THE BLOG

Hillary's Unprecedented Experience on the World Stage

12/14/2007 03:19 pm 15:19:10 | Updated May 25, 2011

Anyone who doubts Hillary Clinton's impact on the world stage might want to check with the top political leaders in Northern Ireland, who cite her work to end sectarian violence there and help secure a lasting peace.

Anyone who doubts Hillary Clinton's international experience might consult with democracy activists in the Slovak Republic, who remember when she stood in solidarity with them and publicly challenged their new government's suppression of civil society.

They might talk to women - from the Philippines to Latin America to the Middle East - who can vote, own property, or go to school, because Hillary Clinton helped start a global women's movement for women's rights. Or they might travel to Africa and Asia, where Hillary Clinton visited countless remote villages to show how the poorest of the poor could become entrepreneurial and self-sufficient when given access to small loans.

In the heat of presidential campaign politics, candidates on both sides dismiss a First Lady's work as insignificant to foreign policy. But in Hillary Clinton's case, such a presumption is not only wrong, it trivializes the important global issues of human rights, democracy, and international development that are so central to strengthening American values and influence overseas and are hallmarks of her exhaustive work around the world.

As First Lady and now as a two-term senator who represents the most ethnically diverse state in the nation and who sits on the Armed Services Committee, Hillary Clinton has become a fixture on international issues over the past 15 years. She has traveled to more than 80 countries, going from barrios to rural villages to meetings with heads of state. She has consulted with dozens of world leaders - Nelson Mandela, King Abdullah, Tony Blair among them -- on matters as diverse as America and NATO's roles in Kosovo, eradicating poverty in the Third World, and the plight of women living under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Today, she is one of the most influential voices in the world on human rights, democracy, and the promotion of a "new internationalism" in foreign affairs that calls for a balanced use of military force, diplomacy, and social development to strengthen American interests and security globally.

Whether working to support civil society in Russia, pushing for programs to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa, or flying into war-torn Bosnia to nurture a new peace agreement, she has carried the message and face of American democracy to some of the most challenging regions of the globe.

Her historic speech at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 not only galvanized women around the world, it helped spawn a movement that led to advances politically, legally, economically, and socially for women in many countries over the next decade. Among other initiatives, she spearheaded the Clinton Administration's efforts to combat the global crisis of human trafficking. She persuaded the First Ladies of the Americas to use their collective power to eradicate measles and improve girls' education throughout the western Hemisphere. And she is widely credited with helping women in Kuwait finally win the right to vote.

Hillary Clinton understood early on that America could not export democracy and freedom without also winning the hearts and minds of people on society's margins and seeding American values from the ground up. (One need only look at the rise of Islamic extremism in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere to appreciate the importance of that insight). To that end, she became one of the world's leading advocates for development programs like microfinance to create self-sufficiency among the world's poor; for education efforts to lift successive generations out of poverty and ignorance; for cost-effective health care programs to rid the world of deadly diseases that plague entire continents and stall social and economic progress.

She also knew that America had a unique role in the world as a beacon of freedom - and pluralism. She promoted religious tolerance from Morocco to Pakistan and convened the leaders of the world's major religions in Istanbul to discuss ways to fight religious extremism; she supported Protestant and Catholic women working on peace at the grass roots in northern Ireland; she challenged repressive heads of state in central Europe and central Asia who trampled on newly won democratic rights in their countries.

And with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, she helped launch the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative, in which the United States trained women in the new democracies to become leaders in all sectors of their societies.

While American First Ladies historically have made great (and often overlooked) contributions to our nation, Hillary Clinton's wide-ranging experience on international issues as First Lady is unprecedented. Indeed, she is the only First Lady to have delivered foreign policy addresses at major gatherings of the United Nations, the World Bank, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the World Economic Forum.

Over the past seven years, she has amplified her experience through her work in the Senate on military and national security issues, leading efforts to combat nuclear proliferation, end the genocide in Darfur, and ensure that American troops are properly equipped when they go to war and properly cared for when they return home.

The world knows Hillary Clinton. Moreover, the world respects her.