Read an ExcerptElection 2008
A VOTER'S GUIDE
By Franklin Foer
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Copyright © 2007 Yale University
All right reserved.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Full Name Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton
Current Residence Chappaqua, New York
Date and Place of Birth October 26, 1947; Chicago, Illinois
B.A., Wellesley College, 1969 J.D., Yale Law School, 1973
Nonpolitical Positions Held
Impeachment Inquiry Sta, 1974 Attorney, Rose Law Firm, 1976-1992 Chairwoman, Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, 1982-1992 First Lady of the United States, 1993-2001 Author, It Takes A Village, 1996 Author, Living History, 2003
Political Offices Held
U.S. Senator from New York, 2001-present
Family Married to former president Bill Clinton; children: daughter Chelsea
The Real Reason She Won't Apologize: Hillary's War
In October 2000, Hillary Clinton was entering the home stretch of one of the most unusual Senate campaigns in American history. Although her husband still occupied the Oval Office, she had decamped to a Dutch Colonial in Westchester County to run for the seat of retiring New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. To compensate for the fact that she had never actually lived in the state she intended to represent, she immersed herself in Empire State minutiae. O the top of her head, she would describe in detail the virtues of the Northeast dairy compact and the rate of upstate job growth. The aggressiveness of her New York provincialism tended to obscure the rare occasions on which Clinton would actually unfurl a broader worldview.
One such occasion took place on October 10, a few weeks before the election, when Clinton spoke before a group of investment bankers, magazine editors, and the sundry wonks who populate the Council on Foreign Relations. Although her address received little attention at the time, it outlined a clear vision of American power, one perhaps better-suited to a candidate for president than for the Senate. Many of the details were anodyne-she implored the United States to lead alliances against global problems like AIDS, poverty, and repression-but, when she came to the use of U.S. military force, her speech took a bracing turn:
There is a refrain ... that we should intervene with force only when we face splendid little wars that we surely can win, preferably by overwhelming force in a relatively short period of time. To those who believe we should become involved only if it is easy to do, I think we have to say that America has never and should not ever shy away from the hard task if it is the right one.
These words, unthinkable for any Democrat to utter today, are revealing of the mindset that led her to support George W. Bush's confrontation with Iraq, a policy choice that has important implications for her presidential ambitions. And, even on that day nearly a year before September 11, her words struck one listener as alarming. During a question-and-answer session that followed, an audience member who identified himself as a banking executive rose to challenge her. "I seem to hear that we should pay any price, bear any burden, to spread our way of life abroad," he said. "I wonder if you think that every foreign country-the majority of countries-would actually welcome this new assertiveness, including the one billion Muslims that are out there? And whether or not there isn't some grave risk to the United States in this-what I would say, not new internationalism, but new imperialism."
This was perhaps an overreaction to Clinton's point, and she challenged it as "an extreme statement I do not subscribe to." Through the lens of recent American foreign policy, however, her inquisitor's words do have an eerily prescient ring. However accidentally, he had foreshadowed the events that would follow Clinton's infamous 2002 vote granting President Bush the authority to invade Iraq.
Hillary Clinton's entire political identity has become defined by that vote and her subsequent refusal to apologize for it. To most observers, her positioning on Iraq is simply the latest example in a long career of venal political calculation. In a zeitgeist-capturing "Saturday Night Live" sketch earlier this year, an actor playing Clinton appeared on a mock "Hardball" segment. "I think most Democrats know me," the faux Hillary cloyingly explained. "They understand that my support for the war was always insincere."
But was it? The truth about how Clinton came to support Bush's war (albeit with reservations), and how she has thought about it since, has always been shrouded in mystery. People assume that Clinton is playing politics, that she voted for the war to look tough or because Bush was popular and that she won't apologize now for fear of looking like a flip-flopper. Political observers scour her daily statements-her head-nodding, even, in one recent New York Times article-for clues to her thinking. Or they speculate about what she might do in the future. But the key to understanding Hillary Clinton's foreign policy lies in the past. And, as one probes her inner circle and reconstructs her record, an alternative reading emerges: What if the hawkish Hillary of 2002 wasn't just motivated by political opportunism? What if she really believed in the war?
It's hard to get a handle on Clinton's foreign policy. That's partly because it's hard even to get a handle on the identity of her foreign policy advisers. "Look, I don't fucking know!" barks one former Clintonite when queried about whom Clinton relies on. "No one knows!" The topic breeds deep paranoia, as Hillary's campaign has been known to rebuke those who speak publicly without explicit license. The result is a confounding omertà code: Whereas other politicians eagerly expound on their worldviews and policy deliberations, asking Democrats about Hillary's foreign policy consultations sometimes feels like inquiring after Whitey Bulger in Irish South Boston. "Please don't take this conversation as confirming anything," pleaded one person I contacted, who would only identify himself as being in the "very distant, outermost, orbital region" of the campaign. "I don't know how they want us to handle it." Such nervousness is a testament to the continued belief, despite the rise of Barack Obama, that Hillary will probably be the Democratic nominee-and that, if she wins, she'll have an administration full of jobs to fill. "This is one of those subjects where people are disinclined to say anything," explains Les Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations. "People are very cautious when jobs are at stake."
As a result, it's not easy divining how Clinton thinks about national security in general, much less what factors led to her support for the Iraq war resolution. Her aides allowed me only a fleeting hallway encounter with Clinton herself. So I set out to unravel the mystery by calling dozens of former Clinton officials and Democratic aides. I also dug into her past, from her college career through eight years in the White House and six in the Senate. Sifting through Hillary's life, a portrait begins to emerge of a woman who has always been more comfortable with the military than many of her liberal boomer peers. I found that Clinton had aggressively pushed her husband to use force when he was president; that one of her most influential new advisers was a former senior aide to hawkish Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia; and that, although she opposed President Bush's Iraq "surge," she has consulted regularly with one of its prime architects. I even found that, in her late twenties, Hillary Rodham Clinton briefly attempted to enlist in the U.S. Marines.
That last fact-reported in 1994 but largely forgotten since-underlines the degree to which, unlike many of her peers, Clinton has never allowed Vietnam to define her vision of foreign policy. It's true that the war helped pull her from her roots as a Goldwater Girl and a president of Wellesley College's Young Republicans and drive her into the Democratic Party. During her junior year at Wellesley, she even knocked on doors for Eugene McCarthy's antiwar campaign. But Vietnam apparently didn't imbue Hillary with a loathing for the military. In 1975, just months after the last U.S. troops returned home, Hillary was living in Arkansas with Bill, who had mounted a failed bid for Congress the previous year. The young couple, who would marry later that year, were both teaching law at the University of Arkansas, when Hillary, for reasons never made entirely clear, decided to enlist in the Marines. When she walked into a recruiting office in Little Rock and inquired about joining, the recruiter on duty was unenthusiastic about the 27-year-old law professor in thick, goggle glasses. "You're too old, you can't see, and you're a woman," Clinton recalled him saying. "Maybe the dogs"-Marine slang for the Army-"would take you." Deflated, Clinton said she decided to "look for another way to serve my country."
From there, the trail seems to go cold. Hillary's geopolitical opportunities were limited in Arkansas, where she focused on her law career and advocacy on such domestic issues as children's rights. And, when she moved with Bill into the White House in 1993, in contrast to her public stewardship of health care, she had no formal foreign policy role. She was rarely, if ever, present at her husband's official national security meetings, and when she traveled abroad it was typically to promote relatively uncontroversial issues like women's rights and religious tolerance. "My staff used to tease me, suggesting that the State Department had a directive: If the place was too small, too dangerous or too poor-send Hillary," she writes in her memoir, Living History.
Behind the scenes, however, Hillary was an important figure in her husband's overseas agenda. "Much more than is usually the case with a first lady, she was interested in and knowledgeable about foreign policy," says Strobe Talbott, a former State Department official and longtime friend of the Clintons. In informal settings, "she was very much a part of the conversation."
That's no surprise, given how close Hillary was to Bill's top foreign policy mandarins. She had bonded with National Security Advisor Sandy Berger years before, while working for the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Gary Hart, and remained close to Berger and his wife, Susan, ever since. As first lady, she talked regularly with Sandy, who she has said took an active interest in her overseas trips. More recently, in 2001, Susan, a Washington realtor, helped Hillary choose her $2.85 million brick Georgian house and even found her a posh interior decorator.
Hillary was tighter still with Madeleine Albright. Both had attended Wellesley (albeit a decade apart), and the pair famously hit it o on a 1996 trip to Eastern Europe when Albright was still ambassador to the United Nations. News reports painted a portrait of gal pals on a European holiday-window-shopping in Prague, sharing dumplings in a café, laughing hysterically as the wind turned their umbrellas inside-out. Their personal bond reportedly led Hillary to insist that Bill choose Albright for secretary of state in 1997. It also gave Hillary an informal line to America's top diplomat. The women met regularly, often with their top aides, for frank conversations about policy and politics in Albright's State Department dining room. In her memoir, Madam Secretary, Albright describes the relationship as an "unprecedented partnership." "I was once asked whether it was appropriate for the two of us to work together so closely," Albright writes. "I agreed that it was a departure from tradition," but she saw no problem with the first lady having a hand on the ship of state.
Perhaps most importantly, Hillary clearly helped to shape some of her husband's key foreign policy decisions. In March 1999, for instance, as Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian forces conducted a rising campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians, her husband considered a series of airstrikes to stop the killing. His generals were nearly unanimous in opposition: Bombing wouldn't work, they said, and, in any case, military engagement wasn't worth the risk of American casualties. Russian opposition also guaranteed a lack of U.N. sanction for the mission; any military action would have to be a NATO operation of debatable international legitimacy. Hillary didn't care. As she later explained to Talk magazine, while on a trip in North Africa she phoned her husband in Washington and pleaded with him to unleash the military. "I urged him to bomb," she said. "You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?"
Bill Clinton, of course, wound up agreeing with his wife. The subsequent 78-day bombing campaign was an astonishing success. The United States suffered zero casualties, and the Serbs capitulated, beginning the process of Milosevic's downfall. It was the third time Hillary had spoken up in favor of intervention. The first had been in 1994 in Haiti, according to one former Clintonite. The other had been the 1995 campaign of airstrikes to bring an end to the Bosnian conflict. Her memoir recounts hearing a speech by Elie Wiesel in April 1993 in which he invoked the Holocaust as he pleaded with the president to take action in the former Yugoslavia. "Sitting in the gray drizzle," Hillary writes, "I agreed with Elie's words, because I was convinced that the only way to stop the genocide in Bosnia was through selective air strikes against Serbian targets." This was more than two years before her husband finally brought himself to commence the bombing.
By the end of their reign, the Clintonites seemed to have demonstrated that the United States could flex its muscles with ease and precision-even without U.N. approval-and be loved for it. U.S. bombs had restored peace and stability to central Europe, and American values were on the march. Hillary's memoir recounts her 1996 meeting with an American peacekeeping soldier in Bosnia: "[W]herever we go, the kids wave at us and smile," he told her. "To me, that's reason enough to be here." Not only was it righteous, it held a certain glamour as well. As Hillary recounts in a typical passage, "Sheryl Crow, Sinbad and Chelsea and I flew in Black Hawk helicopters to visit soldiers in forward positions.... Chelsea had been a big hit with the soldiers and their families throughout the trip, shaking hands and signing autographs with her usual warmth and grace." All this filled her with a vivid optimism. On a flight back from the region, she recalls, "I remember thinking what a perfect day it was for flying and what a perfect moment to be alive."
Little wonder that, by 1999, Hillary was proclaiming in speeches, "I am very pleased that this president and administration have made democracy one of the centerpieces of our foreign policy." Or that, during her Senate campaign a year later, she would argue that America's military involvements should not be limited to "splendid little wars."
In the fall of 2002, Bush officials were having their own troubles divining what Hillary Clinton thought about Iraq. Although she was a regular attendee at Capitol Hill briefings conducted by senior administration officials like Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz, she listened far more than she spoke, recalls one former Bush official. (She was more open with then-deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, an old friend from Yale Law School, pulling him aside for private chats.) But in general, says the former Bush official, Clinton seemed more comfortable with confronting Iraq than some other Democrats. "I was kind of pleasantly surprised by her attitude," he says. "Not that she was jumping up and down waving flags and saying, 'Hey, let's go after these guys.' But you take a John Kerry-he would sit back with his arms folded and a skeptical look."
At one point that fall, Clinton visited the White House, along with several other senators, to hear National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice make her case for the Iraq resolution. Once again, Hillary kept her views largely to herself, leading Rice to call her personally afterward. Did the senator have any questions she might answer, Rice asked? Clinton asked Rice for assurance that Bush really intended to push diplomacy to the limit, that the resolution was not a de facto vote for war. On the contrary, Rice said, it was the best hope for peace: Only the clear threat of force could compel Saddam to accept the intrusive weapons inspections that might avert war.
Excerpted from Election 2008 by Franklin Foer Copyright © 2007 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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