Hillary Clinton, State Feminist? | The Nation


Hillary Clinton, State Feminist?

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Still, many experts believe that Clinton has done a great deal for women. “She’s made the issues for women much more central,” says Anju Malhotra, principal adviser on gender and rights with UNICEF. “Those things are no longer these little dinky side projects.” Still, it’s hard to measure her achievements in this area, since even with her ample support of women’s issues, progress is slow. “You can’t turn around things that are very embedded and that are wrong for women in four years,” Malhotra says. “Global rates on things take ten years to change.” 

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Tara McKelvey
Tara McKelvey, a 2011 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret...

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Data on child marriage, which is measured by the percentage of 20- to 24-year-old women who were married by age 18 in a particular country, show how long it takes to improve the lives of women and girls. In Nicaragua, for example, the decline in child marriage over a five-year period from 2001 to 2006 was just three percentage points, from 43 to 40 percent, according to Malhotra. The next review of trends will not be released by UNICEF until 2014; at that point, the impact of Clinton’s efforts to fight child marriage will be easier to measure.

Meanwhile, some changes in the world have made the situation harder for women. “US foreign policy creates conditions for enormous amounts of violence against women,” says Breakthrough’s Mallika Dutt. “It is ironic—I don’t think [Clinton] would have been able to get much traction on women’s issues if she hadn’t been seen as being tough in these other spaces.” Many believe that Clinton has struck the right balance overall as secretary, achieving enough good in the world for women and girls to offset the harm America is inflicting. But it may be years before her real legacy becomes known, as the fate of people in Libya, Pakistan and other countries makes it clear whether she managed to help women and girls and also promote US interests through her brand of realpolitik, or whether the US interventions set the whole society back. 

Today, one thing is certain: Clinton has commanded the global spotlight. During the Bush administration, people were barely aware of America’s top diplomat. At the time, Donald Rumsfeld and other defense officials took center stage. That dynamic has changed, says the Brookings Institution’s Thomas Wright, adding: “I don’t think anyone’s overshadowed Hillary.”

“We felt as if there was no daylight between Obama, [Defense] Secretary Panetta, Admiral Mullen [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and Secretary Clinton,” says Ellen Tauscher, who served as under secretary of state for arms control and international security during Obama’s first term. “When they sat in the Situation Room and made decisions, they listened respectfully. And that sense of cooperation projected to the rest of the two buildings, State and Defense.”

Not everyone is sold on Clinton’s approach, though. “There is no question that the close relationship between State and the Defense Department has been good for Hillary Clinton,” says Gordon Adams, a former Office of Management and Budget associate director who is now a professor at American University. “The question is whether it has empowered State—and the jury is still out.”

For Clinton, the emphasis on hard power was strategic. Colin Powell floundered in his dealings with Rumsfeld and soon found himself marginalized. In contrast, Clinton cultivated friendships with defense secretaries and became one of Obama’s most trusted advisers. I ask Ellen Tauscher if she thinks there might be a downside to the current close relationship between State and Defense. She laughs loudly. “No,” she says. “There can’t be anything bad to having a secretary have such an important voice. She brought enormous credibility to the mission and helped to project the power of the State Department.”

With boundless enthusiasm, Clinton has shaken things up in Washington, at least stylistically. And she certainly put her listeners at the Council on Foreign Relations in a good mood. After her speech, she made her way through the room, gossiping with old friends and shaking hands with other people. Smiling and waving, she looked like someone on the campaign trail.

Robert Dreyfuss bids “Good Riddance to Warmonger Hillary Clinton.”

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