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Three Encounters with Hillary

| April 24, 2015

bernard henri-levy hillary rodham clinton

In three encounters with Hillary Clinton between 2004 and 2012, Bernard-Henri Lévy sees emotion and composure, the reflexes of an impeccable stateswoman and someone, he predicts, he will be addressing as Madam President next time they meet. (Mike Mozart)

By Bernard-Henri Lévy

It is Boston, July 2004. The setting is a downtown restaurant to which the editor Tina Brown has invited Hillary Clinton and a handful of notables, including Caroline Kennedy, filmmaker Michael Moore, and former Senator George McGovern. What is immediately striking is Clinton’s youthful appearance, bright laugh, and blue eyes that appear a little too round when she gazes at us with curiosity.


Sometimes her expression is briefly clouded by a streak of stifled pain, obstinate and not wholly contained. Five years earlier, she was the most humiliated wife in America, a woman whose private life was thrown open – fully and relentlessly – to public scrutiny. So she can talk national and international politics until she is blue in the face. She can sing the praises of John Kerry, whom her party has just nominated in an effort to deny George W. Bush a second term. And she can expound on her role as the junior senator from New York. Still, there persists an idea that I cannot push out of my head, and that I enter into the travel journal that I am writing for The Atlantic.

The idea is this: to avenge her husband and to take revenge on him, to wash away the stain on the family and show what an unblemished Clinton administration might look like, this woman will sooner or later be a candidate for the presidency of the United States. This idea brings to mind Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, published a year after the Senate acquitted her husband of perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, with its searing portrait of how indelible even an undeserved blot on one’s reputation can be. She will strive to enter the Oval Office – the theater of her inner, outer, and planetary misery – on her own terms. And the most likely outcome, my article will conclude, is that she will succeed.

Fast forward to Paris in May 2011. The senator from New York has become President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Her aura dominated the just-concluded G-8 summit hosted by France. It is ten in the evening, and I am waiting at the elevators in the lobby of the Hotel Westin with Mahmoud Jibril, one of the leaders of the Libyan insurrection. Jibril has made a special trip to plead on behalf of the civilians whom Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and his sons have promised to drown in rivers of blood.

“I thought you were in Libya!” she exclaims when she sees me. “I’ve just returned,” I respond, gesturing toward Jibril. “Really, hidden in a vegetable truck with him?” That triggers one of those great bursts of laughter that, as I noticed in Boston, raise her high cheekbones still higher. Then, suddenly serious, and accompanied by a man whom I notice for the first time and who turns out to be J. Christopher Stevens, the young US ambassador to Libya who will be murdered a little more than a year later, she leads Jibril to her suite for an interview.


Her humanity and compassion are coupled with an acute sense of the iron discipline required for effective governance. These are the reflexes of an impeccable stateswoman.


When, after nearly an hour, Jibril reemerges, he is convinced that the conversation went badly. He grumbles that Clinton hardly opened her mouth, which he interprets to mean that his plea was not well received. In fact, Clinton was deeply moved by Jibril’s testimony, riveted by the horror of the regime’s tanks grinding toward Benghazi at that very moment. In the hours that follow, she convinces Obama not to bow to his anti-interventionist secretary of defense, Robert Gates.

She displays emotion and composure, I note. Her humanity and compassion are coupled with an acute sense of the iron discipline required for effective governance. These are the reflexes of an impeccable stateswoman.

By February 2012, the war in Libya is over, and I am wrapping up my documentary film about the conflict. I am in Washington, DC, in a wood-paneled conference room on the seventh floor of the Department of State’s headquarters, to gather Clinton’s recollections, as I had already done with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron. This is the moment for conclusions and perspective, the always-fascinating moment when the actors in the drama, who have sometimes operated in secret, turn up their last cards.

Clinton lends herself graciously to the exercise. She evokes her interview with Jibril, a conversation at the White House or the Elysée Palace. She remembers everything and regrets nothing. She feels that, in acting as she did, she was faithful to her most cherished values and beliefs. And she has no doubt that the West, in responding to the Arab League’s entreaty to intervene, avoided a replay of Srebrenica in North Africa.
What strikes me the most is that she sees, even then, the beginnings of the tribal conflicts and the coming contest among Islamists to outdo one another in fundamentalist purity. She worries about the early violations of human rights, particularly women’s rights, which she fears will multiply. She has no illusions that history turns out the way reason tells you it should. Time is needed, she says, to build a state and construct a democracy – time and a mixture of pragmatism and faith, of patience and audacity, of respect for others and regard for oneself.

Was this concern about “nation building” a warning? Was it her ideological contribution to an administration that, though she did not know it at the time, would continue without her? Was she laying down the broad strokes and ambition of her own presidency?

One thing is certain: Of my three encounters with Hillary Clinton, this third was the one where I found her the strongest and most passionate, thoroughly imbued with the meaning and pitch of the great American pastoral. If we meet again, I will not be surprised if I am addressing her as Madam President.

bernard-henri levyBernard-Henri Lévy is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His works include “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism,” and “American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville.” He writes the Bloc-notes column at Le Point. © Project Syndicate.

 

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31 Responses for “Three Encounters with Hillary”

  1. downinthelab says:

    I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

  2. tomc says:

    Claptrap

  3. ScotchRox says:

    In a news conference, Deanna Favre announced she will be the starting Quarterback for the Green Bay Packers football team next season.

    Deanna asserts that she is qualified to be the starting QB because she had spent 16 years married to Brett while he played QB for the Packers – even though she has actually never played football at any level from grade school up, never ran the offense of any team, nor ever played the game.

    During this period of time, she became familiar with the definition of a corner blitz, the nickel package, man-to-man coverage, so she is now completely comfortable with all the other terminology involving the Packers offense.

    A survey of Packers fans shows 50% of those polled supported the move. Does this sound idiotic and unbelievable … or familiar to you?

    Hillary Clinton makes the same claims as to why she is qualified to be the President of the United States and 50% of Democrats polled agree. She has never run a city, county, or state during her “career” as being Bill Clinton’s wife. When told Hillary Clinton has experience because she has 8 years in the White House, my immediate thought was, “So does the pastry chef, and the person who picks up dog shit from the White House Lawn.”

    When it comes to running the State Department, her biggest achievement was getting a US Ambassador and 3 other Americans killed, by pretending terrorism had been defeated…..Her words still echo…”what difference does it make?”

    At least Deanna Favre is nice looking!

  4. Retired FF says:

    “The idea is this: to avenge her husband and to take revenge on him, to wash away the stain on the family and show what an unblemished Clinton administration might look like, this woman will sooner or later be a candidate for the presidency of the United States.”

    What a joke. Just look at all the dirt that is finally being exposed on the Clintons. She is as dirty as Slick Willie. Even her own party is starting to take a hard look at other potential candidates. She is carrying way to much dirty baggage to be a viable candidate.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Machiavelli said, “The vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be.” And having said that, I still hate the bought and paid for w…ell, you know.

  5. Billy bob says:

    Don Henry and Kevin Ives, yeah she’s a great candidate! Most of you probably won’t even have the intelligence to point out the correlation. A campaign ran on drug/gun money, deceit, lies, and corruption, that’s what we need in America, a continuation of the failed Obama regime that completely annihilates the constitution as well as our rights. Time to wake up.

  6. Outsider says:

    Nice political puff piece. I doubt this guy will ever ask why she sat by idly while Russia gained control of nearly half of our uranium supply. I wonder, if given the opportunity, he will as why she and her husband were in Colombia on the same day, she clearing the way for a free trade deal she vehemently opposed as a senator, while her husband was across town making hundreds of thousands of dollars giving a speech. I’m not holding my breath.

  7. Tom Jacks says:

    Nothing but liberal pablum.

  8. m&m says:

    This is an evil person. Both her and her husband belong in prison.

  9. Sherry E says:

    Excellent piece! One written by an “intelligent” source who actually has interacted with Hillary. Unlike those who have commented here. Hillary will make an excellent President of the United States!

    • Jim R says:

      Sherry Support her for her ” high cheekbones” . What an ass kissing piece of tripe this article is, the author must think he’ll be rewarded when Hillary becomes President. She doesn’t stand a chance of being elected. I doubt if she’ll even get the nomination.
      Her and Mr. NAFTA along with most of our elected leaders should be arrested for treason , they have all sold their souls to corporate interests, and now it appears also to foreign countries.

  10. I started to comment but thought better of it.

  11. funnyman says:

    Hillary will continue to lie just like she did in Benghazi and talk down to secret service agents like they are pond scum and chuck ashtrays at Bill, just like she has done before.

    • Billy bob says:

      You’re absolutely correct, don’t let scum like this pig sway your moral fiber or motivations, in all regards, if this were you or I we’d be placed under the jail. I guess that coke and drug money reigns supreme of hardworking taxpayers rights to their own country? Seems like it, in todays spectrum! Just wait until the hate speech and feminism laws take a hold, much like the race/bad white police card is being played today. Obama is nothing more than a pawn in the NWO agenda.

      • NortonSmitty says:

        Billy Bob, remember that Coke & Drug money threshold before you start posting here in support of Jeb Bush next year.

  12. Dana says:

    When will Democratic voters learn that being vilified by Republicans does not make a reactionary anything other than a reactionary?

  13. tulip says:

    Hillary Pillary. President? I certainly hope not. This country cannot survive her “kind of people”.

  14. Diana L says:

    Even IF Hillary Clinton didn’t have a long list of accomplishments, like some of you say, she has one very real advantage, she isn’t crazy. I can’t say that about any other candidate that has declared or has set a date to declare.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      And this is out new standard? I can see her new campaign slogan now: Vote Hillary! At Least She’s Not Crazy”. I guess the old Will Rogers saying was right, ” People pretty much get the Government they deserve”.

      • Diana L says:

        Please read my statement, I said EVEN IF SHE DIDN’T HAVE A LONG LIST OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS, etc. But to play your game, who would you vote for:
        1. Crazy
        2. Not Crazy
        I will be working to elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, as I definately choose #2.

        • Lancer says:

          Hillary is an accomplishment! Becoming worth $250 million while “being a public servant” is definitely an accomplishment! She’s made more than the top 10 CEOs!

          If only she hadn’t sold her own country off to the Russians, by way of Uranium reserves, to do it!

        • NortonSmitty says:

          In answer to your question, I would vote for myself before Hillary Rodham Clinton. But she would be ahead of a Republican. I would vote for a syphilitic baboon before I would vote for a Republican.

  15. Sherry E says:

    Right On Diana!

    Just google Rick Santorum taking a dead baby home to interact with his children. . .EEK! Then compare that to which server Hillary, AND Jeb, AND Scott, AND Rick, AND Bobby used for emails.

  16. keeping it real says:

    Benghazi…..cheating husband she forgives….she’s a disaster waiting to happen

  17. Sherry E says:

    How about a little FACTUAL information.

    Hillary and the Obama administration was cleared of all wrongdoing after a “Republican” led committee concluded a multi- year investigation. This from the LA Times:

    “The CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a Republican-controlled House committee has found. Its report concluded that there was no wrongdoing by Obama administration officials.

    Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the two-year investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.”

    Just a few of her accomplishments from US History.com:

    After entering Yale Law School in 1969, Rodham served on the board of editors of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action and provided legal advice for underprivileged and abused children at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She also interned with children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman, received a grant to work at the Children’s Defense Fund in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1970; and worked for Senator Walter Mondale’s subcommittee on migrant workers during the summer of 1971.

    During her second year in law school, Rodham volunteered at the Yale Child Study Center, where she studied new research on early childhood brain development. She also worked at the city legal services providing free assistance to poor residents.

    After graduating from Yale in 1973, Rodham began a year of post-graduate study on children and medicine at the Yale Child Study Center, after having written her widely acknowledged thesis on children’s rights. She also became a staff attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund and was recruited to serve on the presidential impeachment inquiry staff for the House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee, investigating the Watergate Scandal. Rodham moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, after President Richard M. Nixon resigned in August 1974. She joined boyfriend and colleague Bill on the University of Arkansas Law School faculty. She married Clinton in 1975, retained her maiden name, and bore their only child, Chelsea Victoria Clinton, on February 27, 1980.

    Rodham Clinton joined the Rose Law Firm in 1976. Two years later, Rodham Clinton was appointed to the board of the Legal Services Corporation by President Jimmy Carter, and Clinton was elected to the governor`s office.

    First lady of Arkansas

    During Rodham Clinton’s 12 years as first lady of Arkansas, she continued to pursue children and family issues. She chaired the Arkansas Education Standards Committee to improve the testing standards of new teachers, founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and introduced Arkansas Home Instruction for Preschool Youth, a program that trained parents of preschool children in preparedness and literacy.

    The first lady also served on the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Legal Services board, Children’s Defense Fund board, while continuing to work for the Rose Law Firm. She was named one of the 100 most influential attorneys in America by the National Law Journal in 1988 and 1991. She was also named Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983 and Arkansas Mother of the Year in 1984.

    When the Clintons moved into the White House in 1993, the president appointed his wife to head the Task Force on National Health Care Reform that proposed a national health plan. The controversial plan failed to receive enough support to reach the floors of Congress and was abandoned in September 1994. Rodham Clinton attributed her political inexperience as a contributor to its defeat, as well as other factors.

    Not since Eleanor Roosevelt had a first lady so actively participated in public policy. Unaccustomed to the first lady’s central role in the shaping of public policy, such involvement was thought inappropriate by critics. Supporters considered her role as the same as other White House advisors and contended that voters had been aware that Hillary would play an active role in the Clinton administration prior to voting him into office.

    During her eight years as first lady, Rodham Clinton also initiated the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997, increased research funding for prostate cancer and childhood asthma to the National Institute of Health, as well as assisted in determining the cause of a mysterious illness affecting veterans of the Gulf War. She also initiated and guided the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.

    Rodham Clinton has received many prestigious awards, including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, the President’s Award of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Role Model of the Year, by the United Steel Workers of America; the Martin Luther King Jr. Award from the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals Distinguished Service Award.

    Rodham Clinton also has authored best-selling books, including her autobiography, Living History and It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, which won her the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for the recorded version.

    • Jim R says:

      SHERRY
      A fine job of putting lipstick on a pig, but it doesn’t alter the fact that she is in the pocket of Wall Street and the MIC.

    • djsii says:

      I’m sorry but what you have confirmed here is that this person has accomplished nothing politically advantageous to the United States at the national or international level that would even remotely qualify her for President of the United States. Maybe if she also sold Girl Scout cookies???????

      She carries way to much bad baggage with her. Too much “smoke and mirrors”, too many back door deals, too many unanswered questions, too many scandals, too many lies, but still……no accomplishments.

      The best word that I can come up with to describe her is “untrustworthy”.

      Surely the Democratic Party can come up with a better choice for the citizens of this country.

  18. Groot says:

    I had not voted for a republican until last fall. I first voted in 1971. This should have been Hillary’s presidency. In spite of all the negative info coming out, I still favor her for president in the coming election. But, she has to distance herself from the current administration an some of it’s policies. If we get Hillary, we get Bill and his people. Say what you like about the Clintons, Bill left office without a deficit. Look at what we have now with the economy, health care (we can’t afford our premiums or go to the doctor), Baltimore, foreign affairs are a mess. Anyway, she has to say what she’ll do for the long abused middle class. Sad reality is, teabaggers won’t come up with better.

  19. Sherry E says:

    Hillary Clinton’s tremendous work as Secretary of State can be found here, please read and be educated:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillary_Rodham_Clinton%27s_tenure_as_Secretary_of_State

  20. Lancer says:

    “Bill left office without a deficit”…Bill controlled spending?

    Pretty sure CONGRESS controls spending, Groot. Clinton lost control of congress. There was something called “The Contract with America”…that led to a balanced budget.

    Hillary’s “tremendous work as Sec of State” made the Clintons and their “foundation” A LOT of $$, Sherry. A foundation that donates, only, 15% to the actual charity. They made A LOT of promises…and have already sold our Uranium to Putin and the Russians for a donation.

  21. Lancer says:

    Hillary’s “glorious leadership” is on display as Baltimore burns:

    Meanwhile, Clinton has been silent. Her last tweet was offering a free bumper sticker to supporters.

    Don’t miss your chance to get a free Hillary 2016 bumper sticker! https://t.co/l2lPjM5p2l

    — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 27, 2015

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