Hillary Clinton on America's future: US retains role as world leader

The US will continue to lead the 21st-century world, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in a foreign policy speech. But American preeminence will rely more on partnerships and less on economic and military might, she said.

Gary Fabiano/Sipa Press/Newscom
Hillary Clinton spoke to an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations about the United States and it's relations with the rest of the world.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought Wednesday to paint a picture of a 21st-century world where the United States remains the preeminent leader – though less as a result of unrivaled economic and military might than through new and reinvigorated partnerships.

“The United States can, must, and will lead in this century,” Secretary Clinton told an audience of foreign policy specialists and practitioners at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington. The “complexities of this world” require “a new American moment,” she said.

Clinton’s outline of the Obama administration’s foreign policy vision comes about a year after she gave a similar speech focused on President Obama’s national security strategy. Though the rise of China and other emerging powers challenges the idea of preeminent American power, she said in her speech that the world still craves American leadership.

“People still look to the US,” she said. Leaders and people in regions around the world look to the “can-do spirit that comes with American engagement.” People around the world expect the US, more than other countries, to lead by example and by upholding the values and universal rights America is known for, she said.

Clinton said the Obama administration came into office some 18 months ago determined to “revitalize” existing partnerships and to develop new ones. “We are beginning to see the dividends of this strategy," she said.

Among the examples she cited are improved relations with Russia – which she said were “cooling to cold” when Mr. Obama took office – and the forging of an international approach to Iran that has the US in a leadership role rather than deferring to others.

Under the Bush administration, “we had been on the sidelines” in efforts to “stop Iran’s provocative actions,” she said. But revitalized US relations with a wide range of partners is just one step that has allowed the US to lead the United Nations Security Council to the adoption of a new round of sanctions on Iran, she added.

“We believe Iran is beginning to feel the impact of these sanctions,” she said.

Offering another example, Clinton said restarted peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians are in part a result of reinvigorated American relations with regional and international partners who will have to play an influential role if the talks are to succeed. She travels next week to the region to continue negotiations begun last week in Washington.

In response to a question from CFR President Richard Haass on the impact of a ballooning national debt on American diplomacy, Clinton said the debt “poses a national security threat” for two reasons: It “constrains our actions,” on the one hand, and that in turn “sends a message of weakness internationally.”

The answer is not waging wars that are not paid for, for example, but “smarter, more effective” diplomacy that requires the US to “better utilize what we have,” she added.

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