Ask not what you can do for the peace process, but what the peace process can do for you.
Thus the approach of US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Some may say that Hillary distorting beyond recognition any role she played in the North may not be a big deal. But it’s the matter which involves us, and it’s telling in its way.
Marcella Bombardieri of the Boston Globe has described Clinton
“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.'”
Sad, benighted people of Belfast. Never in their lives in the same room together. Such hostility that “nobody” thought it advisable even to try to bring them together. Until Hillary Clinton happened along aglow with goodness and, ignoring scepticism all around, insisted on “hosting” an unprecedented coming together.
By her account, this brave initiative where all else had failed succeeded in breaching the centuries-old sectarian barrier to produce an epiphany.
“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.”
These events, according to Clinton, took place at Belfast “town hall.”
You’d have thought she’d have found space to mention this episode in her 2003 autobiography. But no. The 560-page Living History does include a description of an occasion in a community facility in Belfast to which she had been invited, attended by women community activists well known to one another, who had regularly been in the same room together. The meeting had been organised by the NIO.
Clinton’s fanciful new tale isn’t an exercise in personal aggrandisement. Nor is it a vague reminiscence mentioned in passing. It is a nicely-structured, detailed story which has come to form part of her standard campaign presentation. Marcella Bombardieri observes: “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 has been professionally designed to fit into the presidential photofit constructed for the campaign. It is implicitly offered as a model for the Clintons’ style of engagement with a troubled world generally, soothing ancient enmities, bringing peace — in present circumstances, a very attractive message for an anxious US electorate.
It is a view which is reflected back here. The notion is about, and is rarely challenged, that the Clintons are held in equally high regard by all sections for their generous efforts to encourage us towards peace. We are even told explicitly that we “owe” the Clintons for this selfless beneficence.
The truth, and everybody knows it, is that the Clintons are much more warmly regarded by Nationalists than by Unionists. Bill Clinton is seen as having ranged himself on the Nationalist side since February 1994 when, against the wishes of John Major, he granted Gerry Adams a US visa.
This was, true, an important moment. It helped speed the IRA ceasefire seven months later by enabling the leadership to convince the membership that there was something tantalizing 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 factor in ensuring that when the Republican Movement abandoned the path of armed struggle, it veered to the right and not to the left.
This has been the most specific and identifiable effect on our politics of the involvement of US administrations, most importantly the Clintons’, in the political development of the North.
That done, now we are just being used.
EAMONN McCANN can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com