From First Lady to the Most Powerful Woman in the World?: Why Hillary Clinton's Entry in the Presidential Campaign is a Significant Event in US Politics
--- Manoj Saxena
Hillary Clinton delivers an address at the Nashua Community College on November 2, 2014 in Nashua, New Hampshire (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
One of the most significant political developments of the year occurred this Sunday when Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her Presidential bid for the 2016 elections in the United States of America. It is confirmed that the former Secretary of State will be vying for the Presidential nomination on behalf of the Democratic Party and—if she is approved in the contest that will follow—may very well be running for the most powerful political position in the world. Hillary Clinton is already one of the most distinguished diplomat-officials in the world and the idea of a former US First Lady and a former Secretary of State running for President is noteworthy in its own right. Also, in terms of women in American politics her only rival counterparts in history may be Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright.
The video that confirms her announcement is no less dramatic. It shows a number of struggling but hardworking and well-intentioned American citizens from diverse backgrounds looking forward to a better life. The people in the video represent different segments of the population ranging from small business owners, single mothers, young students, home-owners, and retired senior citizens. The aspirations of the LGBT community are also represented by a gay couple in the video. The message then shows Hillary Clinton announcing her intentions to run for President in order to champion the cause of the great American middle-class. She echoes the values that the United States of America has traditionally held dear, such as family and hope. Overall, it is a bold and optimistic message signaling that she has finally arrived to answer some of the most pressing issues ailing the country today.
Her tenure as the US Secretary of State is notable and has earned her much respect but also some controversy. As the first US Secretary of State to visit Myanmar since John Foster Dulles her bonding with the inimitable Aung San Suu Kyi and bold advocacy for democratic reforms in the South Asian country are among the highlights of her career. Her stance on terrorism emanating from Pakistan was even clearer. As she addressed a joint press conference with the Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in October 2011, Clinton dryly remarked that 'you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors.' The candor with which this reference to the Haqqani Network—which has targeted Afghans, Americans, and Indians in Afghanistan—was made is especially remarkable given the amount of tension that existed between the two countries at the time.
Clinton's stance on other foreign policy issues such as American intervention in Syria, Libya, and Russia was also seen to be more hawkish and decisive than most within the Obama administration—including President Barack Obama himself. She is further credited with spearheading a US-led effort to bring Iran onto the negotiating table to discuss both nuclear weapons and sanctions. These discussions may have already partially succeeded in breaking a longstanding deadlock although the future of these negotiations is still unclear given the complexity of Iran's relations with the West and vice-versa. That said, the progress made thus far was unthinkable just a few years ago. However, this progress in US-Iran relations may have also earned her the ire of both the pro-Israel and anti-Iran lobbies within Washington. How this plays out in her Presidential campaign is yet to be seen.
Her competition—at least as it appears for the moment—pales in comparison. From the Democratic Party she might have to contend with Elizabeth Warren, a longstanding stalwart and a fellow liberal. However, from the Republican Party there are more established potential players in the race such as the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Senator Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and—perhaps most importantly—Jeb Bush. Since her disagreements with the Obama administration are now out in the open the Republican side will have a harder time to fully associate many of President Obama's foreign policy decisions with her. This might give her more room to distance herself from some of the foreign policy mishaps during the Obama administration.
Hillary Clinton also has extensive campaign experience—having contested the 2008 elections against Barack Obama. The contacts that former President Bill Clinton and she have built over time will only help in the campaign effort. Perhaps her greatest advantage at the moment is that Condoleezza Rice—the formidable former US Secretary of State—has ruled out her bid for Presidency, choosing to stay on as a Professor at Stanford University instead. It is reasonable to assume that if the Republicans had fielded Rice as an alternative then Clinton's chances for an electoral victory in 2016 would have been drastically reduced. Her campaign bid to become the next American President has also been received with enthusiasm by influential European leaders including Nicolas Sarkozy and and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
In her memoir Hard Choices Clinton expresses admiration for President Obama but also some disillusionment with his indecisiveness. She expresses her desire to see the US evolve as a smart power with few adversaries and a great number of partners. Although democracies generally do not change policies overnight the role of an individual does matter in policy-making, especially if that individual happens to be the President of the United States of America. She may just get the chance to realize that dream if she manages to overcome the opposition from both the Democratic and the Republican contenders in order to hold the most powerful office in the world. And although the odds seem to be stacked in her favor for now that remains a big if. Much can, and will, change by 2016. But for now the entry of this time-tested, seasoned, and resourceful diplomat into the US Presidential campaign is a significant event in its own right.