Madam Secretary: Hillary Clinton

great_seal_136_1There is a line in the movie The American President, in which Michael Douglas, in his role as President of the United States, explains to his nemesis, that “…being President of this country…is entirely about character.”  As I have studied the three women who have served in the position of Secretary of State, I have come away with the belief that each of these women have proven the quality of their character throughout their careers.  I have written a bit about Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice.  As Hillary Clinton [1] ends her years of service as Secretary of State, I decided to write about her.

A contender for the Presidency in 2012, Secretary Clinton’s years as Secretary of State have only enhanced her credentials.  Will she be a candidate for President in 2016?  Who knows.  Too early to talk about it you say?  Maybe, but in her final days as Secretary, she is providing us the opportunity to understand even more fully her own personal values and priorities without the constraints of  being President Clinton’s “first lady” or President Obama’s ambassador to the world.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is one of the world’s most influential leaders. [2]  As we consider Secretary Clinton’s character, there is no better vehicle to study her character than in her December 6, 2012, in Dublin Ireland. Want to understand more about the nature of her character?  This speech is a good start.

There are other speeches where she has established her tenacity, her force of will in fighting for peace and in support of U.S. policies throughout the world. But her speech in Ireland [3] focus is less on any single  country or international crisis than on a description of her philosophy of international relations and impediments to healthy governments.

She begins by complimenting her host nation, and describes the important role of Ireland in the creation of the United States.  She continues by describing her belief that human rights is essential to healthy world governments and should be a goal for the 21st century. She describes human rights as “the God-given entitlement of every person”.

Secretary Clinton describes herself as both an idealist and a realist.  She recognizes that in the face of global economic challenges and preventing terrorism concerns about human rights seem to be easily set aside as secondary issues.  Recognizing that temptation, she believes, instead, that respect for human rights is central to building strong relationships and alliances and supporting societies that are stable and economically strong.

At Dublin, Clinton sets forth what she considers to be the most critical human rights issues of the 21st century as follows:

1)  Religious Freedom and the Rights of Religious Minorities–She reminds us that societies are strongest when they deliver justice not just to the powerful, but also the most vulnerable.  She identifies, in particularly the Middle East and North Africa as regions in which governments have been particularly subject to pressure for real democratic change, to a significant extent as a result of their intolerance for the rights and beliefs of religious minorities. [4]

2)  Internet Freedom–Perhaps not surprisingly, she identifies the internet as a major vehicle for criticism and expression that is particularly susceptible to censorship.  She describes her hope that the internet, symbolic of the right to freedom of expression and thought, can become a means of positive communication between leaders and their people rather than a target for a deepening spiral of repression by leaders angry–or feeling vulnerable–as a result of internet protests.  But she also describes ways in which government actions blocking and shutting down communication on the internet–particularly as to tweets, blogs, and even internet underground news sources–have had a brutal impact on dissidents.

3)  The Role of Civil Society–In many ways, her identification of “civil society” actually incorporates each of the three other priorities identified in her speech.  She believes that the United States’ economic and security interest in helping  tilt what she calls “states in the balance” toward accountable institutions with protections for human rights, rule of law, and democratic governance.  She believes that Instead of focusing only on the compassionate aspects of expanding civil society, civil, stable governments offer greater opportunities for new economic markets.  In contrast, she describes why governments  lacking a civil society, are subject to greater risks of instability and increased risk of inflaming global terrorism.

4)  Respect for the Human Rights of Women and Girls–Rather than identifying women’s rights as secondary to the greater issues of human rights, she considers the treatment of females to be “the unfinished business of the 21st century”.  She describes the brutal treatment of women in areas of the world where they are denied health care, an education, and who suffer the violence of female genital mutilation, virtual slavery, victimization through honor crimes.  She grieves over the forced marriages, often at very early ages, of girls who have no protection from the whims of the men around them.  She describes in particular the Pakistani girl, Malala, [4], shot in the head solely because she spoke out for the rights of Pakistani girls to go to school.

Secretary Clinton ends her Dublin speech much as she began it: with a recognition of the very real dangers threatening the United States and the international community.  But she also expresses a belief that working together to secure the pivotal human rights issues described above will help ensure, not only the interests of individuals, but also help ensure peace, aid in supporting economic development and our other most urgent global problems.

While a single speech does not tells us all we need to know about any government figure, it is a starting point.  As she leaves public office, at least for now, it will be interesting to see where her path takes her next.  We will wait to see.

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[1]  Photograph used by Department of State

[2]    Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice preceded her. Each in her own way has created history, each has been described as “a woman of character”.  See post “What do Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice Have In Common” dated April 13, 2012.

[3]  Her speech of December 6, 2012 was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

[4]  She also accuses Korea (never described as a religious nation) of running some of the “largest concentration camps in the world.”

[5] See post “I am Malala” dated November 12, 2012.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

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The Mighty and the Almighty–Diplomacy and Faith

In my quest for greater understanding of the role of faith in government and diplomacy, I have focused on two books.  Senator John Danforth’s Faith and Politics and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s The Mighty and the Almighty.  Senator Danforth is a lifelong Republican.  Secretary Albright has been a Democrat since college.  Both are Episcopalian.  Each served as Ambassador to the UN.  Both advocate that people of faith should be active in government.  Both believe it is essential that there be respect for diversity both within the Christian community and that this respect must extend to those of other faiths and philosophical beliefs.

I focused on Senator Danforth in an earlier post.  Now I will focus on Secretary Albright.  She was born in Czechoslovakia.  Her father was a diplomat.  She was a child when Adolf Hitler was in power.  She emigrated with her family from Czechoslovakia to the United States after communists seized power in her homeland.  Educated at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, she received her PhD from Columbia University.  Raised Catholic, she converted to the Episcopal faith and, as an adult, came to learn of her Jewish heritage.  Appointed United States Secretary of State during President Clinton’s administration, she served with great distinction from January 1997 to January 2001.

Her unique family history and academic and professional experiences give her a unique perspective on the subject of her book, the role of faith in international diplomacy.  Because of her childhood experiences, she also has special insight into what a privilege it s to live in a free and democratic society.

Secretary Albright’s book is dedicated to “those of every nation and faith who defend liberty, build peace, dispel ignorance, fight poverty, and seek justice.”  Secretary Albright weaves this dedication, and her personal family history, into a scholarly but easily readable narrative of the role of faith in the earliest years of colonial America, through the founding of the Republic and through to the challenges of international diplomacy in a nuclear age.

She discusses separately and together the roles of religious belief and morality.  Her definition of what is moral as essentially that which “we associate with good:  life, liberty, justice, prosperity, health, and peace of mind.”  She describes these characteristics as the opposite of “death, repression, lawlessness, poverty, illness, and fear.”

She worries about the dangers and challenges resulting from the increase in religious passions throughout the world.  She shares the wisdom of religious scholars that effective diplomacy requires that government leaders become more knowledgeable about the faiths and cultures of the countries with whom we interact.  She believes such knowledge is essential in our endeavors to work toward reconciliation rather than toward armed conflict.  Even as she identifies herself as an optimist, she worries “the prospect of a nuclear bomb detonated by terrorists in purported service to the Almighty is a nightmare that may one day come true.”

The Mighty and the Almighty is a goldmine for those who want a brief history of the role of religious conflict on the founding of some of the earliest American colonies, about the religious perspectives of our first four Presidents, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Because there is no way to do more than touch the surface of the issues raised by Secretary Albright.  It is wonderful material for further posts.