Hillary Clinton's Quiet Revolution

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is quietly revolutionizing U.S. foreign policy. That was the thrust of a recent editorial in the Washington Post. Clinton's top advisors say they don't object to that characterization.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is quietly revolutionizing U.S. foreign policy. That was the thrust of a recent op-ed in The Washington Post. Clinton's top advisors seem to like that characterization, but some analysts say they haven't seen revolutionary changes quite yet.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The policy planning office at the State Department is an in-house think tank and the woman who runs it, Anne-Marie Slaughter, says she's been thinking about foreign policy in new ways.

Dr. ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER (Director, Policy Planning): No matter how powerful the United States is, even if we were 10 times more powerful than we are, we cannot solve global problems alone.

KELEMEN: Slaughter says the Obama administration isn't looking for help just from other governments to deal with terrorism, nuclear proliferation or climate change.

Dr. SLAUGHTER: We need to reach out to non-governmental organizations, to the private sector, to foundations, to universities - that's a quite different way of doing foreign policy.

KELEMEN: There will always be a need for traditional diplomacy, she says, but the former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University says she wants people to think outside the box.

Dr. SLAUGHTER: Imagine we had a settlement in the Middle East tomorrow. How is that settlement going to stick? How are we going to build the kinds of societies that we hope to see to deliver on economic promises or on political guarantees? That's where you need a lot of other actors as well. So it's government plus.

KELEMEN: This is sounding a bit too abstract to Philip Zelikow, who was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's counselor. He says Rice made headway in bringing groups of countries together to deal with Iran and North Korea. Clinton is adding new energy to that, he says, which is good.

Mr. PHILIP ZELIKOW (Counselor, Department of State): I don't drink their Kool-Aid, but I'm not at all hostile. I'm hopeful that this can succeed. It's just that these abstractions about new processes hide more than they reveal about the challenges they're really going to face.

KELEMEN: Take the issue of climate change, says Zelikow, who now teaches at the University of Virginia. He says the Obama administration doesn't seem to have a diplomatic strategy to persuade China and India to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And U.S. domestic politics are getting in the way, too.

Mr. ZELIKOW: Another example, though, where I think they still have a really good chance to try to change the game is on nuclear nonproliferation, to try to develop a creative global approach to stopping the spread of nuclear technology. Then use that global approach with the ultimate goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, as a way to bring more influence to bear on the immediate Iran problem that's at hand.

KELEMEN: A senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Stewart Patrick, says the Obama administration understands that it needs to be flexible and might need to build up new coalitions.

Mr. STEWART PATRICK (Senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations): The challenge for Secretary Clinton is to go from - what is an accurate diagnosis of the world, that we live in a networked world that involves a whole number of new players to actually make - translating that into actual practical policy.

KELEMEN: Patrick says the secretary seems to be trying to do that through her trips to some key emerging powers: India, China and Indonesia.

Mr. PATRICK: The administration recognizes this is not your father's multilateralism. We need to make room for these new players. We need to give them a voice at the table. And we need to allow them to have a stake in the system.

KELEMEN: Again, that's not a particularly new idea and experts say it's too early to judge how it's working. There is another change in approach that Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter thinks might have a big impact: A focus on women's issues.

Dr. SLAUGHTER: The Obama administration understands that if we do not focus on a majority of the world's population, we really cannot expect to achieve the policy goals we are hoping to achieve.

KELEMEN: Slaughter says the administration will work on women's issues as a way to promote health, literacy and even security in countries around the world.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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