There are two photos of Hillary Clinton and one incident that stand out for me in her 20 years on the national stage. The first photo was taken during Bill and Hillary’s last vacation before the Lewinsky scandal hit. They were alone on a secluded beach, dancing, laughing, clearly enjoying being with each other. The second photo was taken a little over a year later, grim-faced Bill and Hillary walking across the White House lawn after a flight on Marine One, with Chelsea between them. To me, those pictures summed up the complexity of her marriage and the facets of a woman’s role in a marriage. She adored the husband who was her intellectual equal, but had built a wall around the relationship so that she could ignore the philandering. Then, she had to protect herself – her dignity, her honor, her heart — when that philandering became public. But she chose to save her marriage instead of deep-sixing Bill and they are stronger and more committed than ever.
The incident was 9-11. Chelsea was staying in lower Manhattan that day. She was in the zone of destruction, somewhere, with no way for her mother to reach her or find her. But, as frantic as Hillary was to find her only child, she kept calm and carried on as New York’s junior senator and one of the politicians who were first to respond to the attack and start finding ways to deal with it. That day, she proved that the old image of women as slaves to their emotions was bunk.
When Hillary accepted the job of Secretary of State, she knew how hard it was going to be. Her predecessor was known in some parts of the world as “The Angel of Death.” President Bush had been voted “The Most Dangerous Man in the World” in an international poll, beating out every dictator and terrorist leader on the planet. All the good will that the Clinton administration had built with a policy of making America “first among equals” had been squandered. The situation in Latin America was probably the worst, after the Middle East. It had taken Latin America a couple of years to realize that Clinton’s laissez faire policy toward them was a chance to take the continent into their own hands and act according to their own vision without worrying about American intervention. They had taken off running with that sense of freedom, eventually extending the Pacific Rim economic zone to Tierra del Fuego and exploring the possible structure of a Latin American Union. Then, in 2001, word came that Vice President Dick Cheney had explored the possibility of having Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez assassinated and even those Latin leaders who hated Chavez hated America more. While the State Department would have limited influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hillary knew that the Kurds in Iraq had formed an independent government under Clinton’s “no fly zone” policy, and resentments in Kurdish areas, not just in Iraq, but in Iran and Turkey as well, were simmering. She undoubtedly saw her role as a restorer – restoring the respect with which most of the world had viewed America during her husband’s terms in office, and reforging the diplomatic ties that had treated Islamic terrorism as a non-national, international problem effecting many countries but originating from none.
What she didn’t foresee, what no one could foresee, was that before she hit her second anniversary in the job, a young Tunisian would set himself and the entire region on fire.
Her tenure has not been without controversy, most of it manufactured from the right just to discredit her and the President. The people who refused to hold Condalezza Rice accountable for the Bush administration ignoring repeated warnings about Osama bin Laden and 9-11, insist on holding Hillary personally responsible for the death of four Americans in Benghazi. Everything she has done has been twisted and warped in the conservative narrative. Their views, however, will not be the ones of history.
Hillary has logged over a million miles and visited 112 of the planet’s 193 countries. She has re-established relationships with our allies and made significant movement in focusing America on Asia. She has walked some perilous tightropes. Some critics claim that she has left no imprint on the State Department because the President is too much of a policy wonk and didn’t let Hillary make any policy decisions. That is an insult to Hillary. If she had felt that she was being marginalized in the foreign policy arena, she would have quit before now. Taking her cue from things that her husband has done with his Global Initiative, Hillary focused the State Department on development in third world countries. Hillary believes that the future is in a synergism of diplomacy and development, not invading armies and bombing runs. The Clinton Global Initiative has spread two important concepts – first, helping the poor get the paper which proves ownership of the land they occupy, thereby qualifying them for credit, and second, helping encourage the spread of micro-loan banking which funds the creation of small businesses.
A couple of incidents show the pivot this policy choice makes for America’s relationships in the world. In Iraq, reconstruction was handed over to American contractors. If they hired locals, they were erratic about paying them. None of them had real expertise in the areas where they held contracts, except Halliburton. Halliburton knew what it was doing in “modernizing and improving” the Iraq oil industry because they had just completed a multi-billion dollar contract with the United Nations to do just that. Unemployment in Iraq hovered at 50% while Americans earned $60,000 a year, tax free, to drive trucks. One factory owner was told by the U.S. Army that it would take two years and $20 million to get his factory operational again. They gave him $20,000 to “look busy.” He used that money and the inventory in the factory to get it working at higher production levels than before the invasion in just three months’ time.
While touring India with Chelsea after leaving office, Bill Clinton was approached by a local shop owner holding a couple of ledger books. The man had come to show Clinton what “his money” had done for the neighborhood, with multiple guarantors for micro loans for small shopkeepers and craftspersons. It’s a simple concept. A group of people co-sign a small loan for one of them, maybe $125 for a seamstress to buy a new sewing machine. The loans are too small for most banks to be bothered with, but the Global Initiative sees the need. When that loan is paid off, the next person in the group gets his/her loan. The group guarantee opens up credit for all of them, and all of them thrive. Trusting in the abilities and knowledge of local people to run local businesses helps to stabilize the economies of whole countries while avoiding the negative reaction caused by America acting like the locals are too stupid to run a cement factory or rebuild the country they built in the first place.
Hillary is officially planning on a long, well-earned vacation. Maybe Chelsea will accommodate by making the Clintons doting grandparents. And there is the possibility that Hillary will run for President in 2016. Right now, she’s not saying anything about that, other than it will be the choice of the American people.
Before she makes that run again, I think she needs to understand why she lost the nomination in 2008. It wasn’t because we liberals wanted to make history with a black president. We would have made just as much history with a female president. In a really warped way, it was because we respected and liked her too much to put her through a campaign with an elephant on her back, and not the GOP pachyderm. As obscene as the birther movement has been, as horrific as the racism against the president has been, we knew what the right wing would do to Hillary because of Bill. It had only been eight years, and it was not enough time to tamp down the Bill-baiting and the Bill-hating. Today, on the Yahoo News comments, Monica was still be exhumed to smear Hillary. Maybe 16 years, particularly after the way the right wing has disgraced itself with its treatment of the Obamas, will be long enough to allow Hillary to campaign on her policy beliefs and not her husband’s cigars.