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.