Where in the world should Hillary go first? Our experts weigh in.

With rumors swirling about where Hillary will make her first official trip as secretary, we asked our Hillary Poll panel of experts which foreign capital should be at the top of her itinerary.  Where should Hillary go on her first trip as Secretary of State, and why? Les Gelb: She should go to the anchors ...

588949_090130_ClintonPlane2.jpg
588949_090130_ClintonPlane2.jpg

With rumors swirling about where Hillary will make her first official trip as secretary, we asked our Hillary Poll panel of experts which foreign capital should be at the top of her itinerary. 

Where should Hillary go on her first trip as Secretary of State, and why?

With rumors swirling about where Hillary will make her first official trip as secretary, we asked our Hillary Poll panel of experts which foreign capital should be at the top of her itinerary. 

Where should Hillary go on her first trip as Secretary of State, and why?

Les Gelb:

She should go to the anchors of U.S. foreign policy — Western Europe, Japan, India, and China. In times of world revolution and turmoil, the best strategy is to firm up what counts most and what will help our nation survive the quakes to come. Everybody else is running off to the problems from hell in the Middle East and South Asia, where there are no good answers. But Hillary can find good answers and ways to shore up our relations with strong and stable states.

Dee Dee Myers:

Secretary Clinton’s inaugural overseas trip should start in London. First, it would signal that the Obama administration is committed to the US-UK special relationship, which has suffered due to the war in Iraq. In addition, it would make clear that the U.S. expects a stronger commitment from the UK — and other NATO countries — with respect to Afghanistan. And finally, Secretary Clinton has said she wants the State Department to play a bigger role in economic issues, and Prime Minister Brown has been a key player in developing a coordinated response to the global economic crisis. After visiting a couple of other European/NATO capitals (Paris, Berlin), Secretary Clinton should make stops in Israel and the West Bank to make clear that restarting the Middle East peace process is a top priority for the new administration — starting now.

Dov Zakheim:

Her first trip should be to Mexico City. Normally, the first Mexican-American interchange after the election of a new American president takes place in the United States. The visit of the Mexican president is, however, something of a ritualistic event. All the right things are said. And then the Washington policy community forgets about it for four years.

Times have changed. Mexico is suffering from a serious expansion of its internal drug war. The military has now been called in to fight the drug lords because the police have been infested by corruption. The city of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, suffers from a murder rate that, relative to its population, is four times that of New York City. Drug rings operate brazenly and in the open. The city’s most recent chief of police was killed; the job remains vacant.

Mexico needs assistance, but it is very sensitive to any heavy handed overtures by its northern neighbor. The memory of previous American incursions continues to linger in the minds of the Mexican military in particular. Mexico therefore represents a major test for American diplomacy and for Hillary Clinton as America’s chief diplomat.

President Obama’s first television appearance may have been directed at the Muslim world, but he faces a massive problem much closer to home. How Mrs. Clinton addresses that problem will be a leading indicator of just how serious, effective, and innovative her diplomatic leadership is likely to be.

Stephen Walt:

Secretary Clinton should do a tour of Asia, making stops in Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, and possibly India. Why? President Obama will probably attend the NATO summit later this spring, so there’s no need for Hillary to go to Europe right now. The Middle East is out because that’s George Mitchell’s responsibility, and she doesn’t want to undercut his authority by showing up there. The same logic applies to Afghanistan-Pakistan, which is now Holbrooke’s bailiwick, and Iraq is still more of a DoD issue. Russia doesn’t deserve a visit so soon after the war with Georgia, and China got a presidential visit during the Olympics. Plus, the administration needs time to figure out its approach to Beijing, especially on economic matters. That leaves our Asian allies, who were largely neglected while the Bush administration was devoting its efforts to making things worse in the Middle East.

The visit would give her the opportunity to let our allies know that we haven’t forgotten about them and lay the groundwork for future initiatives. India is a question mark because it touches on Holbrooke’s mission, but it might provide her with an opportunity to reinforce his efforts by making it clear to New Delhi that we expect cooperation on certain issues pertaining to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

David Rothkopf:

There are a long list of priorities that could successfully be advanced by an early trip from Secretary of State Clinton. There are also several constraining or complicating factors that influence the planning. One is that George Mitchell has already gone to the Middle East, a region that will require a considerable amount of her hands-on attention…but since he is there, her visit would not have the same “first visit” impact it might if it were the initial high-level contact. The other, of course, is that Obama himself will be making trips and that hers need to be coordinated with his…laying the groundwork for them where appropriate and her flying the flag in places he will not be able to go soon.

(His trips are worth a separate discussion. Given his exposure and his unique appeal for a U.S. president to many groups and regions, he will be a traveling rock star and his visits will have extraordinary impact. In fact, he will be able to practice a kind of event diplomacy…especially in places like the Middle East and Africa where his trips will be very dramatic. That should be thought through and used carefully by the administration.) 

With all this in mind, my sense is that the critical relationship that requires the most attention right now that has gotten the least is that with China. They are a critical strategic partner in every area of international priority for the U.S., from rebuilding the financial system to controlling global warming, from containing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to trade. Because they are also a potential rival, we need a dialogue open and constant enough to manage the relationship through those times when there are, as there inevitably will be, disagreements. The foundation for that relationship needs to be laid in an early high-level visit by her, followed by an early state visit by President Obama. 

China is the unattended giant at the moment in U.S. foreign policy. They need to see her and realize she is more than the message she delivered at the Woman’s Summit, which has many in the leadership nervous about her position on the US-China relationship, and so it is the best place for her to begin.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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