Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Foreign Policy

So, Obama has been attacking Clinton left and right on her lack of Foreign Policy experience. In fact, his foreign policy advisor, Susan Rice, said that BOTH Obama and Clinton lack experience (amazingly, she is NOT the one who resigned), not exactly a ringing endorsement. But, Obama has been blasting Clinton on her experience as First Lady, as if she did NOTHING in the White House but sit around and eat bonbons. This man cannot even call a meeting of his subcommittee on Europe and NATO, and he is criticising HER? Yeah. Okay. The article below is just one area in which Senator Clinton has demonstrated her (vastly) superior abilities in foreign policy:

Est. 1928 • March 5-11, 2008 • Vol 81 No. 10 • The USA's most widely read Irish American Newspaper
Hillary's Irish Legacy
Prominent backers cite relevant role in peace process
By Ray O'Hanlon

In early February 1992, as the race for the American presidency was hitting high gear, Mary Robinson made the first official visit to Belfast by an Irish president.

Robinson had made her way north to meet with community workers and women's groups.

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, the DUP's Nigel Dodds, refused to meet with Robinson.

The snub was par for the course at the time but it was by far the lesser of two things that would overshadow Robinson's groundbreaking trip.

While she was still in town a loyalist gun attack on the Sinn Féin office on the Falls Road resulted in the deaths of three people and the serious wounding of a fourth.

All in all, it had not been a good day in what was the second month of the third year of the fourth decade of the modern troubles.

Though few knew, or even sensed it at the time, the winds of change were, nevertheless, already blowing in Northern Ireland.

That change would be internally driven, but also given crucial impetus from across the Atlantic.

Three years and some months after that grim February day, Belfast would be readying itself for the visit of another president, an American one named Clinton who would travel with his wife, a first lady named Hillary.

Hillary Clinton would share Mary's Robinson's interest in the empowerment of women and in giving support to those women's groups who were working for a better future for all the people of the North.

For years, the troubles had been kept at a distance by Washington and given only sporadic attention by the U.S. media. The efforts by people in Northern Ireland to bring normality to their shattered community generally got short shrift.

Atrocities and the finger pointing that followed made headlines of course. American opinion writers mostly followed the British government's view that the troubles were generated and perpetrated by terrorists, full stop.

But even as the Clintons, president and first lady, generated entirely novel stories from what had been a place of despair, their effort to view the North's problems in an entirely new light also drew criticism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Given what passed for normality in 1992 and what has happened in Northern Ireland in the last decade and a half, the recent criticism of Hillary Clinton's election campaign references to, and claims concerning her specific role in bringing peace and a working political normality to the North seem of relatively little consequence.

But Clinton is not just reminiscing from the comfort of retirement. She is running for her husband's old job; as such, her words carry weight and are sifted and parsed in every political quarter.

Correspondingly, any criticism of those words is taken to heart by her allies and supporters.

The criticism has been, thus far, confined to press reports and comment. None of her rivals in either her own party, or from the Republican side, have taken issue with statements made on the stump by Clinton that portray her role in securing peace in Ireland as being active and engaged and a good deal more than what Americans generally expect from a first lady.

"I am quite surprised that anyone would suggest that Hillary Clinton did not perform important foreign policy work as first lady. I can state from firsthand experience that she played a positive role for over a decade in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland," said former SDLP leader and Nobel laureate John Hume is a statement responding to critical press reports.

"She visited Northern Ireland, met with very many people and gave very decisive support to the peace process. In private she made countless calls and contacts, speaking to leaders and opinion makers on all sides, urging them to keep moving forward," said Hume.

This would appear to be an important point. Press-based criticism of Senator Clinton has been based on the public record, and what has been recorded by both Clintons in their respective autobiographies.

Hillary, some would certainly argue, knows more than what has been made public thus far about what went on behind the scenes as the peace process gathered steam.

"Anyone criticizing her foreign policy involvement should look at her very active and positive approach to Northern Ireland and speak with the people of Northern Ireland who have the highest regard for her and are very grateful for her very active support for our peace process," Hume concluded in his defense of Hillary's Irish legacy.

Not surprisingly, some of the senator's most vocal defenders have been women activists from Northern Ireland.

In a series of statements compiled by labor and fair employment advocate Inez McCormack, Clinton was lauded for her "decade-long support" of the peace process.

"We believe it is important for others to know the pivotal role Mrs. Clinton played in helping us in Northern Ireland at critical junctures in the peace process. She supported us over many years and we will always be grateful to her," said McCormack

"Hillary Clinton took risks for peace in asking me and others to bring women and communities from both traditions to affirm their capacity to work for common purpose," McCormack said.

"She used her immense influence to give women like me space to develop this work and validated it every step of the way. This approach is now taken for granted but it wasn't then. She told us that if we take risks for peace, she would stay with us on that journey. In my experience, it took hard work, attention to detail and a commitment of time and energy which she delivered steadily and where needed over the last decade," McCormack added.

Similar testimonies have been forthcoming from other women, Protestant and Catholic. They include prominent community worker Elaine Crozier, Baroness May Blood, a member of the British House of Lords, Geraldine McAteer, chief executive of the West Belfast Partnership Board, Avila Kilmurray, head of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, Patricia Lewsley, former member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and currently Commissioner for Children and Young People, and Joanna McVey, former CEO of the Fermanagh-published Impartial Reporter newspaper and chair of the Fermanagh Trust.

"She turned empathy into action. Her iconic address to the first Vital Voices conference in Belfast in 1998 was truly inspirational and her ongoing support for women's role in peace building and the transformation of economic and political life in the North was manifested through other initiatives and her own personal involvement," stated McVey in her statement.

That 1998 visit to the North was just one of seven undertaken by Clinton between 1995and 2004, both with president Clinton and on her own. In addition, Clinton has hosted numerous visitors from both communities in the North on American soil.

A precise accounting of Clinton's visits to Ireland and her work for Irish peace forms the basis for a book being published later this year by Stella O'Leary, Washington. D.C.-based president of the Irish American Democrats lobby group.

O'Leary has been one of Hillary Clinton's most fervent backers over the years and in a statement to the Echo took particular exception to a critical column penned by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann that took issue with recent campaign statements made by Clinton about her peace process initiatives.

The column, headlined "Hillary Had No Role in Irish Peace," characterized the statement as being tantamount to Walter Mitty-like dreams.

Anything but, countered O'Leary

"It will come as a huge surprise to the Irish, North and South, to hear Dick

Morris and Eileen McGann's claim that Senator Hillary Clinton played no role in the Irish peace process," said O'Leary.

"Starting with the Christmas visit to Belfast in 1995, Hillary Clinton recognized that the participation of women was critical in bringing about

an end to the conflict, and she set about inspiring women to become politically involved," O'Leary said.

"The meeting with Mrs. (Joyce) McCartan was a prelude to Senator Clinton opening a larger dialogue with women leaders on both sides of the border. At her prompting, the White House arranged for a delegation of American women leaders to meet in Belfast with their Irish counterparts and the outcome of that meeting was the Vital Voices Conference in 1998.

"As a result of that conference, Northern Ireland women became much more involved in running for elective office and when the time came, the Women's Party were full participants with George Mitchell in the peace negotiations.

"Morris and McGann do not carry a single quote from any leader in Ireland on Senator Clinton's contribution to the solution of the Irish conflict. Nor do they carry a quote from Senator Mitchell. I challenge them to find one political leader, of any significance in Ireland, who does not agree that Senator Clinton's involvement with the women of Northern Ireland, and her advocacy for children damaged by the conflict, played a crucial role in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement," O'Leary said.

"Morris and McGann mention a few of the people Senator Clinton met on her visits to Ireland and scoff at the importance of those meetings."

O'Leary said that in her forthcoming book she would be including tributes to Clinton for her role in the peace process from individuals including Bertie Ahern, Cherie Blair, Gerry Adams, Bono and John Hume.

"Based on the tributes I received, the people of Ireland are profoundly grateful to Senator Clinton for taking an interest and giving her time to inspire us to pull together and build a better life for the people of Northern Ireland.

"If Morris and McGann are truly interested in knowing whether Senator Clinton?s involvement made a difference in Ireland, then I suggest that they consult some Irish people. The response will be an outpouring of gratitude, admiration, respect and love and, most of all, a heartfelt wish that Senator Clinton become the next President of the United States," O'Leary concluded.

Some observers argue that if Hillary Rodham Clinton had been a first lady in what most Americans would see as being the traditional mould, her recent allusion to foreign policy experience based on her Irish peace work would have a hard time being accepted for gospel.

But, it is widely accepted, she did not fit that mould. From the very start, the Clintons presented themselves as the "two for the price of one" presidency, a political double act in which both Clintons would have an input into White House policy.

Bill Clinton has alluded on the campaign trail to his wife's very particular sharing role in his Irish intervention, and there are many others who appear ready and willing to do the same.

Said one journalist who covered the Clinton trips to Ireland and who preferred not to be identified for this report: "She did have meaningful meetings and did keep people's feet to the fire. She took pains to go to both sides and to meet both sides and bring a sort of woman's touch to it."

Given the nature of the response from O'Leary, Hume, McCormack and others, the attack on Hillary Clinton's Irish legacy has clearly caused upset.

But the upset will pass.

It will pass for no other reason then the fact that Irish American supporters of the Clinton candidacy are paying less attention to the work of former years and are now keenly anticipating what might transpire for a much changed Ireland should a second President Clinton ponder the island from behind the Oval Office desk.

This story appeared in the issue of March 5-11, 2008, http://www.irishecho.com/newspaper/story.cfm?id=18626

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