29 november 2012

Morsi’s Moment

Time Magazine’s cover denna vecka om Egyptens Mohammed Morsi. Säkert Mellanösterns mest betydelsefulle man just nu, trots hans halsstarriga dekret om sin egen makt. Eller kanske just därför.

By Bobby Ghosh / Cairo Nov. 28, 2012

The most important man in the Middle East started 2012 as much a stranger to the people he now rules as he was to the rest of the world. Although Mohamed Morsi had long been part of the core leadership of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, he was viewed as a back-room operator, largely unnoticed among the Islamic party’s more charismatic political and religious figures. Not many outside of a handful of State Department Arabists in Washington had even heard his name.

And yet the year’s end finds Morsi instantly identifiable worldwide, even as his intentions in Egypt and the region remain very much unclear. In recent weeks, he has been hailed as a peacemaker by the U.S. and Israel, a savior by the Palestinians, a statesman by much of the Arab world—and branded a tyrant by the tens of thousands who have jammed Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square since Nov. 22 to denounce him. Whether you think him a hero or a villain, the short, stocky Islamist with the professional air is navigating some of the world’s trickiest political waters.

(MORE: An Interview with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: ‘We’re Learning How to Be Free’)

Morsi doesn’t pretend his tenure has been perfect and argues it can’t be. Speaking with TIME in his first interview with the international media since the Gaza crisis, he points out that his government is Egypt’s first experience of real democracy. “So what do you expect. Things to go very smooth? No. It has to be rough, at least,” he says. But he also gives the impression of a man having a year to remember. “2012 is the best year for the Egyptians in their lives, in their history,” he says. “We’re suffering, but always a new birth is not easy, especially if it’s the birth of a nation.”


When the interview was scheduled, Morsi was riding high. His successful brokering of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas had given him widening international and domestic support, a feat unmatched by any other Arab leader in the modern era, and offered the prospect that Egypt might again lead the region as it did under Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s. Morsi had already displayed unexpectedly nimble political skills to pry executive power away from the Egyptian military. For a moment, there was even the possibility that Morsi had amassed just the right proportion of international credibility and domestic political capital to start delivering on the promise of the Arab Spring. But then he overreached. Instead of consolidating the power he had amassed in service of his country’s emerging democracy, he grabbed for more.

(MORE: Washington’s Two Opinions of Egypt’s Islamist President)

As Morsi spoke with TIME at the presidential palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis suburb, most of Egypt’s major cities were again ringing with the chant that had been the Arab Spring’s rallying cry: “The people want the fall of the regime.” The slogan that helped bring down Hosni Mubarak is now being hurled at the country’s first democratically elected civilian President by both cronies of Mubarak and the revolutionaries who toppled him. In Tahrir Square, judges appointed by the old dictator, many of whom enabled his decades-long repression of political dissent, joined their voices with liberal and secular activists. The most popular joke in Egypt these days is that Morsi has done the impossible: he has united the opposition.

Morsi achieved that by issuing an emergency decree on Nov. 22 appropriating for himself sweeping new powers, including immunity for his decisions from judicial challenge. The President insists his decree is a temporary measure designed to prevent politically motivated judges from undermining the process of creating a new constitution. But to critics, one particular provision, giving him “power to take all necessary measures” against threats to national security and to last year’s revolution, smells of dictatorship. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace laureate and liberal politician, dubbed Morsi the new pharaoh.

For the rest of the world, however, and especially the U.S., the stakes are even higher. Whether Morsi proves to be a reformer or an autocrat will play an outsize role in the prospects for continued peace with Israel, the fate of democracy in the Middle East and the balance of power in the world’s most unstable region. “We will soon learn what kind of leader he is,” says a White House official, “because this current episode is very much a test of his capacity to work effectively with all the various interests in Egypt.”

POLL: Should Mohamed Morsi Be TIME’s Person of the Year 2012?

To the Top via Los Angeles
Morsi’s path to the presidency is unique, not only for Egypt but also for a region where leaders tend to come from royalty or the military. Born into modest means in a village north of Cairo, Morsi escaped the dreary fate of millions of his impoverished countrymen by excelling at academics. An engineering degree in Cairo was followed by a seven-year stint in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, when he got a Ph.D. in materials science at the University of Southern California and then worked as an assistant professor at California State University at Northridge. His California years left Morsi with an abiding fondness for the Trojans, USC’s football team, and the nickname Mo, an old friend said. Two of his five children were born in the U.S. and are American citizens; he laughs at the suggestion that they will one day be qualified to run for the U.S. presidency.

When he returned to Egypt in 1985, he became active in the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group known for its strong anti-American positions. But Morsi retains a warm nostalgia for his former home. “I don’t like it when people in my country say, ‘America is against us,’ because I know [the situation] is different,” he says, citing the friendliness he encountered in California.

Back in Egypt, while teaching at an Egyptian university, Morsi rose swiftly in the ranks of the Brotherhood: he would serve in parliament, then become something of a political enforcer within the group. After Mubarak’s fall last year made the prospect of a President from the Brotherhood almost inevitable, Morsi’s name was rarely mentioned. When he emerged this year as the candidate of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, Morsi was mocked by rivals as “the spare tire,” an unsubtle allusion to the fact that he was not his party’s preferred standard bearer. But the party’s first choice, Khairat al-Shater, a millionaire businessman and Morsi’s mentor, was disqualified because of a criminal record stemming from charges, likely fabricated, during the Mubarak years. When attempts to reinstate al-Shater failed, Morsi filed his nomination papers on the last possible day.

(PHOTOS: Thousands in Cairo Protest Morsi’s Decree)

Although he is avuncular up close, Morsi proved a colorless campaigner: his stump speeches were dull, he skipped the sole televised debate, and even his own commercials seemed designed to hide him from view. He won less than a quarter of the vote in May’s first round of balloting, and it was only the Brotherhood’s disciplined political organization that allowed him to squeak through the runoff election on June 16 and 17 with 51.7%.

Lacking a ringing mandate, much discernible charisma or experience in political combat, Morsi seemed poorly equipped to take on either the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the cabal of generals that had run the country since Mubarak’s ouster, or the judiciary made up mostly of judges appointed by the former dictator. After the runoff vote but before the results were announced, the Constitutional Court declared Egypt’s first free parliamentary elections illegal, empowering SCAF to dissolve the body where Morsi’s party had a plurality of seats. The generals also announced an interim decree that insulated the military from civilian control and effectively gave the generals veto rights over any new constitution. If SCAF was determined to undermine Morsi’s authority, he was unlikely to get any help from liberal and secular parties, which have long feared the Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda. Morsi looked like a lame duck even before he had been sworn in. “My expectations from him could not have been lower,” says Heba Morayef, Egypt director of Human Rights Watch. “His hands seemed completely tied.”

But they were not. On assuming the presidency, he displayed a previously hidden talent for deft public stagecraft: during his inaugural speech in Tahrir Square, he opened his jacket to reveal that he, unlike Mubarak, didn’t need a bulletproof vest, suggesting he was a man of the people, Then, less than two months after his swearing-in, he astonished both his allies and his critics by replacing several top generals and making himself SCAF’s chairman. How he pulled this off remains something of a mystery: some Egyptians suspect Morsi made a Faustian pact with the top brass. Others speculate he found some incriminating evidence against them. It’s more likely he did an end run around the old guard and appealed to the second-tier officers who were weary of waiting for their turn to rule.

MORE: Egypt’s Morsi: Has He Started Something He Can’t Finish?

Still, the worst fears of Egyptian liberals and some American observers seemed to have come to pass: an Islamist now had practically absolute legislative power in the most populous Arab nation. There was a chorus of “told you so”s when an American-made anti-Islam video on YouTube led to an angry mob bursting into the grounds of the U.S. embassy in Cairo—and Morsi took two days to condemn the attack. His first few foreign trips, to China and Iran, were quickly interpreted as an effort to pull Egypt out of the American orbit.

But Morsi has shown restraint. He has so far declined to adopt the harshest interpretations of Shari‘a law, has not imposed dress codes on women and tourists, and whatever his rhetoric has not torn up Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel or flung open the border with Gaza to take pressure off Hamas. His trip to China was not, it turned out, about finding an alternative patron to the U.S., and the Obama Administration was delighted when Morsi gave a speech in Tehran condemning Iran’s ally, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. (The Iranians struggled to control their embarrassment.) Although Morsi failed in his effort, with Turkey and Qatar, to broker an end to the Assad regime’s slaughter of civilians, the attempt showed that Egypt’s goal in Syria was complementary, not contradictory, to that of other nations. Then came Gaza.

Peace—and Then Protests
Maybe it was inevitable that Morsi’s presidential credentials would be tested in the tiny enclave on the Egyptian border that is home to 1.6 million Palestinians. The Muslim Brotherhood has deep ties to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, and Morsi has a history of anti-Israel rhetoric. Although he had preserved the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, he was never going to look the other way, as Mubarak was wont to do, when Israel battled Hamas.

(MORE: How the Gaza Truce Makes Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood a Peace Player)

When Israel launched its military campaign against Hamas on Nov. 14, Morsi condemned the attack in robust terms, but didn’t go nearly as far as Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who described Israel as a “terrorist state.” He withdrew Egypt’s ambassador to Israel but kept open channels of communication between Egyptian and Israeli intelligence agencies. To show solidarity with Hamas, he sent his Prime Minister to Gaza during the thick of the bombardment but didn’t unseal the border to allow the militants an escape route—or an open resupply line.

Meanwhile, Morsi spoke six times over several days with President Obama. Events in Gaza moved the two men closer: when they had spoken on the phone in the wake of the attack on the U.S. embassy in October, Obama had been reproachful of Morsi’s inaction. Now their conversations grew more personal: Morsi called Obama at 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 20, apologizing for the lateness of the hour. Obama responded by encouraging Morsi to call whenever he needed, regardless of the time. A few hours later, when Morsi called again, Obama offered his condolences to Morsi, whose sister had died the day before, after a long battle with cancer. Obama told Morsi he knew firsthand the difficulty of dealing with personal setbacks under the public glare. “Obama,” Morsi says, “has been very helpful, very helpful.”

Although the cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas were moderated by Egyptian intelligence officials, Morsi was the whip hand. He spent 75 minutes with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton going over the terms of the proposed cease-fire, reading it out loud in English and offering his opinion on each issue, where he agreed and where he felt edits were needed, a U.S. official reported. His national security adviser took notes as Morsi and Clinton worked out the details. “Our intelligence people were talking to Israel and Hamas during the Mubarak years, but that didn’t help,” says Amr Darrag, who heads the Freedom and Justice Party’s foreign-relations committee. “What was different this time is that you had Morsi, who has genuine legitimacy as an elected leader and real credibility with Hamas.” If there was some grumbling from Islamists at home that Morsi hadn’t helped Hamas enough—by opening the border, for one—it was silenced when Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal declared, “Egypt did not sell out the resistance.”

The applause hadn’t died down when Egypt announced another big win: a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan, a crucial shot in the arm for an economy that was already slowing when Mubarak was ousted and has only gone downhill since. Analysts said the IMF deal, predicated on Egypt’s commitment to reduce its budget deficit, would reassure private interests that the nation was a safe bet for investors. That, in turn, would help to start paring down unemployment, the root of so much of the discontent displayed in Tahrir Square over the past two years.

MORE: After the Power Play in Egypt: Morsi and the Islamists vs. Everyone Else

But the very next day, Morsi gave Egyptians a new reason to protest. He and his aides insist the Nov. 22 emergency decree putting his decisions beyond legal challenge was not a power grab, just a desperate attempt to preserve the democratic process. Their argument: the Mubarak-appointed judges of the Constitutional Court, having already declared the elected parliament illegitimate, were about to do the same with the Constituent Assembly. (The court had dissolved the first Constituent Assembly in April.) Far from seeking absolute power, say Morsi aides, the President is seeking to swiftly empower the legislative branch of government: a new constitution and elections for parliament will allow him to hand off authority. “If he was a new pharaoh, he wouldn’t be so keen on a new constitution and parliament,” says Darrag, who is also secretary general of the Constituent Assembly. “You can’t call a man a dictator when he’s trying to give up power.”

Darrag allows that the announcement of the emergency decree could have been more skillfully handled. “[Morsi] could have communicated his motivations better,” he says. “He made it too easy for his enemies to turn this into a weapon against him.” But he maintains that the new powers will be strictly temporary, expiring when the Constituent Assembly produces a constitution and a new parliament is elected.

The trouble with that argument is that the constitution-drafting process Morsi claims to be trying to save is, in the eyes of many liberals and religious minorities, not worth saving. Already more than 20 members of the Constituent Assembly— including those representing the Coptic churches and several liberal, secular parties—have resigned, most citing disagreements over the extent to which Islamic law should guide legislation. Many liberals would rather scrap the process and start again.

(MORE: The Document That May Define the New Egypt: Why the Constitution Matters)

And then there’s the darker possibility. Some Western experts believe Morsi’s power grab shows that he is playing a longer game with the ultimate goal of a rigid Islamic state no longer open to democratic freedoms or aligned with Western interests. “He’s not, and never has been, a moderate,” says Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who interviewed Morsi repeatedly as an academic starting in 2010. “His function inside the Muslim Brotherhood was that of an enforcer [who] would weed out anyone who didn’t agree with [its] strict doctrine or tactics.”

Even the Cairo street seems a bit unsure of Morsi’s ultimate direction. In some pockets of Tahrir Square, it is hard to tell the protesters from the casual pedestrians. Vendors hawk roasted corn and yams, popcorn and Egyptian candy. On one corner, riot police toss tear gas at gangs of young men wearing handkerchiefs over their faces, and spectators look on with no sense of fear. In other sections, the anger at Morsi is palpable. “This is a blatant attempt to get himself the powers of Mubarak, and we won’t agree to it,” says Shaadi Mohammed, 23, who described himself as a “former fan” of the new President. “We united to kick Mubarak out. If Morsi isn’t careful, we will do the same to him.”

Which Way Next?
In his conversation with TIME, Morsi didn’t seem concerned by the street protests. “Egyptians are free. They are raising their voices when they are opposing the President,” he said. “We have a new Egypt now.” But do they? After the first spasm of outrage at the decree, some aides hinted that he would announce a compromise. That hasn’t happened. Once Tahrir Square filled up, it made a retraction harder: it might make him look weak. The other way out is to be true to his word and use the emergency powers to quickly deliver a new constitution, one that distributes power more evenly among the presidency, legislature and judiciary. This will first require him to bring back to the assembly the members who quit. Not easy, but not impossible for a man who persuaded Egypt’s top generals to walk away from power.

Yet with crowds back in the streets and the unpredictable forces of change at work once again, even Morsi may no longer know where he is leading his new country.

with reporting by Ashraf Khalil And Karl Vick / Cairo And Jay Newton-Small / Washington

VIDEO: Egyptians Gather Together (but Not United) in Tahrir Square

How Hillary Clinton’s choices predict her future

Här är en megalång, men mycket intressant artikel från Washington Post om framtiden för Hillary Clinton.

By Stephanie McCrummen

On a recent Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton walked with her husband onto a stage at the New York Sheraton to cheers and whoops and a standing ovation that only got louder as she tried to quiet things down.

It was a friendly crowd — the annual meeting of her husband’s foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative — and people may have been eager to hear her speech about using U.S. aid to target investment barriers such as old land tenure laws. But really, they were there to see her.

“She’s just looked so sad and so tired,” said Ritu Sharma, a women’s rights activist, referring to Clinton’s appearances in the days after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

They wanted to defend her, to rave about her, to say how sick they were of people talking about her hair, and then to talk about her hair, which, several men and women offered, definitely looked best in a simple chignon.

Mostly, though, people wondered what the woman walking across the stage — now smiling as a soaring, presidential-sounding score began playing — would choose to do next. Maybe now, in her final months in office, she would provide a clue.

Bill and Hillary Clinton looked at each other and laughed. He rolled his eyes.

Then she began talking about how effective development can advance global peace and prosperity — the sort of long, detail-laden speech that Clinton has given a thousand times, the kind that says exactly nothing and everything about her future.

In recent weeks, Hillary Clinton has reiterated that she will not stay on for President Obama’s second term, unleashing fresh waves of speculation about her plans.

There is hypothesizing that she is merely entering a hibernation period before a 2016 presidential bid. There is talk that she will start her own women’s rights initiative. There is the prospect, too, that this might really be it for one of the most iconic figures in American political history.

What is clear is that despite lingering questions about Benghazi, Clinton is more beloved than at any point in her long and at times controversial career, commanding soaring approval ratings, a vast fundraising machine and supporters who gush more than ever that she should run for president again.

The truth is, though, that no one is sure what Hillary Clinton will do, possibly not even Clinton herself, who has said her plans include sleeping and watching the home-improvement show “Love It or List It,” which she finds calming.

But there is one way to figure out what Clinton may ultimately decide, and that is to examine what she has already done: not the obligatory things such as jetting to the Middle East as she did last week, but those things that as a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state she has chosen to do.

Beyond carrying out the Obama administration’s foreign policy and troubleshooting global crises, Clinton has deliberately carved out her own agenda during her four years as secretary of state, making an array of choices that reflect who she is after more than 30 years in public service.

Of these, the first was her decision to sublimate any resentment that had come between her and Obama during their fight for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The most controversial may be her push for “expeditionary diplomacy,” the idea that diplomats should engage more with people beyond embassy walls, which Stevens, the ambassador to Libya, exemplified.

The rest are more obscure. They include promoting a milk cooperative in Malawi and low-pollution “clean” cookstoves in China and attending an environmental summit in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk. They include decidedly unglamorous events, such as a conference devoted to gender-specific data collection, and thousands of miles traveled to often-overlooked places.

“I’m very happy that my 100th country was Latvia,” Clinton told students in Riga in June.

From the start, Clinton has explained her agenda as part of a new “21st-century diplomacy” that demands the United States be more attuned to the grass roots of the world and relies on development and civilian power as much as military might, an approach foreign policy gurus will debate for years to come.

Some say that Clinton diluted her energy and failed to achieve any signature triumphs, such as an end to the Syrian crisis. Others argue that through a thousand lesser-known efforts and initiatives, she has achieved nothing less than a transformative shift toward a more effective and modern American diplomacy.

What is certain is that Clinton’s choices tell a story about who she is, how she thinks and perhaps what she will decide to do in the future. And so the answer to the question of whether she will run for president in 2016 might begin on a trans-Atlantic flight this summer, the first leg of one of her longest trips as secretary.

As is her habit, Clinton walked to the back of the cabin to chat with the traveling press. It was early, and she seemed relaxed in a track suit and dark sunglasses.

The 12-day odyssey would include meetings in Paris, Kabul, Tokyo, Hanoi, Cairo and Jerusalem. But the stop Clinton was really looking forward to was Ulan Bator, Mongolia, where she once downed a glass of yak milk in the spirit of diplomacy.

A reporter mentioned that she was scheduled to visit with the Mongolian president in his ceremonial yurt, the traditional Mongol dwelling. Clinton smiled.

“It’s not a yurt,” she corrected, noting that Mongolians prefer not to use the Turkic term. “It’s a ger.”

Off the beaten path

By the time Clinton’s plane landed at Genghis Khan International Airport, she had already grabbed international headlines.

In Paris, she had blasted Russia and China for “blockading” a solution to the Syrian crisis. In Kabul, she had declared Afghanistan a “non-NATO ally.” In Tokyo, she announced U.S. aid to the Afghan government. There had been red carpets, photos with presidents and dinners under chandeliers.

Now it was a gray Monday in Mongolia, a country on China’s doorstep booming with coal, copper and gold mines, and because Clinton had decided it was important to be there, her motorcade was zipping along a potholed highway past grazing cows and construction cranes.

In the capital, she trotted up the marble stairs of a government building, greeted Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj and ducked into his ger. Like so many things Clinton did during the trip, this was not something she was obliged to do.

After that, she gave a speech to an international women’s group about political liberalization that was clearly aimed at China, but which also emphasized the role of women in politics, words she did not have to utter.

And after that, Clinton moved to a beige conference room for an event that was decidedly unnecessary to attend, but for which she had traveled more than 6,000 miles.

“It’s a pleasure to be with all of you this afternoon to help launch the LEND Network, a new tool that will help countries navigate the transition to sustainable democracy,” she began.

Her aides started checking their BlackBerrys. Some reporters took a breather. Yet Clinton, sitting at a table full of officials, seemed more energized than ever.

She spoke enthusiastically about the new online forum and how exciting it was to be able to provide “on-demand democracy support” to new leaders in places such as Kyrgyzstan.

“And in a minute,” said Clinton, uttering words that would make no headlines, “we’ll get to see the network in action when the foreign minister of Moldova conducts a live video chat with his former counterpart from Slovakia.”

Clinton listened and watched a computer screen as the faces of the Slovakian and Moldovan participants were beamed in, the latter from his vacation house.

“I’m so happy to be part of this launch,” Clinton told them.

And it was clear from her expression that she was, that this was the kind of thing that mattered to Clinton, who considered it a tiny step toward the larger goal of promoting democratic leadership, and thus a tiny step toward global peace and prosperity.

Asked about it in an interview later, she lit up.

“It’s really one of the big gaps I see around the world,” Clinton said. “I mean, who do these people have to talk to? I mean, one day they’re a political prisoner or they’re in exile or minding their own business in their job or at the university they teach at and the next minute they’re a president or a prime minister or a foreign minister? I mean, imagine!”

She continued:

“And there’s no real opportunity for them to feel comfortable because they don’t want to show weakness, don’t want to show ignorance — to say, ‘How does this work? What am I supposed to do?’ It’s fascinating to me.”

The Clinton character

Of all the things that Clinton’s friends say about her, opinions bend toward two essential facets of her character.

The first is that in the time they have known her — as a student leader in the 1960s, as a first lady, as a U.S. senator or now — Clinton has not really changed except to become more of the person she has always been: a deeply optimistic Methodist who believes that government can advance human progress and a hopeless wonk who knows her yurts from her gers.

The second is that while Clinton is a famously shrewd political operator, she is never more energized or relentless as when she is pursuing a cause that she believes will improve people’s lives, however incrementally.

This has often been Clinton’s most polarizing quality. It is what her detractors have at times interpreted as self-righteousness and a precursor to classic big-government liberalism. It is what her admirers have viewed as the doggedly pragmatic, in-the-trenches quality that makes Clinton an almost heroic, if also at times tragic, figure.

“This job has just amplified things that have always been there,” said Betsy Ebeling, a friend of Clinton’s since their childhood in Chicago, when they read novels about knights in shining armor, heard the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak, and canvassed Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. “It’s given her a great stage for the many things she’s always cared about, only now she has the whole world.”

At the State Department, Clinton has used her power to create an array of new offices and positions devoted to long-standing causes: for civil society and emerging democracies; for global youth issues; and for the one for which she is most often noted, global women’s issues. She is widely credited with changing how the department thinks about women.

In March, Clinton issued a document titled “Promoting Gender Equality to Achieve Our National Security and Foreign Policy Objectives,” which directs the entire department to include women in everything from budget plans to peace negotiations. Naturally, she backed up the decision with data showing that doing so can advance conflict resolution and unlock economic potential.

“Now, I am sure when you received an invitation to a conference on data you probably thought, ‘Oh, boy, how exciting!’ ” Clinton said to an audience this summer. “But I think you would agree — this really is an exciting time for data.”

While Clinton’s initiatives have not led to major foreign policy shifts, they have resulted in project after project.

“People roll their eyes when she talks about clean cookstoves,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, Clinton’s policy planning chief until last year. “But if the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves succeeds” — an initiative Clinton launched to get 100 million homes to ditch toxic fires for clean-burning stoves — “we will have reduced carbon, improved women’s security and saved millions of lives, and that is enormous.”

Clinton has cast her choices as a response to a changing world where power and threats are more diffuse, requiring the United States to pay more attention to jobless youths in North Africa and grinding poverty across the globe.

“We cannot assume that we are going to be understood and appreciated when so much of the world is young, without much of a sense of the historical antecedents of who we are, where we came from, what we did,” she said in the interview. “So we have to be everywhere.”

A more personal explanation for Clinton’s choices relates to her own struggle to be understood, she said, and “how important it was for me as a young woman to truly feel I had a place at the table.”

Another has to do with the faith she has embraced since she was a girl.

“As a Christian, part of my obligation is to take action to alleviate suffering,” she told the United Methodist News Service in 1992. “Explicit recognition of that in the Methodist tradition is one reason I’m comfortable in this church.”

Sitting in her office two decades later, Clinton said her faith still drives her.

“It is very much fundamental as to who I am and how I see myself,” she said.

Grass-roots diplomacy

Afew days after Mongolia, Clinton’s plane touched down in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, a country that saw more than 580,000 bombing runs by the United States during the Vietnam War, a war that Clinton protested in college.

Although she met with the prime minister on matters related to the U.S. “pivot” toward Asia, Laos was another unnecessary stop, so unnecessary that no U.S. secretary of state had visited in 57 years.

Clinton motorcaded down a road past palm trees and monks in bright-orange robes and a countryside still haunted by unexploded American bombs.

She had wanted to see a local prosthetics center that had become a sort of museum of the unresolved horrors of the war, and now she walked inside.

She looked up at crude wooden and metal limbs dangling from the ceiling and maps dotted with locations of bombs. She asked why there isn’t better technology to remove them.

Then she made her way to Phongsavath Sonilya, who lost his forearms and eyesight to a bomb on his 16th birthday. He had been sitting in a chair in a far corner waiting for her. Clinton reached out and touched his shoulder.

“Hello,” she said, keeping her hand there as they spoke for a few minutes. “It’s so nice to meet you.”

Later, Clinton flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where she met with a group of women who were trying to unionize the hotels and textile factories where they work. Clinton looked particularly regal in a purple dress and sparkling necklace, and some of the women called her “Your Highness,” although she ignored it.

She was becoming slightly irritated, in fact, because she was having trouble understanding a young woman who was describing her brutal working conditions but was getting confused by the voice of the translator in her headset. She kept starting and stopping. No one was helping her.

“Tell her to take off her earphones when she’s talking so she doesn’t hear the sound,” Clinton said. “It’s confusing her.”

Someone whispered to the young woman, who still did not understand what to do and now looked more nervous.

Clinton smiled at her. She gestured for her to take her headphones off, which she finally did. Then the woman continued with her horrifying story, saying at the end that she was not sure she had the courage to face the perils of union organizing.

“Thank you,” one of the most powerful women in the world said to one of the least. “But I disagree. You are very courageous. I want you to know that.”

Clinton’s choices, Clinton’s future

In small rooms, it is often easy to read what Hillary Clinton is thinking. But the fact is that most of her adult life has been lived on public stages where she has often seemed harder to figure out.

Two days after the attack on the U.S. post in Benghazi, for example, Clinton stood in the State Department’s ornate Franklin room, having decided to go ahead with an evening reception marking Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday. After hours of comforting employees and calling relatives of the dead, Clinton faced the Washington diplomatic corps and talked about another one of her choices.

“I’m the one who sent Chris to Benghazi during the revolution,” she said in a deliberate tone.

There would be questions about whether Clinton’s department had failed to provide adequate security for the diplomatic mission, whether procedures were followed and whether politics had entered into explanations of the attack.

But for now, Clinton had to listen as a colleague said nice things about her, about all the great work she had done, about how inspiring she was, how good.

Clinton looked out at the crowd. She smiled vaguely. Then she stared up at the ceiling and tried to keep her composure.

Another example came at the New York Sheraton this fall, when Bill Clinton introduced his wife as a “walking NGO” and explained her choices as secretary of state in simple terms. She had not just tried to defuse crises and stop bad things from happening, he said, “she tries to make good things happen.”

As Hillary Clinton moved to the podium, the audience cheered and whooped. She smiled and gave her speech, a Clinton classic touching on evidence-based analysis, building capacity in poor nations, women as economic agents, self-sufficiency and throwing out old development orthodoxies.

It was a speech she did not have to give, one filled with the kind of in-the-weeds detail that only a wonky Methodist who believes she is supposed to make good things happen would spend an hour giving. Clinton barely looked at her notes. She seemed to be having a blast.

“Thank you for devoting your energy, your efforts and your resources to improving our world one day at a time,” she said before heading off.

All of which explained that the answer to the question of whether Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016 — whether she will seek the job with the most power to do the most good of all — is another question: whether she can keep herself from it.

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