Hillary Clinton's "Smart Power" Breaks Through

When you think of President Obama's foreign policy, think of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That's the message behind a muscular speech that Clinton is set to deliver today to the Council on Foreign Relations. The staging gives a clue to its purpose: seated in front of Clinton, subordinate to Clinton, in the first row, will be three potentially rival power centers: envoys Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, and National Security Council senior director Dennis Ross. 

Clinton portrays herself in the speech as the integrator of President Obama's approach to foreign affairs - as his partner in developing policy and as his prime mover in implementing it. Make no mistake: the White House sanctioned this speech, which was blueprinted by the secretary's policy planning staff. They want Clinton's public role to expand. Where George Mitchell speaks to Israel, where Richard Holbrooke negotiates in middle Asia, where Jim Jones cajoles leaders behind the scenes, it's Clinton who directs this minuet and who communicates with the public and the world about America.  
Clinton portrays the international landscape as "unforgiving," with two wars, ongoing threats of violent extremism and nuclear proliferation, the middle east conflict -- and "global recession, climate change, hunger and disease, and a widening gap  between rich and poor.  All of these challenges affect America's security and prosperity. And all threaten global stability and progress."   

The right strategy, she says, is multilateral: America will lead by example, it will exercise its soft power, and it will draw the line when necessary.

"...we will remain clear-eyed about our purpose. Not everybody in the world wishes us well or shares our values  and interests.   Some will seek to undermine our efforts. In those cases, our partnerships will help constrain or deter their actions.  And to these foes and would-be foes, let me say: You should know that our focus on diplomacy and development is not an alternative to our national security arsenal. You should never see America's willingness to talk as a sign of weakness to be exploited. We will not hesitate to defend our friends and ourselves vigorously when necessary with the world's strongest military. This is not an option we seek. Nor is it a threat; it is a promise to the American people."

Clinton tells Iran that President Obama's patience is not infinite.

 "We watched the energy of Iran's election with great admiration, only to be appalled by the manner in which the government used violence to quell the voices of the Iranian people, then tried to hide its actions by arresting foreign nationals, expelling journalists, and cutting off access to technology. As we ... have made clear, these actions are deplorable and unacceptable. We know very well what we inherited with Iran.  We know how far its nuclear  program has advanced - and we know that refusing to deal with the Islamic Republic has not succeeded in altering the Iranian march toward a nuclear weapon, reducing Iranian support for terror, or improving Iran's treatment of its citizens.  Neither the president nor I have any illusions that direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success.  But we also understand the importance of trying to engage Iran and offering its leaders a clear choice: whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation.  Direct talks provide the best vehicle for presenting and explaining that choice.....  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."

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Politics

Just In