Hillary Clinton's loyalty card buys her trouble everywhere

WASHINGTON - In just over a year, Hillary Clinton has gone from sore loser in the presidential campaign to a trusted senior official in the Obama Administration who commands respect.

She carried on until the bitter end in the campaign, finally calling a halt to the "sisterhood of the travelling pantsuits" and urging her followers to support Barack Obama in August last year, only three months before the election.

Naturally when he offered her the position of Secretary of State, it raised questions about her loyalty. But in office she has been fiercely loyal to her new boss, who was derided by her husband during the campaign.

Sadly, it would seem that her loyalty has proved her undoing.

Every time you switch on the TV Hillary Clinton is there answering questions from a different place. She has criss-crossed Africa and appeared in a programme called the Awesome Show in Indonesia.

She had just returned home from her fifth visit to Pakistan when she set off again for Berlin and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.

This week she was in Afghanistan for President Hamid Karzai's inauguration to a second five-year term, after leaving President Obama behind in China.

In each place, she makes a point of subjecting herself to questions from the broader public at town hall meetings which have become her hallmark. It was at one of these, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she lost it after being asked what her husband thought about Chinese financial deals with Congo.

Why does she hold these town hall meetings from Santo Domingo to Moscow to Nairobi to Bangkok? She says that it's because no matter where you are, public opinion matters, even under a dictator.

"At every turn, I have listened and responded, but also stood up for what I think are our core values," she says.

Her abiding interest in women's and girls' rights shines through on her globe-trotting, as when she sat down with Pakistani women on her last visit. Since becoming Secretary of State, she has appointed the first ambassador at large for global women's issues.

On the broad foreign policy front her efforts have been unstinting. When Turkey and Armenia baulked at the last minute before a scheduled signing ceremony in Zurich to establish diplomatic relations, she turned round her motorcade and sat in a hotel parking lot from where she hit the phone to persuade recalcitrant officials from both sides to sign the deal.

But she came unstuck in the Middle East. And this is where the loyalty card comes in.

For whenever Obama frames American policy, the Secretary of State tends to go just that little bit further.

When he called for an Israeli settlement freeze, in a marked shift in policy from previous administrations, Clinton made it clear there should be no exceptions.

That angered the Israeli Government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

But she upset the Palestinians more by praising the "unprecedented" concessions by Israel and has been issuing clarifications ever since.

The knives are being sharpened in Washington as the commentators begin their foreign policy reviews at the end of a year capped by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a President who has yet to achieve anything.

Clinton has had to defend herself against accusations that her role in the Obama White House is diminished.

Her boss removed the thorniest problems from her grasp, by appointing special representatives - Richard Holbrooke on Afghanistan, Dennis Ross on Iran and George Mitchell on the Middle East. (The first two shot themselves in the foot and the third is limping badly.)

But after her failed Middle East visit it is difficult to see how Obama can recover ground in the region where in Israel the number of those who consider him pro-Israeli has slumped to about 6 per cent.

It is a far cry from the hopes inspired in the heady days of the inauguration last January. Yet questions about Clinton's presidential ambitions return periodically despite her denials.

They are certain to be revived when she is on the December cover of Vogue magazine - for the first time since 1998 when she was first lady.

Obama values her for her "smarts, discipline and steadfastness", qualities that kept her on the short list for Vice-President until the last minute, according to the President's former campaign manager David Plouffe.

The lady herself says that at 62, she has a "great job" which is 24/7 and is "looking forward to retirement at some point."

- NZ Herald

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