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Clinton Touts Wins for U.S. Corporations Abroad as State Department Legacy

Clinton Touts Wins for U.S. Corporations Abroad as State Department Legacy

While leading the State Department, Hillary Clinton took Foggy Bottom in a direction it had never previously turned — promoting U.S. companies abroad. Her successes will no doubt be touted on the presidential campaign trail, if she runs. But it’s unclear whether her "economic statecraft" will endure.

In her new book, Hard Choices, Clinton discusses how she helped some of the United States’ biggest companies — Boeing, FedEx, General Electric, and others — land contracts abroad and find new markets. But surprisingly, the term she coined, "economic statecraft," is used only once in the book, on page 509. At three, "wildlife trafficking" in Africa got more mentions.

Clinton spends more time chronicling the "wins" she racked up than discussing the philosophy behind and rationale of her unique policy. In October 2009, for instance, she went to Moscow and met Russian officials on Boeing’s behalf to help the company win a contract.

"I made the case that Boeing’s jets set the global gold standard, and, after I left, our embassy kept at it," she wrote. The following year, Moscow agreed to a $3.7 billion deal for 50 737s.

The book also describes Clinton’s success going to bat for FedEx and Corning against Beijing’s protectionist policies, eventually winning the companies better access to China’s massive market. FedEx also joined Clinton in August 2012 on a trip to South Africa with Chevron, Boeing and General Electric. In Algeria, she pushed the government to give General Electric a $2.7 billion contract to build power plants.

"Too often I had seen risk-averse U.S. corporations avoid emerging or challenging markets, while Asian and European companies scooped up contracts and profits," Clinton said.

In September 2013, GE sealed a deal that would increase Algeria’s electricity output by 70 percent.

Despite these tangible outcomes, Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, the agency back to its more traditional role. For instance, Clinton hired the department’s first chief economist, Heidi Crebo-Rediker, but since she departed almost a year ago, the position has had no permanent occupant. The new position was part of a broader push to bring in more economic expertise and get traditional foreign service officers to advocate for U.S. companies abroad.

When Kerry first took the helm, he emphasized the connection between foreign policy and economics. "It’s important not just in terms of the threats that we face, but the products that we buy, the goods that we sell, and the opportunity that we provide for economic growth and vitality," he said in a speech at the University of Virginia in February 2013. But since then, he’s focused most of his time on State’s more traditional diplomatic functions.

Matthew Goodman, who worked on economics issues at State under Clinton, said Kerry’s had a lot on his plate, but his initial signals indicated he would continue Clinton’s emphasis on economics.

"The test, to me, will be whether he follows through," said Goodman, who’s now working on a report about economic statecraft at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Edward Alden, a trade expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the emphasis on domestic economics is contrary to how the department has typically viewed its role.

"The State Department, historically, has not only not cared all that much about the impact of its actions on the U.S. economy — you could even make the argument that they’ve been far more interested in how it affects the economy of our allies, than how it affects the U.S.," said Alden.

"State is the agency responsible for U.S. diplomacy, and the primary goal of diplomacy is maintaining good relationships with our allies so that we can rely on them for other things that have nothing to do with economics," he said.

Whether or not "economic statecraft" — a phrase Clinton coined in 2011 — is the department’s traditional role, those who embraced it say it hasn’t left the building just yet.

"It is actually a huge win for her to be talking about," Crebo-Rediker said. "The footprint that she left in terms of gearing up the State Department to deal with new challenges in that space is probably going to have a longer legacy than people would think."

Although, in her book, Clinton details her wins for American businesses, she doesn’t expand much on the philosophy she followed to engage the State Department in efforts to rebuild the crumbled U.S. economy that Barack Obama’s administration inherited.

"It was clearer than ever that America’s economic strength and our global leadership were a package deal. We would not have one without the other," she wrote.

"I called our efforts ‘economic statecraft,’ and urged our diplomats around the world to make it a priority," Clinton wrote.

No one suggests she implemented the policy for presidential campaign fodder, but her specific wins will undoubtedly be discussed on the campaign trail.

"Her ability to link what she did on economic policy to the aspirations of ordinary Americans will be an important part of her campaign," said Robert Hormats, who was an undersecretary of state under Clinton.