WASHINGTON - In the first comprehensive statement of president-elect Barack
Obama's foreign policy priorities, his nominee for secretary of state, Senator
Hillary Clinton, said "cooperative engagement" backed up by what she called
"smart power" would 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 last resort".
"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 Bush's record.
"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 US 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 anti-war supporters.
She also stressed, as did Obama during the campaign, that the ongoing conflict
in Afghanistan would 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 would 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 US pre-eminence 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 US 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 hardline neo-conservative 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 foreign sources.
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
US as "the danger that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of
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 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, revive negotiations on a Fissile
Material Cutoff Treaty, and urge the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test
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 stage.
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," she
The administration will "return to a policy of vigorous engagement throughout
Latin America", she said.
On Africa, she cited a laundry list of US 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" to reduce poverty and fight disease.
Praising Bush's anti-AIDS initiative, she said the new administration intends
to work with non-governmental organizations 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 would 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
would be "integral" to US policy and placed special emphasis on the promotion
of women's rights and microfinance for which, according to Clinton, Obama's
mother, anthropologist Ann Dunham, was a pioneer in Indonesia.
She repeatedly emphasized that "smart diplomacy" would 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 US 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, Admiral Michael Mullen,
also called on Monday for increasing the State Department's budget.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy, and particularly the
neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.