Apr 23rd 2015

Three Encounters with Hillary

by Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a leading French philosopher and writer, and is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His works include Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism.

PARIS – It is Boston, July 2004. The setting is a downtown restaurant to which the editor Tina Brown has invited Hillary Clinton and a handful of notables, including Caroline Kennedy, filmmaker Michael Moore, and former Senator George McGovern. What is immediately striking is Clinton’s youthful appearance, bright laugh, and blue eyes that appear a little too round when she gazes at us with curiosity.

Sometimes her expression is briefly clouded by a streak of stifled pain, obstinate and not wholly contained. Five years earlier, she was the most humiliated wife in America, a woman whose private life was thrown open – fully and relentlessly – to public scrutiny. So she can talk national and international politics until she is blue in the face. She can sing the praises of John Kerry, whom her party has just nominated in an effort to deny George W. Bush a second term. And she can expound on her role as the junior senator from New York. Still, there persists an idea that I cannot push out of my head, and that I enter into the travel journal that I am writing for The Atlantic.

The idea is this: to avenge her husband and to take revenge on him, to wash away the stain on the family and show what an unblemished Clinton administration might look like, this woman will sooner or later be a candidate for the presidency of the United States. This idea brings to mind Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, published a year after the Senate acquitted her husband of perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, with its searing portrait of how indelible even an undeserved blot on one’s reputation can be. She will strive to enter the Oval Office – the theater of her inner, outer, and planetary misery – on her own terms. And the most likely outcome, my article will conclude, is that she will succeed.

Fast forward to Paris in May 2011. The senator from New York has become President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Her aura dominated the just-concluded G-8 summit hosted by France. It is ten in the evening, and I am waiting at the elevators in the lobby of the Hotel Westin with Mahmoud Jibril, one of the leaders of the Libyan insurrection. Jibril has made a special trip to plead on behalf of the civilians whom Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and his sons have promised to drown in rivers of blood.

“I thought you were in Libya!” she exclaims when she sees me. “I’ve just returned,” I respond, gesturing toward Jibril. “Really, hidden in a vegetable truck with him?” That triggers one of those great bursts of laughter that, as I noticed in Boston, raise her high cheekbones still higher. Then, suddenly serious, and accompanied by a man whom I notice for the first time and who turns out to be J. Christopher Stevens, the young US ambassador to Libya who will be murdered a little more than a year later, she leads Jibril to her suite for an interview.

When, after nearly an hour, Jibril reemerges, he is convinced that the conversation went badly. He grumbles that Clinton hardly opened her mouth, which he interprets to mean that his plea was not well received. In fact, Clinton was deeply moved by Jibril’s testimony, riveted by the horror of the regime’s tanks grinding toward Benghazi at that very moment. In the hours that follow, she convinces Obama not to bow to his anti-interventionist secretary of defense, Robert Gates.

She displays emotion and composure, I note. Her humanity and compassion are coupled with an acute sense of the iron discipline required for effective governance. These are the reflexes of an impeccable stateswoman.

By February 2012, the war in Libya is over, and I am wrapping up my documentary film about the conflict. I am in Washington, DC, in a wood-paneled conference room on the seventh floor of the Department of State’s headquarters, to gather Clinton’s recollections, as I had already done with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron. This is the moment for conclusions and perspective, the always-fascinating moment when the actors in the drama, who have sometimes operated in secret, turn up their last cards.

Clinton lends herself graciously to the exercise. She evokes her interview with Jibril, a conversation at the White House or the Elysée Palace. She remembers everything and regrets nothing. She feels that, in acting as she did, she was faithful to her most cherished values and beliefs. And she has no doubt that the West, in responding to the Arab League’s entreaty to intervene, avoided a replay of Srebrenica in North Africa.

What strikes me the most is that she sees, even then, the beginnings of the tribal conflicts and the coming contest among Islamists to outdo one another in fundamentalist purity. She worries about the early violations of human rights, particularly women’s rights, which she fears will multiply. She has no illusions that history turns out the way reason tells you it should. Time is needed, she says, to build a state and construct a democracy – time and a mixture of pragmatism and faith, of patience and audacity, of respect for others and regard for oneself.

Was this concern about “nation building” a warning? Was it her ideological contribution to an administration that, though she did not know it at the time, would continue without her? Was she laying down the broad strokes and ambition of her own presidency?

One thing is certain: Of my three encounters with Hillary Clinton, this third was the one where I found her the strongest and most passionate, thoroughly imbued with the meaning and pitch of the great American pastoral. If we meet again, I will not be surprised if I am addressing her as Madam President.


Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His works include Left in Dark: A Stand Against the Barbarism. For link to Amazon, please click picture to the left.



Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."