THE SPINE AUGUST 11, 2009
During her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton's husband Bill promised the electorate that it would get "two for the price of one" if she was elected. She didn't demur, at least not in public.
But she also wasn't elected. She was appointed secretary of state by the winning candidate Barack Obama.
Tuesday's Boston Globe had in it an Associated Press dispatch that speculates about her feeling crowded by the president's frequent flyer international travel, by vice president Joe Biden's foreign assignments and what must be a nightmare for her, the designation of independent and high-powered individuals as special envoys to the most combustible areas in the world. Like Richard Holbrooke to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Truly high-powered. And George Mitchell. OK, not so high-powered. He will enter the history books as a failure, twice over. But that's another story.
As the AP put it, even on her visit to Africa, Hillary "couldn't escape his outsized shadow." By which it meant her husband and his visit with Kim Jung Il in Pyongyang. A university student had asked what Bill thought about some big Chinese loan to the Democratic Republic of Congo (which, by the way, is neither democratic nor a republic.). She was not cool in response: "My husband is not secretary of state, I am." AP says "she snapped." And then went on: "You want me to tell you what me husband thinks? If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channelling my husband." She was a bit irritable, don't you think?
But more than understandable. After all, Bill had done none of the negotiating for the release of the two woman journalists from Current TV. He was there to pick up the human booty, and the ransom was the presence of his own celebrity self. This was a set-up.
Mrs. Clinton tried to cover two types of bloodshed in Congo, both of them enormities. A New York Times story Tuesday by Jeffrey Gettleman focuses on illicit mineral trade--gold, diamonds, copper, tin--and the resultant wars of possession, accounting for a great deal of the endemic violence that afflicts Congo. She herself said that she was pressing the government to end the mayhem. Good luck. But she also addressed the United Nations in this regard. I wonder why smart people like Hillary feel they always have to make a little curtsy to the U.N. This is a camouflage, a sordid camouflage, pretending to offer relief but usually making the circumstances worse.
The second vast episode of violence is rape and gang-rape. The aforementioned Gettleman and Sharon Otterman have written a second dispatch describing Clinton's visit, the searing realities she saw and her own reactions to it, "evil in its basest form ... impossible to describe the level of suffering ... just horrific." Even the U.N. characterizes Congo as "the rape capital of the world." Alas, there are 18,000 U.N. peacekeepers in the country ... and they only make the circumstances worse. Yes, quite literally.
The new news: "More than 500,000 people have been driven from their homes. Dozens of villages have been burned. Hundreds of villagers massacred. And countless women, and recently many men, have been raped. Often the rapists are Congolese soldiers." So you have two armies of rapists in Congo.
The Times goes on: "Mrs. Clinton said she urged the Congolese government to do a better job of protecting its own people and to prosecute offenders in the Congolese military ..." And now quoting Hillary: "I spoke at length with President Kabila about the steps needed to be taken to protect civilians ... We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender based violence, and there must be arrests and punishment because that runs counter to peace."
Please read this article. Read it and cry.
I do not mean to deny credit to Mrs. Clinton for this visit, especially her visit to Goma, the epicenter of the human disaster, to which there are not many travelers. It takes a certain kind of guts to go there, and Hillary has it. But I'm afraid that the world has no answers to the inhuman lives lived in Congo.
She announced, according to the Times, a $17 million program through which the U.S. "government would train doctors, supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence, dispatch American military engineers to help build facilities and train Congolese police officers, especially female police officers, to crack down on rapists." These are the things that we Americans do well and with exuberance (and about which neither the Chinese nor the Russians care a fig). But I am by nature a pessimist. If Kabila had to be lectured (or hectored) by Mrs. Clinton how much hope can there be for Congo? And for many other states in Africa?