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The NYT Extols Hillary’s ‘Soft Power’ Résumé

From her adoring fans at the New York Times:

US First Lady Hillary Clinton (L) kisses Suha Arafat, wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, 11 November 1999.

The Résumé Factor: Those 8 Years as First Lady

By PATRICK HEALY

December 26, 2007

As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton jaw-boned the authoritarian president of Uzbekistan to leave his car and shake hands with people. She argued with the Czech prime minister about democracy. She cajoled Roman Catholic and Protestant women to talk to one another in Northern Ireland. She traveled to 79 countries in total, little of it leisure; one meeting with mutilated Rwandan refugees so unsettled her that she threw up afterward.

But during those two terms in the White House, Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.

And during one of President Bill Clinton’s major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Mrs. Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal sizzled.

In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton lays claim to two traits nearly every day: strength and experience. But as the junior senator from New York, she has few significant legislative accomplishments to her name. She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her “eight years with a front-row seat on history.”

Mrs. Clinton’s role in her most high-profile assignment as first lady, the failed health care initiative of the early 1990s, has been well documented. Yet little has been made public about her involvement in foreign policy and national security as first lady. Documents about her work remain classified at the National Archives. Mrs. Clinton has declined to divulge the private advice she gave her husband.

An interview with Mrs. Clinton, conversations with 35 Clinton administration officials and a review of books about her White House years suggest that she was more of a sounding board than a policy maker, who learned through osmosis rather than decision-making, and who grew gradually more comfortable with the use of military power…

Associates from that time said that she was aware of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and what her husband has in recent years characterized as his intense focus on them, but that she made no aggressive independent effort to shape policy or gather information about the threat of terrorism.

She did not wrestle directly with many of the other challenges the next president will face, including managing a large-scale deployment — or withdrawal — of troops abroad, an overhaul of the intelligence agencies or the effort to halt the spread of nuclear weapons technology. Most of her exposure to the military has come since she left the White House through her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee…

Her role mostly involved what diplomats call “soft power” — converting cold war foes into friends, supporting nonprofit work and good-will endeavors, and pressing her agenda on women’s rights, human trafficking and the expanded use of microcredits, tiny loans to help individuals in poor countries start small businesses.

Asked to name three major foreign policy decisions where she played a decisive role as first lady, Mrs. Clinton responded in generalities more than specifics, describing her strategic roles on trips to Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, India, Africa and Latin America.

Asked to cite a significant foreign policy object lesson from the 1990s, Mrs. Clinton also replied with broad observations. “There are a lot of them,” she said. “The whole unfortunate experience we’ve had with the Bush administration, where they haven’t done what we’ve needed to do to reach out to the rest of the world, reinforces my experience in the 1990s that public diplomacy, showing respect and understanding of people’s different perspectives — it’s more likely to at least create the conditions where we can exercise our values and pursue our interests.” …

Susan Rice, a National Security Council senior aide and State Department official under Mr. Clinton who now advises Mr. Obama, said Mrs. Clinton was not involved in “the heavy lifting of foreign policy.” Ms. Rice also took issue with a recent comment by a Clinton campaign official that Mrs. Clinton was “the face of the administration in foreign affairs.”

“Making tough decisions, responding to crises, making the bureaucracy implement decisions that they may not want to implement — that’s the hard part of foreign policy,” Ms. Rice said. “That’s not what Mrs. Clinton was asked or expected to do as first lady.”

Mrs. Clinton said in the interview that she was careful not to overstep her bounds on national security, relying instead on informal access. During the preinaugural transition, for instance, she sat in on some meetings about presidential appointments at the invitation of Warren Christopher, who directed the transition and became secretary of state in the first Clinton term. Participants recalled that she would mostly speak when Mr. Christopher called on her, and tended to make points about placing more women, minority members and allies in key jobs.

She said she did not attend National Security Council meetings, nor did she have a security clearance — though she was briefed on classified intelligence before going on some important diplomatic trips.

“I don’t recall attending anything formal like the National Security Council,” she said, “because I had direct access to all of the principals. I spent a lot of time with the national security adviser, the secretary of state, other officials on the security team for the president. I thought that was both more appropriate, but also more efficient.”

Mrs. Clinton declined to say if she ever read the President’s Daily Brief, a rundown of the latest intelligence and threats to national security provided to the president each day. “I would put that in the category of I-never-talk-about-what-I-talk-to-my-husband-about,” she said. But she indicated, and other administration officials confirmed, that Mr. Clinton would sometimes talk to her about contents of the briefing.

“Let me say generally, I’m very aware of and familiar with what the P.D.B.’s actually are, how they work, what they include,” she said. “And it wasn’t always through the Clinton administration — when I went to Bosnia, for example, I had a full briefing from the military commanders there about what the situation was like.”

Mrs. Clinton said she was “only tangentially involved” in Mr. Clinton’s first major overseas test, whether to send American soldiers after the Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid and his forces, a raid that ended in 18 American deaths. Asked if she had pressed for an invasion, she said she had acted “more as a sounding board” for Mr. Clinton.

The same was true during the military confrontation in Haiti in 1994, over restoring the exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which she favored and drew lessons from about joint command of American armed forces…

Nor was Mrs. Clinton a memorable player on Rwanda. Former White House officials say that no one — not the national security team, not the president, not the first lady — was seriously pushing for American military intervention to stop or slow the unfolding genocide there; the administration’s focus was on confronting the ethnic bloodshed in the Balkans. Mrs. Clinton declined to comment on Rwanda.

The foreign policy achievement most often credited to Mrs. Clinton came in 1995, with her speech to the United Nations conference on women in Beijing, where she declared that “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” She also tangled with Chinese officials, she said, and refused to bow to pressure to soften her remarks

Her personal interests also drew her to Northern Ireland, where she believed she could help foster peace as a female leader bringing together women split by the sectarian divide. She played host to a memorable meeting, one of the first of its kind, of Catholic and Protestant women in Belfast. “It gave everybody a safe place to come together and start talking about what they had in common,” Mrs. Clinton said.

As she prepared to run for the Senate, Mrs. Clinton took increasing interest in Israel and Middle East peace, touchstones for Jewish voters, among others, in New York. She was not at the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000, but she did pepper the Middle East peace envoy, Dennis Ross, with questions, like whether the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat was too much the revolutionary to ever make peace, Mr. Ross recalled.

The Middle East situation led to Mrs. Clinton’s first big foreign policy-related problem as a candidate. In 1999, she sat silently, but with apparent discomfort, through an event on the West Bank as Suha Arafat, the wife of Mr. Arafat, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian women and children with toxic gases.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, who at that point seemed likely to be her Republican opponent in the 2000 Senate race, sharply criticized Mrs. Clinton for not confronting Mrs. Arafat over her remarks and for kissing her goodbye afterward; the incident also led some Jewish groups to be critical of the first lady.

Mrs. Clinton has often said that she learned from the experience and would not make the same mistake again.

Posted mostly for its amusement value. Though there are several alarming moments when the mask slips, such as this one:

“I don’t recall attending anything formal like the National Security Council,” she said, “because I had direct access to all of the principals. I spent a lot of time with the national security adviser, the secretary of state, other officials on the security team for the president. I thought that was both more appropriate, but also more efficient.”

“Appropriate”? For a first lady? “More efficient” for what? What did she think she was doing or what did she think she was going to do?

Who or what did she think she was?

The foreign policy achievement most often credited to Mrs. Clinton came in 1995, with her speech to the United Nations conference on women in Beijing, where she declared that “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” She also tangled with Chinese officials, she said, and refused to bow to pressure to soften her remarks…

And by “tangled with Chinese officials,” they mean she accepted hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars from them in bribes to her and her husband.

Mrs. Clinton declined to say if she ever read the President’s Daily Brief, a rundown of the latest intelligence and threats to national security provided to the president each day. “I would put that in the category of I-never-talk-about-what-I-talk-to-my-husband-about,” she said.

If she did, both she and her husband were breaking the law. Not that such niceties would have ever stopped them.

Her role mostly involved what diplomats call “soft power” — converting cold war foes into friends, supporting nonprofit work and good-will endeavors, and pressing her agenda on women’s rights, human trafficking and the expanded use of microcredits, tiny loans to help individuals in poor countries start small businesses.

Asked to name three major foreign policy decisions where she played a decisive role as first lady, Mrs. Clinton responded in generalities more than specifics, describing her strategic roles on trips to Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, India, Africa and Latin America.

Asked to cite a significant foreign policy object lesson from the 1990s, Mrs. Clinton also replied with broad observations. “There are a lot of them,” she said.

Do we really want someone this delusional as President?

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, December 26th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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