The main goal of a recent NYT piece, which had a lot of unattributed quotes, seems to have been to show that Hillary’s experience during the Clinton presidency was less than impressive and certainly not what she and Bill have recently claimed. And though the piece disproves at least part of its own thesis by listing impressive achievements of Senator Clinton during her White House years, it also seems intentionally written to omit certain facts and obscure or deny certain other demonstrable truths from that time period.
What even the New York Times Gives Hillary credit for:
First, let’s start with what the piece admits: As First Lady Hillary Clinton had an outstanding record of defending the rights of women, including a landmark trip to China. (link)
Her role mostly involved what diplomats call "soft power" — converting cold war foes into friends, supporting nonprofit work and good-will endeavors, and pressing her agenda on women’s rights, human trafficking and the expanded use of microcredits, tiny loans to help individuals in poor countries start small businesses.
...The foreign policy achievement most often credited to Mrs. Clinton came in 1995, with her speech to the United Nations conference on women in Beijing, where she declared that "human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights." She also tangled with Chinese officials, she said, and refused to bow to pressure to soften her remarks.
"She had a good balance of being firm on these issues, even if they clearly covered Chinese sins, but also understanding the need for good relations with China," said Winston Lord, then the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, who briefed and accompanied her on the trip.
These are not the only achievements that could have been lauded. They could have talked more about her work in Northern Ireland, or children's issues, and several other topics.
Something the NYT omitted: Hillary is "scary smart" and does her homework
But to get the full context or Hillary’s potential as an advisor, one has to understand just how smart Hillary is, even in a room full of other smart people. Larry Johnson, who is widely respected on intelligence issues recently put it this way (link)
She is an attractive 60-year-old woman. But that was not what stood out for me. She is scary smart.
I was not alone at the briefing–there were two other participants who are well-known experts on the Middle East and Iraq. We had not submitted our briefings in advance. We made our respective presentations and had a genuine, in-depth discussion about viable options. She asked us tough questions and could think on her feet without having to look at notes. She focused on what could be done to achieve U.S. interests in Iraq without bleeding our country’s treasury and military.
As we talked about the limits and efficacy of using military assets to go after terrorist targets, the Senator brought up the book, Not a Good Day to Die by Sean Naylor. She did more than bring it up. She described in detail the challenges that special operations military forces actually face on the ground. I was stunned. This is not an easy book to read. It is an excellent work and provides enormous detail on special operations and CIA military activities in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda. But it is tough sledding for folks not familiar with military terminology. She had it nailed, and it was not a mere pre-planned politician’s trick. She knew what she was talking about.
Obviously, this is an example of more than just being smart. Even a smart person would have to do the hard work of reading and learning arcane details in order to perform so impressively. But this description of Senator Clinton is nothing new. Thie goes back to the days before she met Bill and includes her impressiveness as a student at Wellesley. And she also outshined even Bill at Yale Law School. Try as they might, those who attack Senator Clinton cannot explain this away. For example Steven Stark, also a Yale Law School alum, wrote this (link):
The press's assumption about Hillary has always been that she's the power behind the throne: the smart, savvy one at Yale Law School, who got better grades but postponed her own political career for the benefit of her husband. David Brock wrote an earlier biography, The Education of Hillary Rodham, that advanced this thesis, making the claim that Hillary, not Bill, was the leading light of the twosome.
There's only one problem with this theory: there isn't evidence to support it. Love him or hate him, Bill is a political phenomenon.
Then in the same piece, Stark has to admit that, contrary to what he as just written, Hillary was impressive at Wellesley. So he then tries to minimize the impressiveness:
It's true that, according to the Hillary myth, Hillary's classmates were wowed by her at Wellesley and that she gave what they considered to be a stirring graduation address when she left. But giving a great graduation address is not a qualification for the presidency. And, even if it were, it would have to be a lot better speech than Hillary's, which, to be kind, has not stood the test of time as well as, say, the Gettysburg Address.
Then comes Stark’s efforts to admit the truth and then minimize it with respect to her performance at Yale Law School:
It's also true that Hillary was an outstanding student at Yale Law School. But so was everyone else -- that's what Yale Law School attracts. (Okay, I'm bragging; I went there, too.) As with almost everyone else who went to Yale Law, she's smart and quick on her feet, which is why she does well in debates.
Did you catch that? Stark admits that Hillary stood out at Yale Law School. And he also has to admit that everyone at Yale Law School is smart. But in order to minimize her performance there he has to resort to verbal sleight of hand and to imply that standing out, even among all the other smart students is not really impressive. Although the students at Yale Law School are an impressive lot, certainly not all of them are outstanding students, as Stark admits Hillary to have been, among all the other impressive students.
All of this does not necessarily make Hillary qualified to be president, especially when she is compared to other outstanding Law School students like Barack Obama. But it does explain why Bill Clinton might have gone to her for advice both while Arkansas governor and as US President. Again, Stark has to admit that she advised Bill when he was President and then try to minimize that:
Since then, Hillary has been one of Bill's closest advisers. But if that, too, were a presidential qualification, we could elect Dick Morris or James Carville (no thanks).
A Defining moment that the NYT piece obscures and denies.
Of course, the NYT piece specifically attacked the idea that Hillary was one of Bill’s closest advisors, so simply quoting someone who says this is not enough to prove that President Clinton turned to her for advice, even if she is "scary smart." They gave her some credit but failed to provide enough context or admit certain other important facts.
Here is one snippet that attempts to characterize her actions as "acted as a spokeswoman for American interests rather than as a negotiator" in what seems to be an effort to minimize her executive experience, specifically with respect to Bosnia and Kosovo. (link):
In visits to Bosnia and Kosovo after the American-led bombing of Serbia, she entered war zones before officials believed it was safe for her husband to go and acted as a spokeswoman for American interests rather than as a negotiator. Mrs. Clinton had become a champion of the bombing campaign, and many officials — including Madeleine K. Albright and Richard Holbrooke in the administration and Tony Blair, then Britain’s prime minister — turned to her at times to stiffen Mr. Clinton’s resolve to take on Serbia.
More on that effort to minimize her executive role in Bill's administration comes elsewhere in the piece (link):
She was not independently judging intelligence, for the most part, or mediating the data, egos and agendas of a national security team. And, in the end, she did not feel or process the weight of responsibility.
Both these quotes might seem like fair assessments of her role until one sees the broader context. That context is hinted at by mention of Albright and Holbrooke but is far more easily understood when General Wes Clark’s role is added in. One place to get more info is this piece by Fred Kaplan defending General Clark against a 2003 attack by Peter Boyer. (You can also read a pdf here in an old piece of mine explaining some of those same details.)
In the Kaplan piece, it becomes clear that Clark had joined with Albright and Holbrooke against the joint chiefs, who opposed intervention in Kosovo. In the piece, Hillary is not mentioned but she had a crucial role in all this, one which required "independently judging intelligence, for the most part, or mediating the data, egos and agendas of a national security team." Once one gets the fuller context, this quote from the NYT piece is completely different in meaning (link):
Mrs. Clinton had become a champion of the bombing campaign, and many officials — including Madeleine K. Albright and Richard Holbrooke in the administration and Tony Blair, then Britain’s prime minister — turned to her at times to stiffen Mr. Clinton’s resolve to take on Serbia.
"Bill, you’re the president," was a refrain that several administration officials said she used when Mr. Clinton was torn between his advisers.
Remember, this was coming at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. At the time Bill didn’t know whether to side with Defense Secretary William Cohen and the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs or with Secretary of State Albright and Holbrooke and Clark. And, as even the NYT piece clearly admits, Hillary stepped in to push him into siding with the State Department and Albright, Holbrooke and Clark. Her role in this explains why Albright, Holbrooke and Clark are all avidly supporting her. And it also explains the curious Holbrooke statement recently quoted here about Hillary being more willing to use force than Bill.
The idea of a "co-presidency" of the Clintons has been widely criticized. And while Hillary did not sit in on all the cabinet meetings, it is clear that even though she was busy working on various projects for which she deserves credit particularly from liberal Democrats, she was also an intelligent voice that Bill turned to for advice at crucial times, even during the Lewinsky scandal.
No doubt many on the left who support other candidates will complain that this is just another example of Hillary's "warmongering ways." But these same people will complain that there was no intervention in Rwanda and other potential genocides during the Clinton presidency, failing to accept that, unless Hillary had stepped in, there would probably have been no intervention in Kosovo either.