Hillary Clinton’s Congo Blow-Up

Hillary Clinton chewed out a Congolese student for asking what “Mr. Clinton” thought about a public policy issue:

ABC’s Kirit Radia:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost her cool Monday after a Congolese student, speaking through a translator, asked her what “Mr. Clinton” thought about a Chinese trade deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?” Clinton replied, clearly irked by the thought of being her husband Bill’s spokeswoman. “My husband is not secretary of state, I am,” she replied. “If you want my opinion I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband.”

The only problem? Apparently the translator made a mistake and the student had wanted to know what President Obama thought of the deal. A State Department official tells ABC News the student went up to Clinton after the event and told her he was misquoted. No immediate word yet how Clinton responded.

Regardless of the error, the notion of Secretary Clinton’s deference to her husband clearly touched a nerve with America’s top diplomat. Just a week ago the former President stole his wife’s thunder when he appeared in North Korea to rescue two American journalists detained there. His trip came just as Secretary Clinton embarked on a swing through Africa she hoped would shine light on the plight of the continent.

What’s odd, unless there are two translators involved somehow, the video clearly shows the questioner speaking in English and saying “Mr. Clinton” and then the lady at the podium repeating the question — again in English — to Mrs. Clinton.

Regardless, her indignant response seems rather over-the-top for America’s chief diplomat. She could have asked for clarification before going off. (My guess would have been that the student meant “Mrs. Clinton” and it got garbled in translation to English.) Or she could have joked, “Well, you’ll have to ask him next time he’s in Kinshasha” and added “but here’s what I think.”

“Diplomacy in action,” indeed.

Jules Crittenden, Doug Mataconis and John Hinderaker all share my take, more or less, of the reaction.

All of the women commenting on this one thus far, however, stick up for Hil.

Pamela Leavey:  “As a woman who blazes her own path, I think Hillary’s response was natural.”

myiq2xu (Not a common name, so hard to guess gender other than that it’s on a blog with riverdaughter as the username A man, but one writing on a group blog with “riverdaughter” as its domain name):

This appears to be the new CDS meme — “Hillary is a mad b**ch.” They used to say she was “cold and calculating” but now she’s out of control. Exactly how do they think she should have responded to the “What does your husband thnk?” question coming from the translator?

Taylor Marsh:

As you can see in the video, Clinton was ticked off at being asked what a male leader thought, especially when her purpose in this region is to draw a bull’s eye on the rape and of in the Congo.

The United States Secretary of State obviously didn’t appreciate the misogyny, which is rampant in the Congo and other African nations, born out by the questioner expecting her to “channel” a male. Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley responded.

“The Secretary of State is going to Goma Tuesday, to draw attention to the plight of who are victims of rape as a weapon of war” in Congo, he said. “She did react to what she heard,” Crowley explained. Even if the interpreter mixed up the translation, he said, “you can’t separate the question from the setting.”

As the Washington Post story quoted at the top reports, Congolese President Joseph Kabila has declared “zero tolerance” regarding sexual assaults and violence against , but so far it’s just words.

There can be no doubt that Clinton came off harsh in this setting. A little righteous indignation from the most powerful female persona on the planet was in order, especially considering in the Congo are in danger most of the hours of their waking and sleeping lives.

CNN reports that after the event Clinton and the questioner “seemed to have reached an understanding,” according to Crowley.

But seriously, you cannot bring basic to in places like the Congo if the men there don’t wake up to the respect deserve, highlighting how far we have to go if not even the U.S. secretary of state is treated with respect.

But she was treated respectfully. A packed house had come to hear her and some nervous student whose native language isn’t English said “Clinton” when he meant “Obama.”

That said, Crowley’s point is a fair one:  “you can’t separate the question from the setting.”  It’s hardly inconceivable that she had gotten the impression during her visit thus far that she was not being treated seriously because of her sex and reacted to the question with that in mind.

FILED UNDER: Africa, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. markm says:

    Not being left of center there is some sense of shadenfreude I get from watching the video. Three things, though, jump out at me:
    1) she looks way crispy burnt tired. I’m sure that is part of the job description but still….
    2) I wonder had William not gone and got those two journalists from NOKO, would she have been less quick to “establish her territory”???.
    3) Who is the pants Czar in this admin???????.

  2. myiq2xu says:

    myiq2xu is a 49 year-old grandfather. He is also a liberal Democrat-in-exile and a Clinton fan (both of them)

  3. G.A.Phillips says:

    Who is the pants Czar in this admin???????.

    lol, you meant pantsuit czar, right? We don’t want to confuse the masses. The pants czar picked out the jeans for the pitch…..

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Diplomacy is the art of not behaving naturally.

  5. Boyd says:

    Natural reaction for a woman? Sure, I’ve got absolutely no problem with that.

    Natural reaction for my country’s top diplomat? Umm…not so much. I wouldn’t have nearly as big a problem with President Hillary Clinton reacting that way, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Epic fail. It’s supporting evidence for my belief that she has essentially zero skills for that position, as well as the absolutely wrong temperment.

    For the record, I believe it would have been as serious a blunder to appoint John Bolton as Secretary of State, too, so political viewpoint has nothing to do with it.

  6. mpw280 says:

    If a Sec of State within an administration with an R after it behaved like this, watch out. Hillary does it, she is just defending her turf and within her rights, just another case of two sets of rules for the press. At least now every two bit dick knows how to get under her skin and make her act like the bitch many people believe she is, which will make it a self fulfilling event. mpw

  7. Triumph says:

    Regardless, her indignant response seems rather over-the-top for America’s chief diplomat. She could have asked for clarification before going off.

    This is exactly why we shouldn’t have broads occupying high positions in public life. Ratty old Maddy Albright was just as bad.

    The only exception for the women-in-high-position rule is Sarah Palin. If she lost her cool in this type of environment no one would know since she can’t seem to string a coherent sentence together.

  8. Picture a Jewish secretary of state visiting Nazi Germany in 1940.

    He gets a question that asks him not what he thinks, but what his gentile assistant thinks.

    Okay to show some teeth? Yeah. Good for her.

    Long ago my wife and I worked for a small hotel. They screwed us so we quit. As we were “discussing” this with the owner my wife said something and the owner said, “I don’t talk to you, I talk to him, I talk to the man.” To which my wife said, “You’ll talk to me mother–cker.”

    I was never more proud.

  9. markm says:

    Who is the pants Czar in this admin???????.

    lol, you meant pantsuit czar, right? We don’t want to confuse the masses. The pants czar picked out the jeans for the pitch…..

    Heh, yeah…this happens every time I paint with a broad brush!.

  10. Furhead says:

    Diplomacy is the art of not behaving naturally.

    As usual, Dave has a perfect quote for the situation. Hillary had a perfectly natural reaction, but should have instead reacted diplomatically.

  11. rodney dill says:

    She could’ve both ‘smacked’ the student down and made her point just by calmly stating something like, ‘I speak for all the American people, not just one individual citizen.’

    Her uncontrolled anger is another good reason, I’m glad she didn’t become President.

  12. DavidL says:

    The problem for Mrs. Clinton, aside from B.J. is that Mrs. Clinton is not a self-made woman. She is not a trail blazer. Her entire political career was built on B.J.’s coat tails.

    As Secretary of State it is Rrs. Clinton’s job represent her country and not to pander to her arrogant pride.

    Mrs. Clinton has told us it was two for one. Now she says she is her own woman. Sure.

  13. mbluesky says:

    If Mrs. Clinton was a man and had corrected someone this never would have been a story – or if it was a story, it would have been described as a “crisply and incisively moved the conversation back to the appropriate topic”.

    The real question is why the media is focusing on a trivial incident, blowing it completely out of proportion, while ignoring the serious evil of systemic rape of women in the Congo? That’s what Mrs. Clinton was there to highlight. That’s the real crime here – the use of rape to terrorize a civilian population. Another moral crime is the U.S. media’s ignoring the real issue in favor of trivializing our diplomat. Yes – I mean you, Joyner, and every other writer out there who has jumped on this non-story.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Another moral crime is the U.S. media’s ignoring the real issue in favor of trivializing our diplomat. Yes – I mean you, Joyner, and every other writer out there who has jumped on this non-story.

    That life in much of sub-Saharan Africa is really, really awful is not news. This is.

    Clinton made a gaffe here and acted very undiplomatically, chastising some poor college student for a slight he didn’t intend.

  15. Rick Almeida says:

    It is hard for me to believe that if former Sec. Rice had been asked what Mr. Rice thought about an issue (notwithstanding the lack of a Mr. Rice), Hinderaker, Crittenden, et al. would be up in arms about the affront to the Secretary of State, and by extension, every citizen of the United States.

  16. James Joyner says:

    It is hard for me to believe that if former Sec. Rice had been asked what Mr. Rice thought about an issue (notwithstanding the lack of a Mr. Rice), Hinderaker, Crittenden, et al. would be up in arms about the affront to the Secretary of State, and by extension, every citizen of the United States.

    The question wouldn’t have made any sense. In this case, Clinton’s husband is in fact eminently more accomplished and renowned.

    But, as it turns out, it was just a mistake on the part of either some hapless college student or the translator.

  17. DavidL says:

    The real question is why the media is focusing on a trivial incident, blowing it completely out of proportion, while ignoring the serious evil of systemic rape of women in the Congo? That’s what Mrs. Clinton was there to highlight. That’s the real crime here – the use of rape to terrorize a civilian population. Another moral crime is the U.S. media’s ignoring the real issue in favor of trivializing our diplomat. Yes – I mean you, Joyner, and every other writer out there who has jumped on this non-story.

    Actually opposing rape would be a novel, and welcome, change of position for Mrs. Clinton. The only real executive experience Mrs. Clinton has had, has been managing her husband’s bimbo eruptions. Then too, the NAG’s don’t seem to get upset about the brutal treatment of women in the world.

  18. dutchmarbel says:

    Unsuprisingly I’m with the other women who feel that Hillary is right to feel pissed when someone asks for ‘mr Clintons opinion through mrs Clintons mouth’. But that’s also because we’ve seen the cumulation of similar things, whilst white guys often see only this one incident and never recognize their own privilege.

    At the same time she responded somewhat more irritable than she should – but in an environment that was not of high diplomatic value. So people will probabely interpret it through partisan glasses.

  19. Drew says:

    As much as I hate to admit it, I’m with Secy. Clinton on this one.

    I think right minded people should cut her some slack. Let’s be honest, she has spent most of her adult life as a model of public emotion control, holding the party line even as her husband partied around town getting his unit polished with every other bimbo available. She has held desperately to those coat tails to enable her to ride them into office one day. That’s tough duty.

    Let’s have some respect.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    re: markm | August 11, 2009 | 08:29 am

    re: G.A.Phillips | August 11, 2009 | 08:38 am

    All this fascination over what the Secretary of State is wearing…I notice that such attention is/was never paid to what Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton as well as every other male figure in the Executive branch is/was wearing…funny that…

  21. James Joyner says:

    notice that such attention is/was never paid to what Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton as well as every other male figure in the Executive branch is/was wearing…funny that…

    Probably because they all wore standard gray or navy suits with white or blue shirts along with Washington-issue neckties.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Probably because they all wore standard gray or navy suits with white or blue shirts along with Washington-issue neckties.

    Oh, so maybe she should wear the same thing…

  23. Joey Buzz says:

    “Smart Power” or another American acting arrogantly abroad? How is that improving our relationships thing working out?

  24. An Interested Party says:

    How is that improving our relationships thing working out?

    Pretty well it would seem…

  25. hcantrall says:

    Dr. Joyner’s evil plan to get more women commenters has worked! WTG!

    Lets relax ladies – I really don’t believe this is a men vs women issue.

  26. rodney dill says:

    If Mrs. Clinton was a man and had corrected someone this never would have been a story – or if it was a story, it would have been described as a “crisply and incisively moved the conversation back to the appropriate topic

    Untrue. Cheney was attacked a bunch of times for being snarly.

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    All this fascination over what the Secretary of State is wearing…I notice that such attention is/was never paid to what Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton as well as every other male figure in the Executive branch is/was wearing…funny that…

    Na, I think the fascination is with why the pantsuit czar picked that outfit for this occasion, why the lavender Sexual dimorphism look instead of a nice sassy lime green Donkstress of power jumper pants combo…..

  28. markm says:

    re: markm | August 11, 2009 | 08:29 am

    re: G.A.Phillips | August 11, 2009 | 08:38 am

    All this fascination over what the Secretary of State is wearing…I notice that such attention is/was never paid to what Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton as well as every other male figure in the Executive branch is/was wearing…funny that…

    A.I.P.: That is a lie and you should take it back. I commented multiple times on the Nancy Pants that Obama dorned during his stint as a first pitcher. I was merely pointing out that this admin has a trouser Czar that is sleeping on the job. During these trying times this should not go unpunished. Frankly, the previous Bush and Clinton admins. did NOT have issues in the pants….well, one did a bit but that was an out of trouser issue.

    It has nothing to do with being an uppidy female…sheesh.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    re: markm | August 11, 2009 | 10:22 pm

    Meet G.A.Phillips | August 11, 2009 | 09:31 pm…

    Perhaps both of you could seek out some position as the Mr. Blackwell of Washington…maybe you could do something to improve these fashion horror stories that seem to concern you so much…

  30. Sean says:

    This is so predictable.

    Why don’t the media write about what counts. About the wider rationale for Mrs Clinton’s visit:

    That is two things:
    By 2025 the US government expects to import at least 25% of its oil suppliers from African sources—Clinton is visiting three suppliers on this trip: Angola, Nigeria, and Cape Verde. Obama visited a fourth, Ghana (they discovered oil in 2007), a month ago. Right now Nigeria is the 5th largest, and Angola the 6th largest exporters of oil to the United States. Oh, and the US is facing competition from China (who operate by a different, easier, set of rules for foreign investment) for African oil and other resources, including in the Congo.

    Which incidentally is not a secret since State Department officials can\’t stop wanting to tell the media about it, but the media won\’t report it.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    Why don’t the media write about what counts.

    You really expect our ridiculous media to do that? That would be hoping for too much from them…

  32. Anona says:

    Why don’t the media write about what counts.

    What, write about brutality against women? That’s not important to the media.

    I’m glad Hillary spoke as she did and I respect her more for it.