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DC at Night

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton traveled more than 1,000,000 miles. And as a state correspondent for the BBC, Kim Ghattas traveled 300,000 of those miles with her.  Ghattas' new book The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power, is, in the author's own words, an attempt "as an outsider to demystify the policy making machine and show the human beings at the center of foreign policy decisions."

Ghattas appeared recently at the New America Foundation to talk about her book and share her impressions of her time with Clinton.

A native of Beirut, Ghattas said she grew up "with the consequences of decisions made in Washington." As an American outsider, she said she is keenly aware of the perceptions of power and influence that other countries have of America. "There is a belief that America pulls all the strings, pushes all the buttons, and sees whatever it wants to happen, happen," Ghattas said. "People believe America should save every person, get involved in every conflict that erupts."

"I wanted to bridge the gap between illusion and reality and, to the best of my ability, explain how the U.S. doesn't always get to do what it wants to do," she added.

Ghattas said America often finds itself in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't dilemma. Take the current conflict in Syria. There are calls for the U.S. to intercede, but there are others who would be angered with American meddling in that Arab country. "America is loved and resented in equal measure," Ghattas said. "It comes with being a superpower."

Clinton started with one major goal - "to improve perceptions of the U.S. around the world." Ghattas agreed that was a vitally  needed task. "I think everyone can agree that the Bush years weren't a golden age of diplomacy," she noted. So how well did Clinton do in trying to reconnect with both allies and rivals?  "History will tell," Ghattas said. "But I do feel there is less animosity toward the U.S."

So how would Ghattas sum up Clinton's diplomatic philosophy? "It was about the big picture. It was about laying the foundation to establish a 21st Century diplomacy. She tried to understand where her counterparts were coming from. She was saying 'the U.S. can help, but it's up to you. We are not about to remake societies,'" she said.

Throughout her political career, Clinton has been a lightning rod, attracting ardent supporters and virulent detractors. "She is a very compelling character whether you like her or not. She is a pragmatic person. She hits the ground running with whatever she has to get done. Removed from domestic conflict, she was able to be more herself," Ghattas said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Of course, the major question now is what is next for Hillary? She left her job as Secretary of State with the highest approval ratings of her career. Will she run for president in 2016? "The pull will be very strong," Ghattas said. "I don't think she has made up her mind. But this is not the last we have heard from her. She is not going to retire."

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