The Hillary Doctrine

By Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach | Newsweek, March 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Hillary Doctrine


Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach, Newsweek


In a time of momentous change in the world, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sets out on her most heartfelt mission: to put women and girls at the forefront of the new world order.

Hillary Clinton seemed to be in a rare moment of repose while the Middle East erupted. She'd just returned from a surprise trip to Yemen and now sat for 30 minutes against a blue backdrop in the State Department's Washington broadcast studio as reports streamed in of Libya's violent crackdown on its own people.

But Clinton was far from a passive observer. She was in energetic discussion on the Egyptian news site Masrawy.com, where her presence excited a stream of questions--more than 6,500 in three days--from young people across Egypt. "We hope," she said, "that as Egypt looks at its own future, it takes advantage of all of the people's talents"--Clinton shorthand for including women. She had an immediate answer when a number of questioners suggested that her persistent references to women's rights constituted American meddling in Egyptian affairs: "If a country doesn't recognize minority rights and human rights, including women's rights, you will not have the kind of stability and prosperity that is possible."

The Web chat was only one of dozens of personal exchanges Clinton has committed to during the three months since Tunisia's unrest set off a political explosion whose end is not yet in sight. At every step, she has worked to connect the Middle East's hunger for a new way forward with her categorical imperative: the empowerment of women. Her campaign has begun to resonate in unlikely places. In the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, where women cannot travel without male permission or drive a car, a grandson of the Kingdom's founding monarch (Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud) last month denounced the way women are "economically and socially marginalized" in Arab countries.

"I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century," Clinton recently told NEWSWEEK during another rare moment relaxing on a couch in the comfortable sitting room of her offices on the State Department's seventh floor, her legs propped up in front of her. "We see women and girls across the world who are oppressed and violated and demeaned and degraded and denied so much of what they are entitled to as our fellow human beings."

Clinton is paying particular attention to whether women's voices are heard within the local groups calling for and leading change in the Middle East. "You don't see women in pictures coming from the demonstrations and the opposition in Libya," she told NEWSWEEK late last week, adding that "the role and safety of women will remain one of our highest priorities." As for Egypt, she said she was heartened by indications that women would be included in the formation of the new government. "We believe that women were in Tahrir Square, and they should be part of the decision-making process. If [the Egyptians] are truly going to have a democracy, they can't leave out half the population."

"I have had quite an experience over the last three months," is how Clinton characterizes the stamina requirements of an amped-up shuttle diplomacy. Two years into her tenure as America's 67th secretary of state, she has out-traveled every one of her predecessors, with 465,000 air miles and 79 countries already behind her. Her Boeing 757's cabin, stocked with a roll-out bed, newspapers, and a corner humidifier, now serves as another home as she flies between diplomatic hot spots, tackling the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tensions with Iran and North Korea, the Arab-Israeli peace process, and, now, the serial Middle East upheavals. She is, it seems, everywhere at once, crossing time zones and defying jet lag, though signs of exhaustion--a hoarse voice, bleary eyes--slip through. (A recent 19-hour "day trip" to Mexico landed her at Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base well after 2 a. …

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