telling our story very well. We do have a great story. We are not perfect by any means, but we have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity. And let's get back to telling it to ourselves first and foremost and believing it about ourselves and then taking that around the world. That's what we should be standing for."

Hmmm. Taking that story around the world would seem to be the president's job, and thus hers as well when she was secretary of state, but the president was fond of obsessively reciting U.S. shortcomings, making amends for them and accusing his predecessor of subverting our values. It's hard to continually lambast your predecessor and then complain the world isn't getting a good story about the United States.

It also didn't help to tell the United States' story when Clinton went to China in 2009 and told the regime that we shouldn't let human rights get in the way of the Sino-U.S. relationship. We didn't do much for the U.S. storytelling project when, in response to signs in English in Tehran imploring us to help, we remained tight-lipped during the Green Revolution. And when we dubbed Syria's Bashar Assad a "reformer," that told the world our secretary of state was clueless.

It's nervy, really, for Clinton to plead that we haven't done a good enough job promoting the United States. Like Obama, she has adopted the tactic of viewing her own record with detachment.

But of course communication was just one of many problems. It wasn't communication but lack of preparedness that allowed jihadists to kill U.S. officials in Libya. And it wasn't communication but arrogance about a "light footprint" and then neglect that allowed Libya to devolve into chaos. Communication wasn't the problem when the administration couldn't manage to leave a stay-behind force in Iraq.

If nothing else, Clinton's book tour has previewed the sort of pathetic responses Hillaryland must think will suffice in 2016. For the nomination, that might be the case. But even a semi-competent Republican nominee should be able to shred her litany of excuses and her shabby record.




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