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Foreign Service Life

January 2009

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The extensive collection of oral history interviews with U.S. Foreign Service Officers and others compiled by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/diplomacy/, or Google Frontline Diplomacy) provides a cornucopia of information about all aspects of American diplomacy. Here is an example that is particularly timely as the new Secretary of State assumes her duties: U.S. diplomats’ accounts of their interactions with her during her travels abroad as First Lady. These excerpts from the collection were researched and provided to us by ADST. – Ed.

Hillary Clinton’s Diplomatic Travels as First Lady: Excerpts from Oral History Interviews

Elizabeth Frawley Bagley
The visit of Hillary Clinton to Portugal in 1997 went great. I had been having an ongoing exchange of letters with Hillary through her chief of staff. I would send her an update of the American International school, what we were doing to rebuild it, and when we created our first brochure, I sent it to her, hoping that she might be interested in breaking ground for the first building.

clinton
Hillary Clinton

Then I would send her some things on Fatima, a very holy site of a major religious apparition of Our Lady in 1917. I eventually convinced [the advance team] to set up the groundbreaking event there for her, which she did with a shovel that now hangs in the school. She also made a major education speech at the Gulbenkian Foundation, the largest cultural/educational institution in Portugal. Then, we had a couple of private dinners and a lunch hosted by the prime minister. I really pushed Fatima because I thought it was not only something that she needed to see, but because there were two or three other towns on the way that were beautiful obidos, one of these medieval towns which is quite stunning to see cut right into the rock on a huge cliff.

She stayed with us for three nights and we took her to Fatima. She still talks to us about Fatima as one of the most moving experiences of her life because we met with the bishop there and he praised her for what she had done for people around the world in the area of human rights. He said, ‘Everybody says we need F-16s. But, we don't need F-16s, we need human rights and people like you talking about real issues. What you have done is so important.’ Her eyes just filled up. It was really quite beautiful. I was translating for him and I could see how much she was moved by his words. Then we walked through the Basilica and down to where Our Lady of Fatima appeared to these three children. It is a tiny sanctuary, very simple. As he said, “We are simple people. We are peasants. The children were peasants. We have the Basilica but we want this to be special and very plain.” Hillary was going to light a candle. As she approached, Portuguese pilgrims were there, as always, and they started clapping. This was a private trip, so we didn't advance it or try to build a crowd. But, there were a few Americans in the group and it became known that she was there. One of the women started singing and the others joined in singing ‘Ave Maria.’ This is the song they always sing in processions. They sang a cappella, of course. It was so beautiful. She and Chelsea lit this candle and they prayed for her and her husband and peace in the world. She came back to the bus and she was in tears. It was really quite moving. We all felt it, a special presence there, as if we had somehow experienced the aura of the Blessed Virgin. That was an amazing trip because as I said, ‘You will show the Portuguese people how much you care about their faith and their culture just by this one visit.’ And she did. She got more press on Fatima than she did meeting with the prime minister and any speech she gave. Fatima became a metaphor for her work and her beliefs, and the image resonated throughout Portugal. And Hillary was visibly affected by that visit, as she could feel their love and their respect for what she was trying to do, which was not always popular in her own country.

Karl F. Inderfurth
An important event happened in 1995. The First Lady, Hillary Clinton, went to South Asia. She traveled to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Her daughter, Chelsea, was with her. She was clearly impressed by the region, and what she had seen and heard. She came back from that trip and, from what I later heard, let the President know that this was a part of the world he ought to pay more attention to, that it was an area of the world with great promise, economic potential, and increasingly democratic.

Theresa Loar
Her speech in Beijing [at the World Conference on Women in 1995] was a beautifully written speech. Patrick Tyler of the New York Times said it was the strongest statement by any high-level American on human rights issues in China. She delivered a stronger, more direct message to the Chinese on human rights than anyone had ever done before. At the same time, she really gave voice to a whole range of women’s human rights issues that now everyone understands and knows, but had never been described as human rights issues…

Standing in the balcony and watching her deliver her speech was a very moving and unforgettable scene, because looking around the room you had delegates from India, from Thailand and Africa and men and women – primarily women – delegates, all packed in this hall. When she talked about dowry burnings in India, the Indian delegations would jump to their feet; and then she’d talk about a practice that was common in Africa and the African delegates, with their beautiful outfits and head scarves, would stand up and speak; and when she talked about human rights abuses in China, including those that took away the rights of the individual and their family to decide the number and spacing of children, including forced family planning, Chris [Christopher] Smith, a Congressman who I grew up with, and who was really opposed to U.S. participation in the conference, jumped up and applauded her. So Clinton’s speech was a real strong statement that “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” This had been a concept moving around in the NGO community and the women’s rights community, but she really brought the attention of the world to this conference and to these issues. It was very, very powerful, and moving, and exhausting; but, it was a great moment. …

Hillary Clinton was a tremendous advocate for [abolition of sex trafficking] in that she would, on her overseas trips, try to call attention to the issue. I remember the first time she talked about this in a very open way and actually visited some of the locations where this was. One of those countries that was being affected was Thailand in 1997; she went to Chiang Mai in the north and met with families where the girls had come back, girls who had been lured into trafficking. Of course it’s a horrible issue in Thailand. And, there were so many young women, girls and children, actually from Burma, who were sold into slavery.

Teresita C. Schaffer
We had one more dramatic development before I left Sri Lanka, the visit of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton in April 1995. As so often happens with high level visits, preparing for it was an exasperating process, full of missed communications and non-communications between Washington and the field. When they finally arrived, however, the Clintons were marvelous guests. Mrs. Clinton spent time both with the country's political leadership and with prominent women from various fields. She put on an impressive and gracious performance, and I think she too was impressed with the variety of female talent she saw – lawyers, doctors, university vice chancellors, bankers, from all Sri Lanka's ethnic groups. Chelsea, then 15 years old, had been traveling for 10 days without seeing anyone her own age, and handled that difficult situation with great poise.

Theodore S. Wilkinson
Hillary Clinton came [to Brazil] in the fall of '95. … In the end it went all right. … She personally is a charming and very skillful politician and probably would make a very good senator, so she personally made a very good impression, but her advance team left some bitterness that was never completely dispelled.

Joseph C. Wilson IV
She was very clearly a very close advisor to the president [during her visit to Africa], and she made her views known in ways that made it difficult for the president not to accept her advice. She was pretty tough minded. In my case, she was also very interested in Africa. She had already been to Africa on a trip. Her issues were issues that we cared about a lot – women and children, families, things like that, which are also core African issues. So she was extraordinarily effective. She was also effective in articulating some of the difficulties of some of the things that we were trying to accomplish, in forcing us to think more clearly and focus our own minds more clearly on why we were trying to achieve. Going to Rwanda was one of them, for example. She understood better than most the potential political pitfalls of going to Rwanda. She understood, as we were reviewing the speech, what the consequences were of trying to do something that we perhaps could not act upon and how we needed to be very careful of the way we phrased it; so she was a voice of considerable good judgment, and considerable reason. I have enormous respect for her as a person and as somebody who is committed to a set of ideas and principles.


 

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