I spent the day at the Clinton confirmation hearings and came away impressed, as always, with the woman’s sheer ability to process information. Not a missed beat, not an “I’ll have to get back to you on that…” It was several hours into the hearing that the full force of the new Administration hit me. Clinton was being asked by Senator Benjamin Cardin whether we could exert our influence on mineral-rich countries to share their wealth with their people. The Secretary of State-designate immediately brought up Botswana’s “excellent work” in this area, the education and infrastructure programs that had been funded. And I thought: Botswana? Wow. We’ve got people who are really interested in governing--who really love public service, who understand that foreign policy means more than simply issuing threats–coming back to your nation’s capital! Enthusiasm and care don’t always result in wise policy-making, but we’ve seen how fecklessness and carelessness works.
There was a lot Clinton couldn’t say–especially on the big issues like Iraq, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those issues, she said, were under review. We only have one President at a time. She wouldn’t be lured into a discussion of the President-elect’s “new approach” on Iran. But she did break with the Bush Administration in one important, if oft overlooked, area: she said the Obama Administration would aggressively purse nuclear reductions with Russia and non-proliferation in general–ranking Republican Richard Lugar’s favorite issue. “There is a real difference of opinion here,” with the Bush Administration, she said. “Some people believe that treaties aren’t necessary” because good countries will do the right thing and bad countries won’t, even if they pledge to adhere to the rules. But she pledged her troth to renewing the START treaty, the global climate treaty to be negotiated in Copenhagen, the Law of the Sea Treaty. All were opposed by Bush.
There was a lot of talk about the “militarization” of foreign policy and the need for the State Department to resume a more active role overseas. This is a hot topic in Washington’s Think Tank ghetto; whole forests will fall for the publication of tracts about how to do that. (By the way, I could make a strong argument that things have gone the other way around: that because of the Counterinsurgency Doctrine–which is now the centerpiece of the military’s “Full Spectrum” concept–we are witnessing the “diplomatization” of the military, with your average captain downrange as interested in building schools as in knocking down doors…but that’s a topic for a slow news day.)
It will be interesting to see how the State and Defense Department emissaries to the various combat zones interract. It will be especially interesting to see how our most talented general and our most talented negotiator–David Petraeus and Richard Holbrooke–share the burden in the Af/Pak theater.
Clinton is close to both men. And it says as much about her that she’s willing to bring in powerhouse operators like Holbrooke as it does about Barack Obama that he was willing to bring in her. Clinton’s very presence, by itself, will raise the stature of the State Department–especially given the President-Elect’s stated prediliction for diplomacy over force of arms.
Clinton will be confirmed, of course. And, I predict, she will be excellent in this role. (I am finding it fairly hard to play the role of cynical journalist these days. It may well be a transitory phenomenon–but it’s kinda fun to be hoping for the best rather than fearing the worst, for a change.)
Oh, one other thing: There was some grousing from Republicans about the possibility that contributions to Bill Clinton’s foundation and Global Initiative will be seen as attempts to bribe the Secretary of State. Lugar raised some legitimate questions, which will negotiated out. Poor David Vitter of Louisiana, though, got himself all caught up in an accusation that the Clinton Global Initiative–which funds AIDs vaccine distribution in Africa and Asia on a massive scale–hadn’t agreed in writing to make its contributors and contributions public. Trouble is, the Global Initiative has always made its contributors public and will, obviously, continue to do so now. Another crisis averted!