In the first comprehensive statement of President-elect
Barack Obama's foreign policy priorities, his nominee for secretary of state,
Sen. Hillary Clinton, said "cooperative engagement" backed up by
what she called "smart power" will define Washington's approach to
the rest of the world.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is likely
to recommend her confirmation in her new post as early as Thursday, Clinton
promised that "diplomacy will be the vanguard of [the new administration's]
foreign policy" and that military force would be taken only "as a
"One need only look to North Korea, Iran, the Middle East, and the Balkans
to appreciate the absolute necessity of tough-minded, intelligent diplomacy
– and the failures that result when that kind of diplomatic effort is absent,"
she said in one of several implicit swipes at outgoing President George W.
"The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based
on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and
evidence, not emotion or prejudice," she added at another point.
On specific hot spots, she stressed that Obama "is committed to responsibly
ending the war in Iraq," although she did not repeat his campaign promise
to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months of his inauguration as
president next Tuesday, an omission that is likely to add to growing unease
among many of Obama's early antiwar supporters.
She also stressed, as did Obama during the campaign, that the ongoing conflict
in Afghanistan will be approached within a wider regional context and promised
to "work with those in Afghanistan and Pakistan who want to root out al-Qaeda,
the Taliban, and other violent extremists who threaten them as well as us in
what [Obama] has called the central front in the fight against terrorism."
"A strategy of smart power" in the Middle East that "effectively
challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program and sponsorship of terror,
and persuades Iran and Syria to abandon their dangerous behavior and become
constructive regional actors," she said, adding that Washington would
first consult with its allies before deciding how and at what level to engage
both countries. At the same time, she said Iran's development of a nuclear
weapon was "unacceptable" and that "no option is off the table"
to prevent Tehran's acquisition of one.
On the current violence in Gaza, she said she and Obama "are deeply sympathetic
to Israel's desire to defend itself under the current conditions, and to be
free of shelling by Hamas rockets," but that "we have also been reminded
of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East." She
added that it "must only increase our determination to seek a just and
lasting peace agreement that bring real security to Israel; normal and positive
relations with its neighbors; and independence, economic progress, and security
to the Palestinians in their own state."
"It is critical not only to the parties involved but to our profound
interests in undermining the forces of alienation and violent extremism across
our world," she stressed.
She also indicated that Obama will follow through on his campaign commitment
to lift Bush-imposed curbs on travel and financial remittances by Cuban Americans
to their homeland.
Clinton's confirmation testimony comes amid growing speculation about the
foreign policy direction the new administration will take, particularly given
the preponderance of nominees and rumored appointees of individuals who served
in senior posts under former President Bill Clinton and the retention of Bush's
Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, and several other Republican realists.
The centrist cast of the prospective foreign policy team has worried many
of Obama's early supporters among grassroots Democrats who were attracted to
the candidate in major part for his early denunciation – in contrast to
Clinton herself – of the Iraq War and their own impression that he shared
their opposition to a global order based largely on U.S. preeminence and military
Of particular concern in recent days has been the rumored appointment of former
Clinton Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, to a super-envoy position that
would give him control over the Iran portfolio, if not primary responsibility
for developing U.S. strategy across the region. Ross has been strongly criticized,
even by some of his former colleagues, for his pro-Israel bias and his endorsement
of hard-line neoconservative positions on Iran.
Clinton did not announce either Ross' or any other new appointments during
Tuesday's hearing in which the only serious point of contention proved to be
Republican concerns to possible conflicts of interest arising from the continuing
receipt by her husband's philanthropic Clinton Global Initiative of money from
Much of her testimony appeared designed to draw a sharp distinction between
the unilateralism and militarism that characterized Bush's first term, in particular,
and the "cooperative engagement" and "smart power" –
defined as using "the full range of tools at our disposal: diplomatic,
economic, military, political, legal, and cultural" – she said the
new administration will pursue with friend and foe alike.
"Today's security threats," she said, "cannot be addressed
in isolation. Smart power requires reaching out to both friends and adversaries,
to bolster old alliances and forge new ones." She identified "the
gravest threat" faced by the U.S. "is the danger that weapons of
mass destruction will fall into the hands of terrorists."
To help address that threat, the new administration will seek agreements with
other countries to secure and reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons, shore up
the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, revive negotiations on a Fissile
Material Cutoff Treaty, and urge the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test
Ban Treaty (CTBT).
On Russia, she said the administration will "seek a future of cooperative
engagement … on matters of strategic importance, while standing up strongly
for American values and international norms." Similarly, it seeks a "positive"
relationship with China, "a critically important actor" on the world
She also called for greater inclusion of emerging powers in "global economic
governance," particularly in light of the current financial crisis. "We
all stand to benefit in both the short and long term if they are part of the
solution, and become partners in maintaining global economic stability,"
The administration will "return to a policy of vigorous engagement throughout
Latin America," she said.
On Africa, she cited a laundry list of U.S. objectives beginning with "combating
al-Qaeda's efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa"
and ending with "working aggressively to reach the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs)" to reduce poverty and fight disease.
Praising Bush's anti-AIDS initiative, she said the new administration intends
to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to "help expand the
infrastructure of health clinics in Africa." She said the incoming team
is reviewing policy options on the "terrible humanitarian crisis"
in Darfur, including the imposition of "no-fly zones."
She said the administration will make climate change, which she called "an
unambiguous security threat," a top priority and promised a leadership
role in September's UN Copenhagen Climate Conference to begin negotiations
for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which was boycotted by Bush. She also
said the administration would push for ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty
(LOS), in part to enhance its territorial claims in the Arctic.
She stressed that promoting grassroots "social development" in poor
countries will be "integral" to U.S. policy and placed special emphasis
on the promotion of women's rights and micro-finance for which, according to
Clinton, Obama's mother, anthropologist Ann Dunham, was a pioneer in Indonesia.
She repeatedly emphasized that "smart diplomacy" will require increasing
the financial and other resources of the State Department, noting that Gates
himself has frequently complained that, in his words, "our civilian institutions
of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded
for far too long."
"To that I say, 'Amen,'" Clinton told the senators, noting, as has
Gates, that the U.S. armed forces have more musicians in their bands than the
State Department has foreign service officers. Reflecting the military's own
views on the matter, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael
Mullen, also called Monday for increasing the State Department's budget.
(Inter Press Service)