Secretary of State Clinton Says U.S. Must Partner With ‘Great Number of Actors'

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran it has only limited time to accept President Obama's offer of engagement. She also plotted new principles of American foreign policy. Video by AP
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Obama administration is attempting to build a "multi-partner world" in which governments and private groups work collectively on common global problems and in which the United States does not shun dialogue with its adversaries, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday.

"Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be," Clinton said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. "It does not make sense to adapt a 19th-century concert of powers or a 20th-century balance-of-power strategy. We cannot go back to Cold War containment or to unilateralism. . . . We will lead by inducing greater cooperation among a greater number of actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance away from a multi-polar world and toward a multi-partner world."

Clinton's half-hour speech, billed by the State Department as a "major foreign policy address," was intended to provide the intellectual framework for the administration's nascent foreign policy. President Obama has sketched out key themes in a series of high-profile speeches overseas, and Clinton has tackled individual issues such as policy toward China or India, but this was her first substantive attempt to define her approach to the world since her confirmation hearings.

Moreover, as with any new administration, the president has dominated the headlines and set the overall course for foreign policy. The high-profile speech, coming around the administration's six-month mark, also reflected nervousness among Clinton's staff that she has faded from public attention since she broke her elbow last month. She was forced to cancel two overseas trips but will depart today on a week-long journey to India and Thailand.

Clinton reached little new ground on various policies, such as Iran and the Middle East peace process, but instead devoted substantial attention to explaining how she is going to take various goals set by the president, such as eliminating nuclear weapons and combating climate change, and seek to deliver results by reaching out beyond governments to private groups and individuals. In many ways, the speech was a rebuttal to calls from some foreign policy experts that the United States lead a group of great powers to manage the world.

"No nation can meet the world's challenges alone. The issues are too complex. Too many players are competing for influence: from rising powers to corporations to criminal cartels; from NGOs [nongovernmental groups] to al-Qaeda; from state-controlled media to individuals using Twitter," Clinton said. "Most nations worry about the same global threats, from nonproliferation to fighting disease to counterterrorism, but also face very real obstacles for reasons of history, geography, ideology and inertia."

Clinton said that "these two facts demand a different global architecture -- one in which states have clear incentives to cooperate and live up to their responsibilities, as well as strong disincentives to sit on the sidelines or sow discord and division."

Clinton, whose schedule overseas is often chockablock with town hall meetings and other outreach to ordinary citizens, said the administration "will reach out beyond governments, because we believe partnerships with people play a critical role in our 21st-century statecraft."

She also pledged her "personal commitment" to building closer ties with what she described as "major and emerging global powers": China, India, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa.

Clinton's language stood in contrast to the oft-quoted remark of the last secretary of state in President Bill Clinton's administration, Madeleine Albright, who dubbed the United States "the indispensable nation," and also the unilateral tendencies of the first administration of President George W. Bush. But Hillary Clinton's speech also built on themes advanced by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006 and 2008, when she called for "transformational diplomacy."

"Transformational diplomacy is rooted in partnership, not in paternalism," Rice said at Georgetown University in 2006. "In doing things with people, not for them, we seek to use America's diplomatic power to help foreign citizens better their own lives and to build their own nations and to transform their own futures."

But Clinton also offered a forceful defense of the administration's outreach to Iran and Syria, two countries that Rice largely shunned as secretary.

"We cannot be afraid or unwilling to engage. Yet some suggest that this is a sign of naiveté or acquiescence to these countries' repression of their own people. I believe that is wrong," Clinton said. "Negotiations can provide insight into regimes' calculations and the possibility -- even if it seems remote -- that a regime will eventually alter its behavior in exchange for the benefits of acceptance into the international community."

Clinton reaffirmed the administration's interest in engaging Iran in the wake of the disputed election results and despite being "appalled" by the government's crackdown on dissent. "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 following the election," Clinton said. But she said it is important to talk directly with Iran to frame the possibilities of cooperation -- or isolation over its nuclear program.

Clinton also warned Tehran that an offer of talks would not remain long on the table. "The time for action is now," she said. "The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely."

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