Is Hillary in Charge of American Foreign Policy?


Marc Ambinder over at the Atlantic interprets Hillary Clinton’s speech yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations as an indication that President Obama has placed her firmly in charge of American foreign policy – and that Richard Holbrooke, George Mitchell, and Dennis Ross are subordinate to her.
I agree that the atmospherics of yesterday’s speech suggest that this is the case, but I wonder what kind of impact Secretary Clinton will really be able to have.
Clinton’s announcement last week that she will implement the State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review is the clearest indication yet of how she intends to leave her mark. The QDDR – modeled after the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review – is meant to be a comprehensive, bottom-up strategic review of State Department and USAID activities.
But the QDDR’s practical effect will be narrow if it merely reshuffles the State Department’s $16.3 billion budget (compared to the Pentagon’s $515 billion budget and the U.S. GDP of more than $14,000 billion.)
As Spencer Ackerman points out, the QDDR is part of a larger effort on the part of the administration to shift resources from the Pentagon to civilian agencies.
But even if Clinton can win substantially more resources for the the State Department, her ability to shape America’s foreign policy will depend on whether her ideas are integrated into the White House’s and the Pentagon’s broad strategic frameworks. If they are not, then her impact will be limited to the implementation – and not the conception – of America’s strategic objectives.
Update: For more on Secretary Clinton’s efforts to influence the Obama team, check out this article in today’s New York Times. Thanks to Katherine Tiedemann for sending.
— Ben Katcher


13 comments on “Is Hillary in Charge of American Foreign Policy?

  1. David says:

    The quicker we grow up as civilized human beings and realize the fundamentally wrongheaded and often homicidal nature of “the ability to project US power anywhere, anytime, for any reason we deem appropriate,” the better off we and the rest of the world will be. And spare me the notion that it is an evil world out there against which we, the forces of good, are pitted. That simple-minded mantra needs to die a quick death everywhere it is espoused by any nation.


  2. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Hopefully, Mrs Clinton and her team would try to save the US state department from the probable gimmick of the Smart power doctrine (that has, so far, been the only positive glaring feature of the President Obama’s administration foreign policy).


  3. nadine says:

    “For Clinton, ’09 Campaign Is for Her Turf”
    Translation: Hillary Clinton fights not to be totally marginalized, as Obama jets round the world to foreign policy speeches and summits without her even being there.
    When the President of the United States meets the President of Russia at a summit, and the Russian FM is there but the American SoS is not, that looks bad. For the NY Times to write a headline like the one above about the SoS six months into the term, that looks even worse.
    Well, Hillary is a fighter. But she’s got a losing hand this round, imo. Time will tell.


  4. easy e says:

    [Not to be redundant]
    Hey Steve, how about the latest TWN perspective on the CIA assassination program. Appears to be quite a bit here………..
    Make sure to also read the “comments” section in following links, especially the one by “DLD” in the first article (tpmmuckraker) and the few by “Kurt” in the second article (rawstory).
    Quite chilling. Would be interested in TWN/NAF positions on this.
    Report: CIA Assassin Program Could Operate Anywhere — Even Inside U.S.
    Report: ‘No geographical limitations’ on CIA assassination program


  5. pauline says:

    Clinton warns Iran: U.S. will protect its friends
    By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent, and Agencies
    July 16, 2009
    NEW YORK – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Wednesday gave Iran an ultimatum to accept the administration’s offer for engagement and join the international community or to “continue down a path of further isolation.” She urged Arab states to take immediate steps to improve their ties with Israel in order to bolster Mideast peace hopes.
    “We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now,” she said. “The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.”
    In a wide-ranging policy address to the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton pledged that the U.S. will “not hesitate to defend our friends, our interests, and above all, our people vigorously and when necessary with the world’s strongest military.”
    “Our willingness to talk is not a sign of weakness to be exploited,” she said. “This is not an option we seek nor is it a threat; it is a promise to all Americans.” Clinton said the U.S. administration was appalled by Iran’s post-election crackdown on protesters. She said the hard-line regime would face new penalties and increasing isolation over its nuclear program and support for extremists unless it took up the U.S. overture soon.
    Clinton did not set a deadline, but President Barack Obama said last week that the U.S. wants to see a positive response by the fall or it will press for additional bilateral and United Nations sanctions.
    Clinton set Iran’s leaders an unequivocal ultimatum: “… to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation.”
    “Neither the president nor I have any illusions that dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success of any kind, and the prospects have certainly shifted in the weeks since the election,” Clinton said. “But we also understand the importance of trying to engage Iran,” she said.
    In the speech, which marked her return to a full public schedule after having been sidelined with an elbow injury for the last month, Clinton defended the administration’s outreach to Iran and other past adversaries, such as Syria.
    Clinton also called on Arab states to live up to their stated support of a Saudi proposal for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace by supporting the weak Palestinian Authority and taking steps to improve relations with Israel.
    “Direct talks provide the best vehicle for presenting and explaining that choice,” Clinton said. “That is why we offered Iran’s leaders an unmistakable opportunity: Iran does not have a right to nuclear military capacity, and we’re determined to prevent that. But it does have a right to civil nuclear power if it reestablishes the confidence of the international community that it will use its programs exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
    “Iran can become a constructive actor in the region if it stops threatening its neighbors and supporting terrorism. It can assume a responsible position in the international community if it fulfills its obligations on human rights. The choice is clear. We remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely,” she said.


  6. JohnH says:

    Speeches are speeches. Most of us can see the rhetoric for what it is.
    What counts is action. And US actions in Honduras belie her “architecture of cooperation,” since it’s pretty clear that the US had it fingerprints all over the coup in Honduras and is not really cooperating with the international community, particularly the OAS, in restoring Zelaya.
    Style may have changed, but US unilateral behavior has not.


  7. Dan Kervick says:

    I like the speech. I didn’t see the broadcast, but it reads well. The speech articulates a true internationalism, based on building and sustaining enduring partnerships, and seeing them through during rough patches, rather than just looking opportunistically for one-off chances for multilateral cooperation and seat-of-the-pants coalitions. She sums it up as an “architecture of cooperation”.
    Clinton and her speech writers neatly pick up on the frequent Obama emphasis on the term “responsibility”. If there is an “Obama Doctrine”, I would say that it lies this theme that we all now live in a small, interconnected common world, with many common problems, and that we have common responsibilities for that world, based on certain values that are more or less universal. US policy toward other countries is to be determined by how well they meet their responsibilities by participating constructively in the architecture of cooperation, even if the specific ends they pursue through that architecture sometimes diverge from the ones we would most prefer.
    Since I didn’t see the speech, I can’t comment on the stagecraft and the “who’s up; who’s down” aspect.


  8. Zathras says:

    I appreciate the thoroughly professional quality of the Obama administration’s spin with respect to Sec. Clinton’s role in driving American foreign policy.
    A major event was organized, and media build-up and preparation for it was done in a sophisticated way (look at how much space Laura Rozen gave Clinton’s speech on her Foreign Policy blog, evidence that the administration realizes how important it has become as a bulletin board for what is going on within this part of the Executive Branch). Even the symbolic notes were hit squarely and in tune, for example the placement of Clinton’s nominal subordinates in the front row of her audience. The speech itself made little news outside the foreign policy community in the United States; it contained little that administration officials from the President on down had not said before, and whatever media oxygen it might have had was sucked up by the Sotomayor hearings and the President’s remarks on health care delivered at the same time. The message that Clinton is in charge was not wasted on anyone unlikely to care whether Clinton is in charge.
    The degree to which Clinton is actually in charge, however, remains in question. No modern Secretary of State has ever established his authority as the President’s primary foreign policy instrument with a speech. The specific signs that the Secretary of State might have been delegated responsibility for foreign policy by the President — personnel appointments within the State Department, participation in meetings with the President abroad — mostly point in the wrong direction from Clinton’s point of view.
    The public stagecraft yesterday was of a high order, but a Cabinet Secretary’s role in designing and directing policy at this level is determined by her relationship with the President. The evidence we have to date suggests that Clinton’s with Obama is respectful, correct — and distant. The White House will continue to go well out of its way to avoid steps that embarrass Clinton in a public way, a concession to her constituency within the Democratic Party. It will continue to coordinate the administration’s spin carefully and well. When major foreign policy decisions need to be made, her views will always be solicited at some point. Will they, though, be solicited before or after courses of action have been decided upon in the White House, between the White House and the Pentagon, or between the White House and the special envoys roaming the world right now? That’s the key question, and yesterday’s speech did nothing to answer it.


  9. Outraged American says:

    But are there “common sense explanations” as to why the U.S. is
    doing what we’re doing in the Middle East and South Asia? No.
    Walt & Mearsheimers’ “The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy” is a
    good start to anyone wondering — give it to your friends,
    especially veterans.
    National Priorities Project — find out and spread the word about
    what the wars are costing your community, state and the US.
    Cost of war
    Federal budget trade-offs (in order to wage wars)
    In all fairness (and I do think that the shooting of Tristan
    Anderson peacefully protesting Israel’s actions was horrific)
    there was an American citizen shot and killed in Mexico, a
    journalist covering IIRC the teachers’ protest in Oaxaca. I don’t
    think that the State Dept. commented on that either, but I could
    be entirely wrong.


  10. JohnH says:

    After “a comprehensive, bottom-up strategic review of State Department and USAID activities,” maybe Hillary will finally be able to explain to the American people 1) why we are occupying Iraq 2) why we threaten Iran and 3) what we are doing in Afghanistan 4) US involvement in the coup in Honduras.
    So far, her foreign policy creds are pretty abysmal, since she simply cannot give common sense explanations as to why the US is doing what is it’s doing.
    C’mon Hillary, out with the honest answers! No more BS!


  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, its out in the open now, as if it hasn’t been obvious for some time. Watching a Secretary of State stand mute while a foreign diplomat stood right next to her and publically stated his country had no intention of honoring Obama’s wishes on a halt to settlement expansion was enlightening.
    Its all smiles in Israel with Hillary at the helm of American foreign policy. She was the darling of AIPAC during the primaries, and she has been unwavering in her support of Israel, even when they were frying Palestinian kids in white phosphorous. And the words “Tristan Anderson” have never been seen leaving her lips, despite the fact that if ANYONE should publically raise a fuss about an American citizen being shot in peaceful protest on foreign soil, it is the Secretary of State.
    From failing to legally pursue the architects of torture, to FISA, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Israel, this Administration is a dismal dissappointment to any American that truly desired “change”. “Party” has become a charade, designed to pit Americans against each other in nurtured division, while these pieces of shit in Washington sell us down the river in a bipartisan orgy of corruption and global aspirations.


  12. Outraged American says:

    Tiny URL of antiwar article on Clinton’s “promise” to Iran and our


  13. Outraged American says:

    Clinton: US Won’t Hesitate to Use Military Against Iran Not a
    Threat, It’s a Promise, Secretary of State Tells CFR
    by Jason Ditz, July 15, 2009
    From the invaluable on Clinton’s speech at the CFR.
    In a high-profile policy address before the Council on Foreign
    Relations (CFR), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that
    the US wouldn’t not hesitate to use its military to “defend our
    friends, our interests, and above all, our people” during the
    segment discussing Iran.
    She elaborated on the declaration with “this is not an option we
    seek nor is it a threat; it is a promise.”
    Also, from Israeli paper Ha’retz


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