Clinton has the mettle to face foreign policy threats

Story highlights

  • Frida Ghitis: Hillary Clinton has proven she can pulverize 'weaker sex' stereotypes
  • But she will need to tackle serious foreign policy challenges if elected, Ghitis says

Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for the The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN)After an election season that has left Americans more than a little shaken (and the rest of the world uneasy about American democracy), voters can take comfort knowing that one of the candidates kept her cool through the debates -- despite the insults, the lies, and the endless challenges of the campaign.

By doing so, Hillary Clinton showed she has the mettle required of the next president as he, or more likely she, faces a swarm of increasingly complicated international crises in a male-dominated world. And in the process, she has managed to crush stereotypes about women.
America's rambunctious, costly and seemingly endless election ritual has become a brutal Darwinian test of, among other attributes, psychological fortitude.
    Recall that Donald Trump destroyed a Republican field that started with 17 primary candidates. He did it, for the most part, with psychological moves that kept the audience entertained and at times seemed to leave his opponents on the verge of tears. Low-energy Jeb (Bush), Little Marco (Rubio), Lyin' Ted (Cruz) -- all fell by the wayside.
    Frida Ghitis
    Against this backdrop, Clinton herself had to get used to being called Crooked Hillary. Yet despite facing even harsher rhetoric than what caused Trump's Republican challengers to crumble, Clinton remained unflappable.
    Indeed, the stereotype of women as emotional and oversensitive seemed to apply more to the male candidate than to Clinton. She dominated the debates not only with her mastery of policy, but through psy-ops of her own, exploiting traits in Trump that made him the better poster child for those (falsely) stereotypical female qualities.
    Trump was the oversensitive one, with the thin skin. He was the emotional one, flying off the handle -- and off his debate game plan -- when taunted.
    The next president of the United States, which polls suggest is more likely to be Clinton, will need every ounce of that emotional strength, because while the United States has been consumed with its elections, a number of grave crises have continued to escalate around the world -- and many of the key players are themselves masters of psychological warfare.
    Exhibit one is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Back in 2007, for example, Putin invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel to his summer house. Merkel, as many people knew, was allegedly terrified of dogs since being attacked by one many years ago. As the two sat at a press conference, Putin brought out his black Labrador.
    You only need to look at the picture of their reactions to see that Putin likely knew exactly what he was doing -- more striking than Merkel's look of discomfort is Putin's self-satisfied grin. (He later claimed he did not know of Merkel's alleged phobia.)
    Facing Putin and Russia -- which annexed Crimea, has supported Ukrainian separatists, has caused or abetted what critics claim are possible war crimes in Syria, and allegedly meddled in US and other elections -- will require nerves of steel along with smart decision-making.
    But the challenges are by no means confined to Russia.
    The Philippines, for decades a country with which the United States held a close friendship and a pivotal alliance, is becoming a testing ground for the next American president.
    Voters there recently elected the unpredictable and outspoken Rodrigo Duterte as president. Duterte's actions at home have shocked the world, and his language -- including telling President Barack Obama to "go to hell" -- have left many appalled. But it's Duterte's foreign policy that is becoming the real concern for Washington.
    As Clinton and Trump were squaring off for their final debate this week, Duterte, who was visiting China, told his hosts that "America has lost," and suggested that his country, a key Asian ally for the United States, would form a new alliance with China and Russia, declaring, "there are three of us against the world."
    It's not quite clear what Duterte has in mind, but the drift of an ally in Asia, where China has emerged as a much more assertive power in recent years, is reason for concern.
    Under President Xi Jinping, China has moved steadily forward on a number of fronts, extending its economic influence, challenging US allies in the South China Sea, building manmade islands, and trying to resolve territorial disputes with its neighbor by dispatching its military to areas claimed by other nations.
    This new muscular Chinese policy has caused alarm in many countries, and Japan has, for its part, responded by boosting military spending and mulling changes to its pacifist constitution.
    And China is not the only challenge facing the United States in Asia. When the next US president meets Xi, a major topic of discussion will be what to do about North Korea and its unpredictable young leader Kim Jong Un, whose regime is developing missiles that could deliver a nuclear strike against US allies and eventually, perhaps, against the United States itself.
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    Finally, there's the Middle East and the conundrum posed by Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and his allies in Iran.
    And even as Syria's suffering continues, the next president will face the lingering disappointment of America's Arab allies, who feel betrayed by Obama's nuclear deal with Iran. The next president will therefore have to convince Arab allies that they can trust America, while figuring out a way to keep nuclear arms out of Iran's hands when the current deal expires in a decade or so.
    The challenges in the region are daunting, and the tests of the campaign show Clinton has the toughness to face a relentless assault and psychological gamesmanship of her prospective foes. But there's more: Having a woman assume the presidency of the world's most powerful country for the first time could prove educational for men and inspirational for women in the Middle East and, indeed, across the globe.
    Clinton has proven to Americans that she has the ability to pulverize "weaker sex" stereotypes. It's a message that should be heard in every country.