Alex Massie

Hillary Abroad | 7 November 2007

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Welcome, Andrew Sullivan readers. Lovely to have you here. Hope you have a nice stay. Feel free to wander around the blog...

Hillary Clinton makes a great deal of her experience as First Lady, suggesting that the eight years she spent in the White house constitute an ideal training programme for the Presidency. Where Hillary was not actively involved in making decisions, she had the opportunity to see how the White House operates in good times and bad. Those lessons, she says, have been digested.

Doubtless there is something to this, even if it's not he traditional apprenticeship. But how are we to know how Hillary the First Lady would translate to President Hillary?

Returning to her book Living History is not quite as helpful as it might be. You'll recall that this book was written for Hillary as an important part of her pre-campaign strategy. It was designed to clear the air and draw a line under the impeachment years and her husband's infidelity. I don't think anyone pretended that it was as candid as it might have been, but still, it is what it is...

In light of recent events - both in Pakistan and Washington - it's interesting to return to Hillary's account of her trip to the Sub-Continent in 1995. Now, clearly, security issues were not then what they have since become. Nor were they the focus of Hilary's visit to Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, it may be worth noting that her memoir- published in 2003 remember - makes only one brief mention of Wahhabism or Osama bin Laden in relation to her trip to Pakistan. Nor, for that matter, is there any mention anywhere in her memoir of Kashmir...

Instead Hillary concentrates on the position and what she would doubtless term the emancipation of women in south asia. Fair enough, even if, nice though positive (from a western perspective) developments on this front would be, they're scarcely the most significant issue from the point of US national interest today. (this isn't to say these issues are unimportant, merely that they're not the most pressing - as, in fact, they were not in the mid-1990s either)

Still, there are some interesting passages in which we can see Hillary preparing her fortifications in advance of her run for the Presidency:

At the luncheon she hosted for me, Benazir [Bhutto] led a discussion about the changing roles of women in her country and told a joke about her husband's status as a political spouse. "According to newspapers in Pakistan," she said, "Mr Asif Zardari is de facto Prime Minister of the country. My husband tells me, 'Only the First Lady can appreciate it's not true.'"

Then there's Hillary on Wahhabism:

Like the Judeo-Christian Bible, the Quran is open to different interpretations, most of which promote peaceful coexistence with people of other religions; some, like Wahhabism, do not... While I deeply respect the basic tenets of Islam, Wahhabism troubles me because it is a fast-spreading frm of Islamic fundamentalism that excludes women from full participation in their societies, promotes religious intolerance and, in its most extreme version, as we learned with Osama bin Laden, advocates terror and violence."

Well, fair enough. But that's all she says. In a memoir published in 2003. The book is not a policy manifesto of course. But even making that allowance it is striking how much of Hillary's memoir is taken up with fluff - "I had given a lot of thought to how Chelsea and I should dress on the trip. We wanted to be comfortable, and under the sun's heat, I was glad for the hats and cotton clothes I had packed" - and how little is concerned with affairs of state.

Now again, this is reasonable: after all she was First Lady not President. Nonetheless, it seems that it is an effort to have her cake and eat it (surprise!) for Hillary to talk up her foreign policy expertese based upon her travels as First Lady when her own autobiography confirms that her overseas  travels scarcely touched upon the major issues of the day. Micro-finance is grand, but it's not nuclear proliferation.

So what if Hillary is playing the gender card? Of course she is, just as Barack Obama plays the race card. Hillary's campaign is, naturally and unavoidably, predicated upon her gender, just as Obama's is based upon his skin colour. He's not half as "transformational" or inspirational a candidate if he's a white man from New England; she can't personify "change" if she's a man. Both of them ask voters to support them based in large part upon an idea of who they "are" rather than what they might actually do. The messenger trumps the message. I don't understand why people pretend to be shocked or suprised by this. Equally, we might note that Rudy Giuliani plays the gender card too: every time he attacks Hillary on security and foreign policy issues he's making the argument - implicitly at any rate - that a tough-guy former prosecutor and mayor is  much better placed to "defend" America than a mere woman.

As I say, it's not explicitly stated and it may not even be deliberate but it's there nonetheless.

Perhaps it's unfair to judge Hillary by the evidence published in a book she didn't write. Then again, it did appear under her name and judging from Living History there was lots of travel but precious little real policy. If that's an unfair conclusion then Hillary will, doubtless, tell us why and how and where this verdict is unwarranted.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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