Henri Barkey and Tara Sonenshine are right in observing in this space
("Global View of Democrats") that the next US president will have the
critical task of raising America's credibility around the world from
the depths to which it has sunk.
The authors argue that Senator Obama is the best candidate to restore
America's standing and authority based on his "transformative
personality, personal history and appeal."
Here's why they are wrong.
While personal appeal and oratorical skill are certainly helpful in building diplomatic
ties and conveying goodwill, they aren't a substitute for strong relationships and demonstrated leadership on the international stage. And as valuable as Senator Obama's Kenyan roots and childhood in Indonesia are, these experiences are not, in fact, indicators of diplomatic skill or the knowledge of global affairs needed to navigate international relations in our treacherous world.
By contrast, Hillary Clinton has been practicing public diplomacy for
years and is widely respected around the world for her longtime
commitment to international development, human rights and America's
During the years that Hillary Clinton served as first lady, she
became a symbol of America's human face and the values we cherish as
a people. In an unprecedented role, she traveled to more than eighty
countries to highlight the importance of investing in people. She
gave voice to those living on the margins of society, particularly
women and children, but also the poor. She put a spotlight on US
development programs that offered solutions to pressing problems like
infectious diseases, illiteracy, and economic marginalization. She
advanced important causes -- from microcredit to global health
initiatives -- with an array of foreign leaders, international
organizations, and grass roots activists. And she also talked to
Americans about why these investments were critical to expanding our
influence and enhancing our own security.
Hillary Clinton traveled to places no first lady had ever gone, and
where presidents can't go. Visits to some of the most troubled places
around the world certainly offered her a measure of exposure and
acculturation that she would carry with her to the presidency.
While her oratory may not be as soaring as Senator Obama's, her words helped galvanize a global women's rights movement. Her now famous speech in Beijing at the UN Fourth World
Conference on Women in 1995 -- which declared that "human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights" -- became a call to action to millions of women who joined together in a common purpose - the struggle for women's rights and human rights on a global scale.
Given her status as one of the world's most visible champions of
these causes, it's not surprising that thousands
waited through the night to hear her speak in the Philippines; that
men and women stood ten deep along the streets in Mongolia to salute
her when she traveled there; that the residents of Soweto danced in
the streets awaiting her visit to their township.
Indeed, Hillary is today a familiar and beloved presence in many
parts of the world. A street in a housing project where she helped
squatters in South Africa was named after her. So was a clinic in
Eritrea, a village in Bangladesh, and a school in Romania. When she
arrived in Nicaragua after a devastating hurricane had hit, women
held up a banner in Spanish that said: "Welcome to Hillary, the
ambassador to the poor."
Perhaps as relevant today is her stature in the Muslim world. Having
traveled extensively in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast
Asia, she conducted vigorous outreach to diverse religious groups and
convened leaders of different faiths to work together on religious
tolerance and ways to combat extremism.
In 1999, a plaque was dedicated at the US Agency for International
Development to recognize Hillary's leadership on global issues.
It said, "May all who pass through these portals
recognize the invaluable contributions to worldwide development made
by the First Lady of the US, Hillary Clinton." The Bush
Administration had the plaque removed. Plaque or not, her legacy around the
world endures in the hearts and minds of millions of people for whom
she was an embodiment of America at its very best. That
is what Hillary Clinton would bring to the presidency.