National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Hillary: A Champion Of Women, Globally

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s tour-de-force in the confirmation hearing on her appointment as Secretary of State before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee provided a picture window into the scope and depth of the transformative power the in-coming Obama administration will bring globally.

The 65-page transcript of the hearing is worth reading in full, a veritable textbook on American foreign policy, on how the new administration promises to reverse the incredibly damaging worldwide effect of eight years of George W. Bush lunacy.

Clinton may have preferred to be president, but in her role as Secretary of State, she will become an incredible force for good for the planet, hands down the most influential American woman since Eleanor Roosevelt, and maybe ever.

That became clear, like a sudden powerful explosion of light, through the course of the hearing on Monday.

Her phrase, “smart power,” was a barely disguised code for an approach aimed at mending every stupid move that the Bush administration made. “Smart power,” she explained, is an approach rooted in diplomacy, dialogue, strengthened alliances and economic development.

While heated disagreements will most certainly arise as the incredibly difficult job of exercising American influence in the world goes forward, the core fundamental approach articulated by Ms. Clinton on Monday represented an unmistakable correction of ideologically-driven Bush errors, and a pathway to global harmony, prosperity, the empowerment of individuals, of democracies and of the rule of law.

Most telling was her dialogue with California Senator Barbara Boxer on the oppression of women and girls. Ms. Clinton accepted the charge of being the world’s champion of equal rights for women.

“Of particular concern for me is the plight of women and girls, who comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unschooled, unfed, and unpaid,” she said. “If half the world’s population remains vulnerable to economic, political, legal and social marginalization, our hope of advancing democracy and prosperity is in serious jeopardy. The United States must be an unequivocal and unwavering voice in support of women’s rights in every country on every continent.”

Later, she said, “It is heartbreaking beyond words that young girls are attacked on their way to school by Taliban sympathizers and members who do not want young women to be educated…and this is something that results all too often in violence against these women, both within their families and from the outside. This is not culture. This is not custom. This is criminal.”

“It will be my hope to persuade more governments, as I have attempted to do since I spoke at Beijing on these issues 13 and some years ago, that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way,” she added. “We’re going to have a very active women’s office, a very active office on trafficking. We’re going to be speaking out consistently and strongly against discrimination and oppression of women and slavery, in particular, because I think that is in keeping not only with American values, as we all recognize, but American national security interests as well.”

She concluded, “Even the most conservative historians have said that if women in the world could be allowed to live up to their potential it would bring the whole world forward. A lot of the problems we face really come from this mindset that half of the population doesn’t matter and can be abused. And they’re ignored or hurt and can’t contribute. So I think it’s a key matter.”

In the 1990s, the U.S. State Department and Agency for International Development sought advance the overall democratization process in the Third World by empowering women through the microfinancing of women-owned businesses and the proliferation of family health and planning clinics and related institutions.

It was incredibly regressive for the Bush administration to put hypocritical and moralistic constraints on the development of those kinds of programs, for eight years crippling their capacity to advance global human rights and even U.S. national security interests.

Now, Hillary Clinton stands to change all that, poised to become perhaps the planet’s greatest ever champion of the empowerment of, and equal rights for women. Not a shabby assignment.