CAMPAIGN 08 EDITORIAL: How was Hillary tested?

How was Hillary tested?


It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing.

Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military — someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.

It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?

We’ve all seen the “red phone” ad — an ad that implicitly questions whether Barak Obama has enough experience to deal with an international crisis. Hillary Clinton has been tested and is ready to lead in a dangerous world — or so we are meant to believe.

But that begs the question: what was the test? CNN anchor Kiran Chentry pressed Clinton for an answer:

Can you tell us what specific experience in handling a crisis that you can point to that would make you better equipped to handle that White House phone at 3 a.m.?

This is the first “specific experience in handling a crisis” that Clinton cited:

You know, I was involved for fifteen years in, you know, foreign policy and security policy — you know, I helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Hillary and her campaign have had five days to come up with her best shot at a credible answer to this question. On Feb 29, Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein, Clinton’s national security director, were stumped. The best they could come up with after a very long pause was to say she’s been endorsed by many high ranking members of the uniformed military.

So, when Hillary puts bringing peace to Northern Ireland at the top of her national security resume — the best example she has of a specific experience she’s had in handling a crisis — she must be on solid ground. Right? Apparently not.

While she played a role in the Northern Ireland Process, she had no direct part in the negotiations. This is confirmed by Senator George Mitchell, the Clinton administration’s leading Northern Ireland peace negotiator.

Hillary helped organize seminars and conferences under the banner of ‘Vital Voices‘ which particularly engaged women in the Peace Process and built momentum towards the Good Friday Agreement. She also co-hosted with Bill a number of events in the White House around St Patrick’s Day, the Investment Conference and so forth. No doubt these were all valuable contributions in helping bring peace to Northern Ireland but by no stretch of the imagination can any of this be described as experience in handling an international crisis.

Hillary’s contribution to the peace process did not come in any 3am moments — these were more like 3pm interludes during which, in the words of a political reporter for the Belfast Telegraph, she contributed to the “mood music” that made an eventual settlement possible.

The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker who in January assessed Clinton’s claims about her role in Northern Ireland, concluded that it was “more symbolic than substantive.”

Foreign policy experience and familiarity with world leaders are obviously valuable assets in any newly-elected president, but the ability to handle a crisis cannot hinge on the notion that this is familiar territory. On the contrary, effective crisis management is all about having the temperament and the judgment to remain calm at the very moment when everyone is saying, “We didn’t see this coming. What do we do?”

Hillary wants us to rely on her experience, yet when push comes to shove and she’s up against the reality that her experience is much more limited than she now claims, what will she do then? What will she do when at 3am she’s faced with a crisis and nothing in her experience provides her with a template for action?

The challenge for whoever answers the phone at 3am is not one of memory recall. It’s not about thinking I’ve been here before so I know what to do. Least of all is about a gnawing awareness that I claimed I was here before so I better pretend I know what to do.

It’s about calmness and clarity. It’s about confidence in the capabilities of the administration that you put together. It’s about having the diligence to stay well-briefed. It’s about not getting knocked off balance when suddenly you enter unfamiliar territory. At the most critical moment, it’s about having a clear eye in the face of the unforeseen.

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3 thoughts on “CAMPAIGN 08 EDITORIAL: How was Hillary tested?

  1. Russ Wellen

    “It’s about confidence in the capabilities of the administration that you put together.”

    If I were to pick one ground on which to object to her, it’s her foreign policy team: Holbrooke, Albright, Berger.

    Not just at 3 a.m., but at any hour during her husband’s administration, they were all too willing to order B-52s airborne.

  2. carol Elkins

    Fear is the terrorists greatest weapon. When people are terrified they do not think. The Red Phone ad was an act of terrorism. Hillary can only be elected
    if she gets people to stop thinking. We have been invaded by the terrorist within, and we have lost our sovereignty forthwith.

  3. Ian Arbuckle

    Experience tells us that using the same bad advisers will produce the same “bad” advice. So fake experienced or none, doing it the way Bill did it, but more robustly, will hardly provide the fundamental changes that Americans need especially in foreign policy.

    When asked about Columbia’s illegal violation of Ecuador’s territory:
    Statement from Hillary Clinton – 3/3/2008

    “Hugo Chavez’s order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As president, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course.”

    Now, when the OAS met, the U.S. and Colombia were so isolated, for obvious reasons, that they had to agree to a consensus resolution that rebuked their claim that the raid was justified. Here is the declaration:

    ‘In Washington, the Organization of American States passed a consensus resolution that used mutually acceptable language to rebuke Colombia for having violated Ecuadorean sovereignty Saturday in a raid that killed a high-ranking rebel leader and 16 others.

    The 34-member organization voted to “reaffirm the principle that the territory of a state is inviolable and may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatsoever.”‘

    Clinton’s sabre rattling against Chavez may echo well with other conflicts, interests, and please supporters like AIPAC, or Cuban expatriates in Miami, appearing to ride roughshod over any legal considerations, but shows a complete lack of grasp either of the situation, or it’s consequences, and the long term need for a change of US diplomatic approach and relations with Latin American states.

    This action by Columbia, was undoubtedly approved by the present US Administration, by the way, probably caused Ingrid Betancourt, and 4 Americans included in 12 hostages which were nearly released, but to have their forced stay with FARC extended, since the leader, Raul Reyes, who was killed along with 16 others, was the one handling the negotiations, most likely on the very same satellite telephone which was used to guide the missiles to its target, undoubtedly with CIA help.

    So, just from this we see the kind of 3 A.M. reply we might expect from Hillary Clinton, and it is wrong and dangerous!

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