In recent days, I often haven't recognized the Hillary Clinton being portrayed in the media. I am concerned that the woman I worked with in the White House for nearly two years is getting lost in the spin cycle - particularly when it comes to her potential role as "commander in chief."
While she clearly erred in her recent description of what happened at an airport in Bosnia years ago, the incident has been blown out of proportion. As one who has worked closely with her, I can say that Senator Clinton's experience and work overseas point to something far more significant: a new direction in American foreign policy, which is in desperate need of change.
When I was on her staff, Mrs. Clinton pursued a daunting schedule of foreign trips. She addressed the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, exhorting the world's business and governmental leaders on the importance of international development as a foundation for civil society. She understood that peace in Northern Ireland depended on the engagement of citizens at the grass roots, especially women - a point she stressed in the Millennium Lecture at the University of Ireland in Galway. And she stood on the stage at the Palermo Opera House in Sicily, speaking passionately about the critical role of citizens' movements in the quest to defeat organized crime and reclaim communities.
For me, the depth of her commitment to these issues was evident not only during her moments in the spotlight. It also emerged behind the scenes, as she pushed us off the beaten track to consult people about their everyday lives and struggles. Over the years, in nearly 80 countries, these personal experiences and conversations deeply shaped her policy agenda and explain why she believes we must invest our prestige, power and dollars in human development.
One such occasion remains vivid: Mrs. Clinton's visit - up five flights of stairs - to a small women's legal clinic in Beijing. It was hot and stuffy, but the room was packed with women eager to meet with the first lady of the U.S. In a totalitarian country, where women's rights were still marginal at best, these women lawyers worked tirelessly to help others claim their rights on such issues as divorce and housing - often at some risk to themselves. They were stunned at Mrs. Clinton's knowledge of the issues they faced. After a lively discussion, one woman stood up. "You have no idea," she said, "what it means that you are here today with all of us. We will never forget this." And she began to weep.
A long drive to an isolated school in rural Morocco offered another example of Mrs. Clinton's immersion in grass-roots issues around the world. She believes that no nation can fully advance with half its population left behind.
In Morocco, she used a visit with local teachers to explore the reasons why girls were so unlikely to attend school. Were the barriers economic, cultural or both? What could be done to improve the situation, and could our government help? These discussions informed her efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other organizations at work in poor countries.
Before delivering a keynote address on domestic violence in El Salvador, she spent hours meeting with leaders across the political and economic spectrum - elected officials, heads of nongovernmental organizations, mothers and human rights activists. It was the kind of gathering she always convened whenever she visited a country. Creating a space for honest, open talk, and recognizing the role of ordinary citizens, were distinctive ways she brought people together around their common concerns and aspirations.
What struck me about these numerous visits and conversations was Mrs. Clinton's unwavering commitment to identify and promote strategies with positive effects on people's lives. Wherever she went, she searched for concrete solutions to lift people out of poverty, create stronger communities, and bolster democratic institutions worldwide.
Mrs. Clinton has the interest, experience and credentials to reverse the incalculable damage that the Bush administration has inflicted on America's standing in the international community. We need a commander in chief who understands that American leadership depends on balancing military strength with our nation's heritage as a beacon of freedom and hope.
With Hillary, I think we get that balance - and more.
Christy Macy, director of publications at the Baltimore-based International Youth Foundation, served on the first lady's White House staff from 1998 to 1999. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.