Thursday, February 07, 2008

Hilary Clinton and the North of Ireland

Written by Eamonn McCann
Wednesday, 06 February 2008

Hillary Clinton Ask not what you can do for the peace process, but what the peace process can do for you. That’s the way Hillary Clinton looks at Ireland. When her husband was top tom-cat in Washington, some of us argued that it was insulting to women to depict her as a gangster’s moll: she was a made-up member of the Mob. Now she’s bidding to become capa di tutti capi.

In the process, she has distorted beyond recognition any role she ever played in the North. Marcella Bombardieri of the Boston Globe describes her “telling and retelling one particularly moving story about bringing together Catholic and Protestant women in Northern Ireland...

“ Clinton said she had hosted a meeting of enemies in the conflict. They had never been in the same room before, and ‘no one thought this was going to be a very good idea.’

Clinton goes on: “A Catholic woman shared her daily fears that her husband wouldn't come home at night. Across the table, a Protestant woman described the same worry about her son.

"And for the first time they actually saw each other not as caricatures or stereotypes, but as human beings who actually had common experiences as mothers and wives and people. One of the reasons why I'm running for president is to be constantly reaching out to try to bring people together to resolve conflicts and not let them fester and get worse."

What happened in Belfast was that Clinton had attended a meeting organised by the Northern Ireland Office of well-known (and well-known to one another) full-time community organisers. The tearful tale of her bringing enemies together across the divide is lies.

The yarn wasn’t presented as a vague reminiscence. It was a nicely-structured, detailed story, part of her standard campaign presentation. “More than an isolated stump speech snippet, her Northern Ireland story speaks to the larger issue of whether her travels around the world as first lady qualify as serious diplomacy. That experience is a crucial element of her argument that she is the most qualified presidential candidate.”

The deft distortion is implicitly offered as a model for the engagement with a troubled world, soothing ancient enmities, bringing peace---a very attractive message for an anxious US electorate.

The notion is widespread in Ireland, too, that we “owe” the Clintons for their role in “our” peace process. The concrete action constantly referred to is Bill Clinton giving Gerry Adams a US visa back in 1994.

This did help speed the IRA ceasefire seven months later by enabling the Provos ’ leaders to convince their rank-and-file that there was something tantalising on offer if they changed their ways. Give up the guns and we’ll be well-got in the White House, was the message.

This was a major factor in ensuring that when the Republican Movement abandoned the path of armed struggle, it veered to the right and not to the left. Hence the wholesale embrace of neo-liberalism in government in the North.

This has been the most specific and identifiable effect on Northern politics of the involvement of the Clintons .