With the latest plot twist in the US elections — the FBI examining email files contained on the computer of psycho sexter, Anthony Weiner — there is no fat lady singing quite yet. Don’t be fooled. Despite the dramatic final act, this nightmarish show is over: The lady in the pantsuit will be the next president of the United States. By the time the third of the cage fights masquerading as presidential candidate debates went on air, The New York Times was giving Hillary Clinton a 92 per cent chance of winning the election; in this final week, the race has tightened. It is hard to build a scenario where Donald Trump beats the odds and reaches the magic number of 270 electoral votes.
Trump’s improbable campaign has been outrun by Hillary’s preparation and poise under pressure, but, most significantly, it has been trumped by Trump himself. Terrible debate performances, attacks on women, fondness for tax dodging, refusal to accept the election outcomes (if he loses), insults, directed at over 280 people, places and things on Twitter alone, collectively — and finally — are taking a toll. Thus, prepare for President Hillary; I will avoid the more traditional “President Clinton,” to avoid confusion with the First Laddie, Bill Clinton. It is high time the rest of the world braces for an historic first in American presidency with larger implications for the world, and most certainly for India. Here are three items to look for on President Hillary’s checklist for the coming year.
First, making Washington great. Hillary is thorough, thick-skinned and relentless. She has lasted multiple grueling campaigns, running against a charismatic young black man, a grumpy old white man and a colourful septuagenarian adolescent. She has withstood long hours — at law firms, on airplanes and on Capitol Hill, including an eleven-hour grilling about Benghazi. Her skin has been tempered by taking the heat for doing radical things such as (initially) not taking her husband’s last name, admitting that staying at home baking cookies is not her thing and not leaving her husband even after his last name became radioactive. Sure, she made up a story about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire; but this is a woman who has been dodging political bombardment for most of her adult life.
Hillary will forge coalitions with the unlikeliest of allies, in a way that her predecessor could not. She has a record of working across the bitter political divide with cranky colleagues in Congress. Her mission will initially be helped by the fact that Democrats have a strong chance of winning the Senate, and even many Republicans will be relieved they have to deal with her rather than the alternative.
Washington desperately needs to be put back to work. A Supreme Court justice needs to be appointed; money needs to be allocated to help create new jobs, provide educational opportunities and fix the crumbling infrastructure. Ironically, a woman with one of greatest unlikeability ratings in recent history of a leader of the executive branch may have the best chance of making one of the nation’s least-liked institutions — the legislative branch — work again.
Two, adding girl power. There is the hormonal imbalance problem within the American policymaking elite that skewed policy choices from the past, whether they were about battles over the control of a woman’s body or battles over the control of Mosul. Mitt Romney had boasted of “binders full of women” in the previous presidential campaign; President Hillary will deliver on it. Cheryl Mills, her chief of staff at the state department, and Jennifer Palmieri, a former White House communications director under Obama, are likely to move into pivotal positions. In terms of cabinet appointments, for defence, the smart money is betting on Michèle Flournoy. For treasury, rumours have been swirling about Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and treasury official, Sarah Bloom Raskin. The Bernie Sanders camp of the Democratic party is rooting for Elizabeth Warren playing a role in the administration; the liberal senator has a history of taking on big banks and corrupt businesses. Hillary has promised to have a cabinet that’s at least 50 per cent female.
Three, confronting a divided world. Hillary’s foreign policy mettle will be tested from day one. I anticipate more decisiveness and clarity than her predecessor on where America stands on multiple fronts. Consider the messiest of regions, the Middle East. I suspect that because her earlier vote in favour of the Iraq war had become such a hot potato, Hillary has been relatively low-key on Iraq. She visited Iraq just once as secretary of state. Her policy would favour bolstering the Kurds and letting the Iraqi government taking responsibility for governing. She will take a harder line on Iran, having favoured stronger sanctions in the past. We can expect such toughness to be extended to other regimes, such as North Korea. She has advocated enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria; so, we should expect an accelerating confrontation with the Assad regime and, ultimately, with Russia. The rhetoric during the election season has certainly shown that there is no love lost between her and Vladimir Putin.
Hillary’s relationships with some key allies might be stronger. Ties with Israel will be less conflicted than under the Obama administration. With strong relationships across Europe and as a proponent of both NATO and intelligence sharing among allies, she is likely to strengthen trans-Atlantic cooperation.
On China, she will walk a fine line: Continue to press on human rights issues and Chinese incursions in the South China Sea, while being pragmatic in acknowledging China’s importance as a growing economic hub. Here, her ability to speak out of both sides of her mouth should come to good use.
As for India, several of her closest advisers, including campaign chairman John Podesta and foreign policy aide, Jake Sullivan, have ties with India. Hillary co-chaired the Senate India Caucus and supported the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement. During her tenure as the secretary of state, she played an important role in strengthening ties with New Delhi. She is much more inclined to take a harder line on Pakistan. Of the 400 drone strikes in Pakistan under Obama, about 300 of them were on Hillary’s watch as secretary of state. I would speculate, however, that her relationship with Modi will not be quite as warm as the one that Obama enjoyed.
As for trade deals, she is going to be in a tough position. It is clear she favours trade agreements, even though she has campaigned against them. Her long experience with the political dance known as the pivot is going to come into good use.
As for Trump, the man is unlikely to go gently into the night. He may launch a series of lawsuits or Trump TV. He has already been hawking his golf courses and a new hotel. But then, Hillary might do what Obama did for her: Extend an olive branch by giving a former rival a spot in the new administration. My pick for Hillary’s olive branch to Trump: The US ambassadorship to Russia.
That last prediction is the only one I am not putting any money on.