x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Newsmaker: Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton may be stepping down as US Secretary of State, but the downtimes she claims to crave is subject to endless speculation over her future - and the road to the White House.

Hillary Clinton (Illustration by Kagan McLeod)
Hillary Clinton (Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

Hillary Clinton, 65, made her last foreign adventure partnering her re-elected boss this week, on a trip to Myanmar.

Clinton was appointed US Secretary of State, the third woman to fill that role, by Barack Obama after he became the first African-American US president four years ago.

She has already confirmed she will step down as the United States' top diplomat within days of President Obama's second inauguration in January. Yet, while she may be counting down the days until she can "just… sleep and exercise and travel for fun - and relax", Clinton was forced to break off her tour to help broker a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas in a bid to halt the escalating violence in Gaza. Even for an outgoing Secretary of State dreaming of more serene pastures, the world - and not least the Middle East - just keeps on spinning.

It seems inconceivable that trying to mediate yet another Middle East crisis will cause her to re-think her plans for putting the politicking behind her and chill. It is something that, she said "sounds so ordinary, but I haven't done it for 20 years".

However, no sooner has Clinton planned a life that does not involve the stresses and strains of public office, that many are speculating about her return to the cut and thrust of politics - and not just on the issue of who will replace her when she's gone.

Sure she may have achieved the next best thing to assuming the mantle of President, some say, but when she ran for the Democratic Party's nomination in 2008 - she began the race as the favourite - she would eventually and publicly break down in tears as she saw her dreams of following her husband Bill into the White House slip away. She lost the nomination to a young upstart when she had so craved the distinction of being the first woman in the hot seat at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, despite President Obama not taking his second term officially until January, fuel was added to that particular Clinton fire when, earlier this month, Politico reported a Public Policy Polling survey showing that if the Iowa caucuses were held now, Clinton would get 58 per cent of the vote to Vice President Joe Biden's distant 17 per cent. How the now-weary sexagenarian politician with the ice-cool demeanour that served her so well as First Lady reacted to such a finding - if at all - is anyone's guess. But if a week is a long time in politics, then the road towards the 2016 election will be a long and winding one indeed.

Clinton's extraordinary rise - and rise? - to the American political institution began in Chicago, Illinois, in 1947 when she was born Hillary Diane Rodham, the eldest of three, to Hugh, a small textile supply owner, and Dorothy. Boasting Welsh, French, Scottish, Native American and English blood, Clinton's intellectual ability was underlined when she attended both Wellesley College, Massachusetts and then Yale Law School where she graduated in the early 1970s and where, in her four years as an undergraduate, she was a member of the board of editors of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action. She was also one of only 27 women among 235 students at Yale Law School.

But, crucially, it was at Yale where Clinton met Bill - her future husband, who would become the 42nd President of the United States. She told ABC News in 2003 that he "looked like a Viking. He had this big, bushy, brownish-reddish beard, and longish hair, and he looked very imposing".

She added: "No one understands me better, and no one can make me laugh the way Bill does. Even after all these years, he's still the most interesting, energising and fully alive person I have ever met. Bill Clinton started a conversation in the spring of 1971, and more than 30 years later we're still talking."

She married Bill in 1975 and settled in his home state of Arkansas, where she joined the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, the state capital. President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the board of the Legal Services Corporation in 1978, the same year Bill assumed the role of Governor of Arkansas, a position he held - notwithstanding his re-election loss in 1980 (which he subsequently put right two years later) - until his official ascension to the highest office in the land in 1993.

After Bill's defeat of incumbent President George H Bush in 1992, Hillary took on the role of First Lady. But, rather than fade into the background - and within days of entering the White House - she was appointed by her husband to head the President's Task Force on Health Care Reform. She supported her husband through his first term and was by his side when he secured a second term in 1996. But, for most of the way through Bill's turbulent eight years at the helm, Hillary was at the eye of the proverbial storm.

The so-called Whitewater affair - a real estate controversy involving both Bill and Hillary - caused problems for the couple. Then there was Bill's propensity for extra-marital affairs - behaviour that, humiliating in the extreme for such a high-profile couple, could well have broken other women. In 1992, Gennifer Flowers revealed she had had an illicit relationship with Bill, prompting Mrs Clinton to say on CBS, "I'm not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him". In January, 1998, the most infamous scandal of all broke involving Monica Lewinsky. Hillary's husband initially denied any wrongdoing but was later forced into admitting an adulterous liaison with the young White House intern.

But, scandals, humiliations and setbacks aside, Clinton stood by her husband and her daughter Chelsea, who had grown up amidst the ups and downs of her parents' life in the White House. In November, 2000, Hillary made her own mark in the rough and tumble of the US political scene when she won her bid for a New York Senate seat, making her the country's first First Lady to hold elective office. Six years later, during which time she voted in favour of President George W Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, Clinton was re-elected Senator by a wide margin.

In 2008, she threw her hat into the ring for the Democratic Party's nomination for president and, while she proved to be a formidable campaigner - with her credentials as a women's rights advocate and universal healthcare champion clear for all to see - Clinton was constantly plagued by accusations of being a polarising figure who lacked the people skills that her husband had in abundance.

Her eventual defeat to Obama may have been a bitter pill to swallow, but her four years as Secretary of State have seen her clock up almost 1.5 million kilometres, travelling to 112 countries including the UAE, where, in 2011, she stopped by the Abu Dhabi eatery Jones the Grocer to have a casual lunch with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and the US ambassador.

Now, as speculation falls on both Susan Rice, the United States' ambassador to the United Nations; and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; to replace Clinton, what of Hillary and a potential run for the presidency in 2016? In an interview with The New York Times last week, she refused to be drawn in on speculation that she is planning to run for the top job

But, while the US's most celebrated political dame may be hankering after some downtime today, who would seriously bet against her announcing her candidacy and the chance to be the first woman in the White House? The world will be watching; over to you, Mrs Clinton.