Hillary Clinton did a great job answering questions directly without over-promising in her confirmation hearing and Questions for the Record. Fortunately, she left behind a few clues as to where we’re headed.
Clinton’s plan to aggressively pursue U.S. accession to the Law of the Sea Convention, as noted earlier, is wonderful news. There seems to be a lot of momentum behind this at the moment. As recently as two weeks ago, John Kerry didn’t know if there were enough votes on the Senate floor in favor. He has since been made aware that there were more than enough votes even in the last Congress and is now pressing forward in this more favorable environment.
Kerry is already putting things in motion to consider the Convention in the Foreign Relations Committee. And he knows that in Biden and Obama he has high-profile officials that are not only supportive but are well aware of the importance of personal advocacy by the President to move major multilateral treaties. Given its significance to national security, energy security, commerce and the environment — not to mention the political blow it would deal to Fortress America types who prefer unilateral assertion of force to international legal regimes no matter what. More on this soon, I hope.
In her QFRs, Clinton offered some hope that the administration will support adaptation assistance to developing countries on climate change, which the Bush administration had just begun to take seriously in its last year.
Until now, it’s been relatively unclear how quickly or deeply the administration would reorganize from a “war on terror” to a balanced foreign policy and counterterrorism strategy with more focus on nonmilitary tools. Based on Clinton’s responses, it seems likely to be a rapid and substantial transformation. And given the constant references to past speeches by Bob Gates, I’d be shocked if Secretary Gates doesn’t become an even more high-profile advocate for “smart security” and beefing up civilian foreign policy programs.
The U.S.-Russian relationship is finally going to get some much-needed attention. For the first time in eight years, there might be some middle ground between seeing Putin’s soul and kicking him out of the G8. Negotiating a new agreement to replace the START Treaty will be a big step towards renewing the relationship. With any luck, the U.S. might once again have some significant influence to assert to change Russia’s behavior on human rights, democracy and energy policy.
Speaking of START, here’s a relatively bold prediction: the most enduring aspect of Obama’s foreign policy legacy will be in arms control. Between a new START, a fissile material cutoff, loose nuke programs, CTBT ratification, and NPT renewal, there’s an awful lot of ambitious stuff on the table.
Not all of it will happen, but I’ll predict that much of it will. If the Law of the Sea gets through the Senate there will be more political space for this sort of thing. And internationally, the sting still hasn’t worn off from John Bolton’s tenure as Under Secretary for Arms Control, punctuated by his intransigence in the 2005 UN World Summit that resulted in the deletion of the entire nonproliferation and disarmament section of the Outcome — so there’s probably an appetite for constructive U.S. disarmament/nonproliferation proposals. The administration will accomplish enough to substantially reshape the international institutional architecture, not to mention U.S. foreign policy. And I’m betting they get started pretty soon.
Clinton left the door open to joining the International Criminal Court. Good to know.
A note on the politics of yesterday’s hearing: despite a heavy lobbying campaign by conservatives directed toward Jim DeMint and David Vitter, neither of them really challenged Clinton much on policy. I know some groups in particular were hoping they’d tear into her internationalist outlook, but except for a relatively friendly and tame anti-UN rant by DeMint, they didn’t get what they were looking for.
Susan Rice’s confirmation hearing is tomorrow. She should make a great UN Ambassador, but she should clarify that the Obama administration is not considering American military operations in Darfur, which she and Biden have each supported at times (see 3/4 of the way down here for a brief explanation). With that clarification, I’ll be a very happy camper.
— Scott Paul