The hidden hand of Hillary

As told in two MSM stories. The first, on MSNBC, says she was more of a sounding board than a policy maker in the Clinton White House.

Her time in the White House was a period of transition in foreign policy and national security, with the cold war over and the threat of Islamic terrorism still emerging. As a result, while in the White House, she was never fully a part of either the old school that had been focused on the Soviet Union and the possibility of nuclear war or the more recent strain of national security thinking defined by issues like nonstate threats and the proliferation of nuclear technology.

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.

The other, in Newsweek, seems to agree that policy wasn’t her forte. Gender politics was front and center, though.

Hillary oversaw the hiring of White House staffers and pressed her husband to fill half the top positions with women. In particular, she insisted he choose a woman as attorney general, which led to the derailed nominations of corporate lawyer Zoe Baird and federal Judge Kimba Wood. The president finally settled on Janet Reno, who had been recommended by Hillary’s brother Hugh Rodham. “I don’t think Clinton believed he had a choice,” recalled Dee Dee Myers, his press secretary. “He had painted himself into a corner, and he had to appoint a woman.” Hillary was equally adamant that the president appoint her friend Madeleine Albright as secretary of State.

So we have Hillary to blame for this?


And that note is reinforced by this.

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.

That’s a very shallow view of foreign policy, to say the least. If she had had more of substance to say, surely some of those who were there then and are supporting her now would recall it.

The two stories seem to agree on the obvious, which is that Hillary Clinton had no official role beyond First Lady during the 1990s, other than the failed health care initiative. The MSNBC story gives a glimpse of how she understands conflict around the world.

On other important foreign-policy decisions he took her advice, particularly when her suggestions focused on practical politics. In May 1993 the president wanted to intervene to stop the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. He initially agreed to bomb Serbian military positions and help the Muslims arm themselves, but quickly reversed himself when NATO allies balked. The key factor in the president’s shift was Hillary. She viewed the situation as “a Vietnam,” recalled a Hillary friend. But two years later, after more than 250,000 deaths, Hillary became “an advocate for the use of force in Bosnia,” according to one of the president’s advisers. Her change of heart was partly political. A senior State Department official convinced her that the bloodshed overseas could grow worse and become an issue for the president in his run for re-election in 1996. That summer, Bill Clinton finally took action, combining airstrikes against Serbian military targets with intense diplomacy that led to a ceasefire and the partition of Bosnia.

Hillary seems to understand real global conflict through the prism of Vietnam and through domestic politics. The latter is understandable as it does impact a president’s ability to lead, though it doesn’t ultimately speak well of her humanitarian principles; the former in the case of Yugoslavia is just about entirely wrong-headed. But it’s typical of Hillary’s slice of her generation, a group of people who seem to see in every single conflict everywhere in the world another Vietnam. To me, that by itself is enough reason to keep her away from presidential power. Every war isn’t Vietnam, but the fear of creating wars like that one will distort decision-making in unhealthy ways.

If you read the two articles, the picture of Hillary that emerges is of someone who exercised some influence and occasional power but without much in the way of direct responsibility, and who is pragmatic rather than principled, thin-skinned and difficult, and who puts her peculiar political priorities above the interests of the nation she wants to lead. Not serve, but lead. The idea of service doesn’t seem to be in her DNA. She wants to lead, but seems to be completely devoid of any guiding principles beyond the pursuit of power. That’s not a new critique of Hillary Clinton by any means, but it sure seems to be an accurate one.