Hillary Clinton: A quiet brand of statecraft
Hillary Clinton has been loyal to President Obama, her one-time rival. Now she's seeking to redefine U.S. foreign policy for a new century, even as the latest mideast peace talks test her skills as a negotiator.
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What makes critiques of Clinton as a foreign-policy traditionalist so striking is how this view contrasts with Clinton's own characterization of what she is trying to do. She speaks of fashioning a foreign policy for the 21st century, where partnerships – American-led, granted – and dialogue replace the bygone days of the American superpower. She has directed her staff to think expansively in defining a new role for diplomacy in the QDDR. She has even come up with a new concept, the "townterview" – a mix of a town-hall meeting and an interview with a big-name local TV journalist to reach mass audiences with issues average people care about – that she has used when visiting countries like Indonesia, China, and Pakistan.Skip to next paragraph
"The complexities and connections of today's world have yielded a new American moment, a moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways," Clinton told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington earlier this month. "The challenges we face are more complex than ever, and so are the responses needed to meet them. That is why we are building a global architecture that reflects and harnesses the realities of the 21st century."
All well and good, but not the kind of issue a secretary of State can "own" – especially in today's complex world, notes the Wilson Center's Miller. Others wonder whether it's possible to speak of a "new American moment" in a world where the perception of American power is so reduced. "Hillary Clinton believes in American power," says Clemons, "but it's still an old power, when what is needed is to reinvent American leverage for a new era."
Aides and longtime diplomats say the ideas like those offered at the CFR are not just words, but that Clinton constantly presses them to translate such rhetoric into reality.
"She has already left an important mark," says Bill Burns, undersecretary for political affairs and the highest ranking career diplomat in the State Department. Citing a restructuring of the department and a "reimagining" of what diplomacy will mean and entail in the 21st century, he acknowledges that while not everything Clinton is doing is new, under her "it is sinking in in ways I haven't seen before."
And the new directions Clinton has emphasized – the introduction and elevation of global issues in strategic dialogues with countries like India and Pakistan, the focus on reaching publics and working with nongovernmental organizations – are about more than simply dreaming up new ways of doing diplomacy, Secretary Burns says. "She has helped to broaden the terms of how you look at national-security interests."
As an example, he cites Yemen. Bilateral relations with the hotbed of Islamist extremism still focus on the security challenges there, Burns says, but Clinton has insisted that diplomats dig deeper into the causes of conflict and public dissatisfaction that feed extremism. "She has nudged the discussion there beyond Al Qaeda to development issues like water," he says. Such a broadened sense of strategic dialogue "is a departure from how we have done things in this institution."
The people Clinton has chosen to do the "big thinking" for her while she tends to what Miller describes as an "unforgiving world" say she is clear in her assignment to them. "She wants us reexamining the definition of diplomacy, and elevating development," says Anne-Marie Slaughter, Clinton's director of policy planning. As head of what she describes as "the department of longer-term thinking," Ms. Slaughter – whom Clinton enticed away from Princeton University, where she was dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs – says she is mindful that her job is very much about "creating what [Clinton's] stamp on the department will be."