Daniel W. Drezner

The Good, The Bad, and the BS

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a major foreign policy speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations office in DC.  This is interesting, as the Obama administration released its National Security Strategy only a few months ago, so one would think that a major speech by the Secretary of State would be pretty superfluous.  ...

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a major foreign policy speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations office in DC.  This is interesting, as the Obama administration released its National Security Strategy only a few months ago, so one would think that a major speech by the Secretary of State would be pretty superfluous. 

The guts of Clinton’s speech can be excerpted as follows: 

[L]et me say it clearly: The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century….

Architecture is the art and science of designing structures that serve our common purposes, built to last and withstand stress.  That’s what we seek to build – a network of alliances and partnerships, regional organizations and global institutions, that is durable and dynamic enough to help us meet today’s challenges and adapt to threats that we cannot even conceive of, just as our parents never dreamt of melting glaciers or dirty bombs….

After more than a year and a half, we have begun to see the dividends of our strategy.  We are advancing America’s interests and making progress on some of our most pressing challenges.  Today we can say with confidence that this model of American leadership works, and that it offers our best hope in a dangerous world.

I’d like to outline several steps we are taking to implement this strategy….

First, we have turned to our closest allies, the nations that share our most fundamental values and interests — and our commitment to solving common problems.  From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity….

[T]he second step in our strategy for global leadership is to help build the capacity of developing partners.  To help countries obtain the tools and support they need to solve their own problems and help solve our common problems.  To help people lift themselves, their families, and their societies out of poverty, away from extremism, and toward sustainable progress.  The Obama Administration views development as a strategic, economic, and moral imperative – as central to advancing American interests as diplomacy and defense….

We must also take into account those countries that are growing rapidly and already playing more influential roles in their regions and in global affairs, such as China and India, Turkey, Mexico and Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, as well as Russia, as it redefines its own role in the world.

Our third major step has been to deepen engagement with these emerging centers of influence….

[T]he fourth key step in our strategy has been to reinvigorate America’s commitment to be an active transatlantic, Pacific and hemispheric leader….

[O]ur fifth step has been to reengage with global institutions and begin modernizing them to meet the evolving challenges of the 21st century.  We need institutions that are flexible, inclusive, and complementary, instead of competing with one another for jurisdiction.  Institutions that encourage nations to play productive roles, that marshal common efforts, and enforce the system of rights and responsibilities that binds us all….

As we strengthen and modernize regional and global institutions, the United States is also working to cement democracy, human rights, and the rule of law into their foundations.  To construct an architecture of values that spans the globe and includes every man, woman and child.  An architecture that can not only counter repression and resist pressure on human rights, but also extend those fundamental freedoms to places where they have been too long denied.

This is our sixth major step.  We are upholding and defending the universal values that are enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (emphases added). 

So, what do I think of all of this?  Let’s divide my reactions into what I think are the good, the bad, and the BS portions of Clinton’s speech.

The Good:

1)  The Asia/Pacific.  Clinton shoehorned this into her fourth tactic, but it was an effective articulation of the administration’s calibrated approach towards China. 

2)  Russia.  The Obama administration has certainly reversed what had been a badly deteriorating relationship with the Russian Federation.  One quibble:  Clinton said at one point that the relationship in January 2009, "invigorated spy novelists and arm chair strategists."  Gimme a break:  Anna Chapman did a much better job of invigorating spy novelists. 

The Bad

1)  The overestimation of shared interests.  Clinton talked about, "international diplomacy aimed at rallying nations to solve common problems and achieve shared aspirations" as a constant of American foreign policy.  That’s great — but what about the areas where values and aspirations are not shared?  There were far too many Pollyannish paragraphs in this speech.

2)  The underemphasis on patience.  Clinton used a good turn of phrase — "strategic patience" — to talk about the time required to see some of these foreign policy initiatives bear fruit.  This should have been played up much more.  Indeed, the exemplar Clinton gave of her foreign policy vision — Iran — does not really look all that successful right now.  The speechwriter should have also tied in this notion of patience with American determination and resolve. 

The BS:

1)  Europe.  The whole section on strengthening bilateral and multilateral ties to Europe almost caused me to lose my cornflakes.  I mean, c’mon.  Is forcing the Europeans to cut down their number of seats in the IMF an example of strengthening alliances?  I see the intrinsic merit in occasionally dissing the Europeans, but don’t tell me that anything transatlantic has been "strengthened" over the past 18 months. 

2)  The entire "global architecture" theme:  You know, it’s a funny thing:  the revamped G-20 is, in many ways, at the center of the whole "remaking the global architecture" idea.  Guess how many times it was mentioned in this speech?  Once.  If the State Department thinks the Iran policy is a more successful case than the G-20, then how can I possible have any faith in any new global governance structure? 

Am I missing anything? 

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