I was was within handshaking distance of Hillary and Bill Clinton. Both looked distraught; Hillary appeared to be the more affected.
It was November 2000 — the first-ever visit by an American President and First Lady to Vietnam since the war had ended in the 1970s.
In a tiny corner of Hanoi, the Clintons were being taken through an exhibition that displayed the impact of 3.5 million landmines and eight lakh tonnes of unexploded ordnance deployed by the Americans in the Vietnam war.
It was evident that Hillary Clinton was upset with the vivid show of destruction rained down on the people of Vietnam by her country’s army. The sensitivity to be moved, as witnessed by me personally, will hold Hillary in good stead as she attempts to play the role of global peacemaker: in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere. It could help provide the healing touch, an absent element in the policies pursued by George W. Bush and company.
Born on October 26, 1947, months after India gained Independence, Hillary has doggedly pursued her career – as lawyer, First Lady, Senator and presidential candidate in 2008 — while weathering the bruising affair that her husband, Bill, had with intern Monica Lewinsky in 2008.
“She comes across as someone with a sharp intellect — clear-headed, forceful,” Lalit Mans-ingh, former Indian ambassador to Washington, said about Hillary, who arrived on a four-day visit to India the coming Friday night.
Mansingh, who has met her on several occasions, said that Hillary was never in the shadows of her husband. Conscious, perhaps, of his wife’s abilities, Bill, who met Hillary at Yale university in the early 1970s, said during his 1992 presidential campaign that those who voted for him would get “two for the price of one”. “Buy one, get one free” — that was the other campaign line used by Bill Clinton.
He wasn’t far off the mark: in 2008, Hillary could very well have been President had it not been for Barack Obama. After her failed attempt at securing the Democratic Party nomination and Obama’s victory over John McCain, Hillary has donned the role of chief diplomatic troubleshooter for Washington as Secretary of State.
“Nobody gave a damn about India before,” Sant Singh Chatwal, a close friend of the Clintons told HT from Washington. “I put a seed in their heads that India was important.”
Chatwal said it was Hillary’s visit to India in 1995 that led to husband Bill’s presidential trip to Delhi in March 2000. “Both of them love India,” Chatwal, who is travelling with Hillary yet again on this trip, said with obvious satisfaction.
Hillary is India’s friend, but the challenges before her and President Obama are enormous. “Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be. It does not make sense to adapt a 19th century concert of powers, or a 20th century balance of power strategy. We cannot go back to Cold War containment or to unilateralism,” she said in Washington on Wednesday.
Hillary also said that American foreign policy must produce results for people — the laid-off auto worker in Detroit and the farmer in the developing world. Is anyone listening in South Block? India, too, needs to tailor its foreign policy to make it matter to ordinary Indians.