In speech, Clinton reasserts herself in US foreign policy

Her address came Wednesday after some political observers were saying that she was almost absent from the foreign–policy scene in recent weeks.

Hyungwon Kang/Reuters
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers a major foreign policy address at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Wednesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday delivered a blueprint for American diplomacy in the 21st century, rejecting claims of America's waning power and asserting that the United States can still lead the world. That can be done, she said, through broader global partnerships, enhanced resources geared to an interdependent world, and guidance from American values.

Secretary Clinton chose the occasion of a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington to offer her plan for diplomatic action.

Increasingly over recent weeks, she had been judged by some Washington political observers to be almost absent from the foreign–policy scene as President Obama named a number of special envoys for international issues and delivered speeches from foreign venues on aspects of his global vision.

The former first lady, senator, and presidential candidate dubbed the still-new century a time for "smart power." She defined that term as "the intelligent use of all means at our disposal," from military and technological to the scientific and human-resource-based.

Clinton noted at the outset of her speech that a former occupant of her post had advised her, "Don't try to do too much." But she said that a world of climate change, an economic crisis, destabilizing extremism, and threatened pandemics – even as America fights two wars – place a burden on the US for not just more, but a new kind of leadership.

"America will always be a world leader as long as we remain true to our values and embrace policies that keep us abreast of the times," she said.

Some foreign-policy experts who attended the speech praised Clinton for a thorough and impassioned – if at times somewhat wonky – presentation of Mr. Obama's vision of diplomacy through greater engagement, particularly with adversaries. But some said it was a perspective that places too much importance on what America does or doesn't do to explain why other powers act the way they do, and how they can be brought to act differently.

"It was about as astute and accomplished a statement as I've heard setting out the administration's vision for a global role of active engagement across a broad range of issues," says Robert Lieber, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, who attended the speech.

But the speech, he says, flowed from a "questionable assumption, and that is the degree to which our policies and commitment to engagement influence and determine others' actions."

Clinton laid out five policy approaches she said the Obama administration will employ for meeting its global goals:

•Old "vehicles" for cooperation with partners will be updated, and new ones will be created.

•"Principled engagement" will be used with countries that disagree with the US.

•Development will be elevated as a "core pillar" of American power.

•There will be integration of civilian with military action in conflict zones like Afghanistan.

•Sources of American power, such as economic strength and values, will be better leveraged.

By way of explaining the Obama administration's greater reliance on dialogue, Clinton managed to get in a few digs at Bush foreign policy. "We will not tell our partners to take it or leave it, nor will we insist that they are either with us or against us. In today's world," she added, "that's global malpractice."

The secretary of State, who botched an attempt at levity with the Russians over a poorly presented "reset button," did manage to get a few laughs Wednesday. She defined "multitask" as "a very gender-related term."


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