Nine Months Into Obama's Presidency, Hillary Clinton Still Citing ‘Inherited’ Problems

By Patrick Goodenough | October 21, 2009 | 4:50 AM EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waves as she leaves Tokyo on February 18, 2009, during her first trip abroad in her new position. (Photo: State Department)

( – From the time he entered the White House, President Obama frequently has spoken about having “inherited” an economic mess, and he has been criticized for it. But the expression arguably has been used even more often by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Nine months later, it is a theme she returns to regularly at home and abroad.
During her most recent trip, a six-day visit to Western Europe and Russia earlier this month, Clinton used the phrase publicly at least four times on three occasions.
At a joint press conference with her British counterpart David Miliband in London on October 11, she said with regard to Afghanistan, “We have been in office about nine months. We obviously believe that the prior eight years were not as effective or focused as they might have been … our challenge has been to take what we inherited…”
The following day, during a BBC Radio interview, she said, “I think there has been to some extent, inherited from our prior involvement in Afghanistan, a lack of clarity.” A few moments later she added, “We also don’t want to continue doing what we inherited.”
In Russia on October 14, Clinton said during a town hall event at Moscow State University, “We are making an in-depth review of our policy in Afghanistan. There were some things that we inherited from the prior administration …”
Early travels
This month’s foreign trip was Clinton’s 12th as secretary of state. Her very first three, to Asia in February and to Europe and Mexico in March, also saw frequent use of the “we inherited” phrase.
In Tokyo on February 17, she said, “We have inherited a set of challenges that we are going to address, and one of those” is the North Korean nuclear standoff.
In Jakarta on February 18, she said, “We are conducting an extensive set of reviews of the policies that we inherited.”
In Jakarta the following day, she told Indonesian journalists, “We both thought it was important, President Obama and I, that I get out and do as much traveling as early as possible to send a message that he wants the world to hear. And he’s been talking to a lot of leaders around the world to reinforce that message, because we know that we inherited a lot of problems that we had to start dealing with.”
In Seoul on February 20, she said, “I see our job right now, given where we are in the world and what we’ve inherited, as repairing relations not only with governments, but with people. And I think President Obama has an extraordinary capacity to do that because of the really positive feeling that he personally engenders.”
In Brussels on March 6, she said, “We believe that there are a lot of challenges and threats that we have inherited that we have to address.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the U.N. Security Council in New York on September 30, 2009. (U.N. Photo by Marco Castro)

In Brussels, addressing “young European leaders” at a separate event the same day, she said, “When I look at the problems that come before me as Secretary of State or that President Obama has inherited, I don’t underestimate their difficulty.”
And in Mexico City on March 25, referring to immigration reform, she said, “We are also taking some actions through administrative changes and looking at the situation that our administration inherited.”
Clinton has also used the “we inherited” phrase regularly during media interviews in the United States.
“We inherited a lot of problems,” she told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on June 4.
To Fareed Zakaria on CNN on August 9, she said, “the president's view is that we inherited this terrible [economic] crisis.”
Interviewed by Harry Smith on CBS’s Face the Nation on September 27, Clinton twice used the expression “we inherited a situation” with regard to Afghanistan.
And on October 6 she told CBS Evening News’ Katie Kouric, again on Afghanistan, “we took the policy that we inherited and – tried to stabilize [it].”
Other occasions
In comments with her Irish counterpart after a meeting in Washington on March 16, Clinton said concerning plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, “We are trying to do the best we can with the problem that we inherited, and that certainly is something that Europe, from one end to the other, called upon us to do.”
Speaking before a House Appropriations subcommittee on April 23, Clinton told the members, “You know very well on this committee the range of difficult problems we’ve inherited and that we are attempting to cope with.”
In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on July 15, Clinton criticized the Bush administration’s policy of “refusing to deal with the Islamic Republic,” and said, “We know very well what we inherited with Iran, because we deal with that inheritance every day.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow