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13 April 2015, Gateway House

Hillary’s candidacy and India

Hillary Clinton finally announced her second bid to be the democratic candidate for the November 2016 presidential election on April 12. Despite her landmark achievements, there are a number of controversial issues from her time as senator, the first lady and as Secretary of State, that will be raised in the coming months

Director, Gateway House

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Hillary Clinton finally announced her second bid to be the democratic candidate for the November 2016 presidential election on April 12. The self-proclaimed friend of India, former secretary of state, former senator from New York, former first lady of the U.S. had narrowly lost to incumbent President Barack Obama in 2008.

Having served as secretary of state in his first administration, she stepped down in 2012. Since then it has been speculated that she was preparing for a second presidential bid. The announcement was so foretold that it came more as relief than a surprise.

If she wins the Democratic nomination and goes on to win the election in 2016, she will become the first woman to be the American president. Even if she does not win, this person of many firsts will be the first grandmother to even contest a presidential primary race. If she wins the Democratic primaries, she will be the first woman to contest a presidential election in the U.S.

Despite all her earlier landmark achievements and positions and the possibilities opening up now, Hillary has paradoxically not always received a favourable rating from women. Many of them believe that she accepted the many public humiliations stemming from former President Bill Clinton’s scandals, because of a lust for position and power.

Her hard work and conciliatory attitude in working with Republican colleagues during her term as senator and her tour as secretary of state did go some way to redeem her image as a person who may be able to deal more constructively with a Republican-controlled Congress.  And yet, unfair as it may seem, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes, “her paranoia, secrecy, scandals and disappearing act with emails from her time as secretary of state have inspired a cascade of comparisons with Nixon,” who was unarguably the most reviled American President of the last half century.

Perhaps keeping all these negative perceptions and the lessons from her losing bid in 2008 in mind, Hillary declared her candidacy in a two-minute video in which she promised to work towards a more equal America through the creation of jobs and the payment of higher wages. This should resonate in an America where despite a recovery from the financial crisis of 2008, wages have been stagnant for the last 15 years. Even famously parsimonious companies like Walmart recognise the problem and have slightly raised the minimum wages they pay.

In recent comments leading up to her announcement, Hillary has spoken of her wish for an America in which children would have the same opportunities as her own granddaughter who is only a few months old. This has been interpreted as a signal that this time she hopes to project a soft, grandmotherly image—a comforting image closer perhaps to those of thrice-elected German chancellor, Angela Merkel or even Latin American leaders like President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil.

As yet, Hillary has no Democrat challenger, but recalling the upset victory of first-time senator Obama in 2008, Hillary has been urged by her husband  and unparalleled campaigner, Bill Clinton, that she should campaign “as if she’s never run for anything before”. Which means she will have to work for every vote.

Although “the economy, stupid” campaign motif of Bill Clinton in 1992 will again be 2016’s biggest issue in an America still suffering slow growth and high unemployment, some foreign policy issues will also be aired.

Foremost among these will be the UN Security Council P5 plus Germany’s nuclear agreement with Iran—cast as a ‘security of Israel’ issue. Other concerns include the threat of terrorism from the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the alleged threat to Europe from Russia, and perhaps the rivalry with China.

All the presidential candidates must take positions on these, but Hillary will be attacked on Obama’s foreign policy that, under her watch as secretary of state was criticised for not being assertive enough. She will face more personal barbs for the death of American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, and accused of not having ensured adequate security for him. And her use of a personal server for official emails—again, while secretary of state—has just begun to assume the shape of a major scandal.

All of the above is par for the course in hard-fought elections everywhere and certainly in the U.S.

What will a Hillary Clinton presidency mean for India? Both former President Clinton and presidential aspirant Clinton have visited India frequently and claim to know both the country and its people well. The Clinton Foundation may receive funding from some controversial sources, but in India it has committed billions of dollars in the social sector.

It was during Bill Clinton’s presidency that India was sanctioned for the 1997 nuclear tests; but the same administration also lifted the sanctions and initiated the decoupled India-Pakistan policy. Hillary chaired the India caucus in the U.S. Senate and urged India to play a proactive role in South East Asia by not just “looking East” but by “acting East”, the very words that Prime Minister Narendra Modi now uses to describe his policy towards the region.

The presidential elections are over a year-and-a-half away. Should Hillary win, Indians and Pakistanis will recall with opposite emotions her caution to Pakistan that “you cannot raise snakes in your backyard and expect that they will only bite your neighbours”.

Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York.

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