She emerges in the confidential cable traffic as tough as any man, eager to deal with the Saudis as the unreliable ally they pretend not to be. In one signed memorandum, she calls Saudi Arabia the largest source of money for Islamist terror gangs.
"More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban ... and other terrorist groups," she says. She tells her diplomats to get to work to stop the flow of money from the Persian Gulf to terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to get crucial cell phone and credit card numbers. "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." She identifies Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates as other sources of terror financing, and cites Qatar as the worst offender.
This is the kind of tough talk that diplomats never use in public -- many of them don't know how to talk this tough even in private -- and the secretary of state was as abashed as anyone in official Washington with the WikiLeaks disclosures. Diplomats must be able to speak freely to each other and to the home office without eavesdroppers. Nevertheless, embarrassing or not, the cable traffic reveals Hillary as one of the toughest dudes in an administration of softies. But she clearly doesn't want to go back to the future.
The secretary of state, who had repeatedly discouraged talk that she might run for president again, maybe even reprise her run against Barack Obama, last week came close to taking "a Sherman" -- named for the Civil War general who famously scotched presidential speculation with his vow that "if nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve."
That's been the gold standard of presidential brush-offs since, and Hillary came close to using it, telling a town hall in Bahrain, of all places, that her current job is "my last public position." When she leaves her present job, she wants to "go back to advocacy work." That's exactly the line of work that was Barack Obama's chief qualification for president, but if she intended irony she didn't show it.
Hillary sounds and looks weary of the strains of the job, the constant travel across endless time zones, the lack of sleep and the reality of playing the political game when someone else writes and enforces the rules. She took a lot of flak as first lady, much of it deserved, when she seemed to forget that no one had elected her to anything.
She ran for the Senate as a taker -- she didn't live in New York and she didn't care that she didn't deserve that, either. When she got to the Senate, she could at last do as she wanted, at home with unapologetic liberals and noisy feminists. But as secretary of state, she's carrying water for someone else not nearly as smart as she is (so she thinks).
She can't like the impolitic way the president has treated Israel, making trouble for the Jews and always looking to cut the Palestinians the edge. She can't say anything about that, either, though she knows her old constituents in Manhattan, many of them Jewish, are unhappy it.
She liked being loved in New York, surrounded by liberals and practiced sophisticates who agreed with her on just about everything. As secretary of state, she's the parrot for a president still stuck in the community organizing game Saul Alinsky taught him.
How it must gall her to be nice, or at least civil, to the creeps behind the scenes with whom she must deal. WikiLeaks showed us that. She has to deal with bureaucrats at State from whom she must hide, or at least disguise, contempt. Good ol' Bill loves politics and politicians, and would trade his foundation for campaign politics in a New York minute. But she thrives in wholehearted adulation, which she will get in abundance as Lady Bountiful in a foundation of her own.
Why shouldn't she laugh at the idea that she might run for president again? An answer to a question at the town hall in Bahrain speaks volumes. "Every president, if you watch what they look like when they come into office," she observed, "you can see their hair turn white because it's such a hard job." What woman wants to be a white-haired old lady before her time?