After what was widely considered an outstanding stint as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton’s last weeks in the position were especially rough. They left her with a lingering concussion, a blood clot in the brain that sent her to the hospital, a case of double vision, and, for good measure, infuriating sessions on Capitol Hill about the murder of four American officials in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Since leaving office, Clinton has been recuperating from her medical ordeal and beginning the arrangements for her next round in the limelight. She has signed with the Harry Walker Agency, joining Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove, among other luminaries, guaranteeing her a string of lucrative speeches. In breaking the news last month, Politico’s Mike Allen said that Clinton is likely to “be one of the highest paid speakers in the history of the circuit.” (She’s expected to do some pro bono speeches and occasionally donate her fees to causes she particularly believes in.) A memoir is also planned. Clinton’s White House book, Living History, was a massive success, doubtless earning far more than the $8 million advance she received from Simon & Schuster and publishers around the world. Sales of the book during its first week in 2003 set a record for its time.
With her health restored and her financial future on firm ground, the next big question for Clinton will be the great political conundrum: the decision whether to take another run at the Presidency. The first possible hint of her intentions came this week when she endorsed same-sex marriage, a major shift from her 2008 position which endorsed civil unions, but asserted that the legality of marriage should be left to the states. In 2016, she will be 69, the same age Ronald Reagan was in his first successful bid for the office, and the oldest man ever elected. Clinton knows as well as anyone possibly could just how hard the campaign would be: a relentless contest (once she sails through the primaries) against a Republican opponent like Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio or Rep. Paul Ryan, two early front-runners who will be barely in their mid-40s. For all her formidable network and fundraising skills, Clinton faces the prospect of a minimum of two years of relentless glad-handing to raise or exceed the billion dollars that Barack Obama gathered in 2012.
Should she choose not to take the daunting plunge for the Presidency, Hillary Rodham Clinton will nonetheless have amassed as extraordinary an array of accomplishments as anyone of our time. As a First Lady of influence and stature, it is largely forgotten now how close she came to an indictment for fraud in the wildly exaggerated claims of nefarious Arkansas land deals and related mishaps known as Whitewater. History will inevitably relate that her tenure was blighted by her husband’s ignominious impeachment. Any of those experiences taken on its own might have persuaded a less resilient personality to find comfort in philanthropic or educational pursuits away from public scrutiny.
Instead, Clinton ran for the Senate and in her years representing New York established herself as a skilled politician and strategist all the way from the rural upstate counties to the inner cities. The energy and integrity she displayed were the basis for her presidential aspirations. Based on her victories head-to-head with Obama and the enthusiasm she aroused, never again will there be any doubt about the possibility of a woman running for president. Whether it is Clinton’s triumph in the offing or a candidate yet to be identified, a woman president in the coming decades is a certainty.
The three women who have served as secretaries of state—Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Clinton—prove conclusively that they can take on any of the world’s most intractable problems as well or better than their male counterparts, even if they ultimately find them just as hard to resolve. The first account of Clinton’s four years in office has now arrived in The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power, by Kim Ghattas, the BBC’s State Department correspondent. Ghattas, who grew up in Lebanon during that country’s civil war, travelled extensively with Clinton, whose total time-in-transit pursuing diplomacy was said to exceed one million miles. Given her Middle-Eastern background, Ghattas is especially attentive to Clinton’s efforts to bring constructive influence to the turbulent arc of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. For all Clinton’s indefatigable efforts, diplomatic progress in the region was overwhelmed by the uprisings spreading from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. Wherever she took her entourage, Ghattas included, it seemed that the obstacles somehow managed to surpass the progress. Known for her outspoken advocacy of “smart power” as a strategic policy and her longstanding commitment to women’s issues, Clinton was nonetheless stymied by the complexities of human rights in China, the failure to make headway in Israel and Palestine, and the nuclear standoff with Iran and North Korea. Despite the frustrations that they must have felt in tackling so many global issues without being able to resolve most of them, Clinton eventually did succeed in bonding with Obama and showed she herself to be a shrewd team player.
The Hillary Clinton of the Obama years proved to be a highly effective envoy for the United States, able to engage (often with hardly any sleep) on a vast canvas with characters across the spectrum of interests and ideologies. She was not a secretary of state who will be remembered for the breakthroughs of diplomacy. But as Steven Weisman, formerly a New York Times correspondent, wisely wrote of The Secretary in the Washington Post: Clinton “comes across in this book as unflagging, appealing and unflappable, bringing ebullient energy and a sense of humor to the most banal or grueling schedule. . . .”
While that may not be comparable to the legends of the best of what her predecessors were able to do, Clinton did much to restore America’s good name in very hard times—a considerable task, and she did it very well.
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