Outlook: Inside Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Revolution

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

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David Rothkopf
Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Author
Monday, August 24, 2009; 11:00 AM

David Rothkopf, author and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was online Monday, Aug. 24, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled "Inside Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Revolution."

Rothkopf is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of "Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making" and "Running the World: The Inside Story of the NSC and the Architects of American Power."

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David Rothkopf: Hi, this is David Rothkopf. I look forward to your questions on my piece yesterday on Hillary Clinton and on U.S. foreign policy in general.

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3 AM?: David,

If a misstated question by a student could rattle Sec. Clinton, what would Iran or North Korea throw at her? With respect, "jet lag" was never listed as an excuse by Albright, Schultz, Powell, or Rice -- all of them maintained composure. When N.Korea calls her a frumpy pensioner (!) and only wants to talk to her husband, that's saying something. She has no credibility. It's a shame your rah-rah piece didn't have some nuance.

David Rothkopf: I'm sorry you feel the piece lacked nuance. But the reality is your question also lacks nuance. You focus on a couple minor instants and you ignore the broader issues. It is really a profound change for the U.S. to have so dramatically embraced a new group of leading countries for example...factoring in the emerging world and moving beyond the group that have been core since the end of the Second World War.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Any insight on what will happen to USAID?

David Rothkopf: The introduction of the QDDR process mentioned in the article is a sign I think that Secretary Clinton recognizes that major changes are needed in the way we approach AID. The difficulty in finding a head for the agency has frustrated efforts in this regard. But it is impossible to achieve the US agenda worldwide without a revamped approach to foreign assistance...including an upgraded effort to address emergency economic intervention and post-conflict issues which are sadly under supported in our bureaucracy. I believe the leadership at State and in the White House recognize this.

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Dallas, Tex.: Mr. Rothkopf, thanks for the chat. How do you envision Sec. Clinton and state pushing back on the New World Order fear tactics of the right/GOP?

David Rothkopf: I think the best way to push back on those tactics is to ignore them. There are fringe groups on the right and left that tend toward conspiracy theories and big scary images...but given the huge amount of fundamental work to be done in the greater Middle East, on global warming, on new relationships with emerging powers, etc., the administration is likely to focus on the core questions and let the extremes work themselves up in the blogosphere.

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Boston, Mass.: Is Clinton remaking foreign policy or is it really a case of "context making the leader"? The context is the radical unilateralism followed by the preceding Bush administration. It is not that what she has espoused has been that innovative -- it is the contrast to what came before.

David Rothkopf: History makes men and women...and vice versa. Many of the innovations in current U.S. foreign policy have been percolating for years. We raised the issue of big emerging markets in 1994 in the Clinton Administration...and people were interested but unconvinced they would assume a critical strategic role soon. Now they have and Obama and Clinton are embracing the new reality and seeking new approaches suited to it. Same as you suggest re: offering an alternative to "unilateralism" and remaking the American brand. Circumstances have driven them...but they also had to make the choice to act.

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New York, N.Y.: What is your reaction to the North Korean government offering to discuss matters with the South Korean government? What role would you advise our State Department to take in this situation?

David Rothkopf: I am always skeptical of the North Koreans. In the past couple decades they have had cycles of warming and cooling. In the end, they have an unsustainable situation there economically and gradually they will have to embrace some change. The best conduit for that change is South Korea with gentle nudging from China. We have a role to play...but this is one of those situations where we have to be careful not to bigfoot the process. Others can lead here too...and we can step in when needed.

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Milton, Mass.: No question. Just a comment on the brilliant article. I'm so tired of the media talking about what Sec. Clinton looks like and the made up bickering between the president and the secretary. Thanks for writing about something real and the brilliance behind this remarkable woman.

David Rothkopf: How can I let such a comment pass unnoted? You are extremely insightful (and I appreciate the kind words).

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Charlottesville, Va.: Why did you not mention Iran, where Clinton has repeatedly since April, been speaking off-script? (her emphasis on "crippling sanctions" for example sounds much like Rice) And what's your take on the role of Dennis Ross re. Iran policy?

David Rothkopf: I've written a lot about Iran elsewhere and will do so again. It's a critical issue and the administration has set a deadline of late September for progress back to the negotiating table from the Iranians. I think Secretary Clinton has played an important role on this issue both internally and in terms of articulating the resolve of the U.S. to effectively challenge any effort on the part of the Iranians to develop nuclear weapons. Engagement is not all about tea and hugs. It involves interacting sometimes with regimes with whom we have fundamental disagreements and we need to be able to send messages that are both constructive and where required, resolute.

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Core countries: Your flippant response to the first poster begs the question: what core countries? Iran and North Korea are as much a legacy of the Cold War as they are today -- if anything, they've remained essentially unchanged in terms of stance and outlook for the past 30 years. Opening Africa to development is good, but HOW can Clinton do that? And if a couple of curveballs throw her off her game, what can be done to continue a dialogue with a country that doesn't want to play ball?

David Rothkopf: As noted in the article, the move from the G8 to the G20, to a view of working in partnership with countries like China, India, Russia, Brazil and other large emerging powers to address core issues...is very significant. Of course some issues remain from the past...like North Korea and Iran...but even there, the approach of the administration to engage and to look more aggressively than the Bush team did to effective multilateral pressure where required also seems to me to be quite a departure.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. David Rothkopf, I like your article. What are the main obstacles for Sec. Clinton in the coming months?

David Rothkopf: The main obstacles for Secretary Clinton (and for the administration) in terms of foreign policy are related to the limits of our influence: new developments will demand attention, old ones will resist efforts at promoting change. The fact that the U.S. public will be largely distracted by other debates (health care) and, after Iraq, is fatigued with overseas conflicts and intrigue and many want to simply withdraw into their own shell is also an issue.

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Washington, D.C.: As a civil servant who makes the sausage on a daily basis, for over 20 years, I am still looking for anything new in this administration's policy on climate change. There really hasn't been anything other than a heightened level of activity. Tactics and some strategy are changing but policy objects have not moved. As Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying to Marilyn Monroe "Don't confuse motion with action" and to date we have lots of motion.

David Rothkopf: It is hard for me to understand your position. First, the U.S. has been the principal outlier when it comes to global climate talks for years. This administration has instantly changed that and engaged. Second, as a civil servant, you know these things take time. Right now the administration is working toward trying to produce a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen, to advance cooperation with China and other key countries and is seeking to win approval for new climate and energy legislation that would set a price for carbon. That is dramatically unlike anything we have seen. They won't succeed on every front. But they have already signalled a very, very different approach.

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Fairfax County, Va.: I have been a little concerned about some early gaffes by Sec. Clinton. I would appreciate your perspective on whether these are typical for anyone new to the job and simply over-reported because of her celebrity or if you feel these are cause for concern for the future.

The ones I am thinking of are: the "re-set button" where she announced her team had made a special effort to get the Russian verb right, and it was wrong; her open, on- the-record speculation about Kim Jong Il's likely death; and her candid admission that human rights would be less important to our dialogue with China (I'm paraphrasing). I also think her schedule in Africa seems to have been almost ridiculously frenetic and question the judgment of her scheduler; to me, that's the real reason for the snappish gaffe there.

David Rothkopf: Everybody makes gaffes. Every administration has learning curves. Do Secretary Clinton's gaffes worry you more than George W. Bush's gaffes? More than fundamental misjudgments about whether or not Iraq posed a threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction? More than undercutting international law? I think we should set aside the cosmetic issues for a while and look at changes in underlying policies and approaches...realistically, not thinking they will achieve everything they set out to do, but nonetheless noting what is very different.

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Columbia, Md.: Dear Mr. Rothkopf:

I have lived and worked in some 40 countries (Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia, Eastern Europe) since the mid 70s. I worked mainly as a contractor to institutions such as USAID, The World Bank, Asia Development Bank, Arab League, UN, Interamerican Development Bank and others. Everywhere I went I registered with the American Embassy. On many occasions I worked directly with American Embassy personnel. I noticed that many of these employees had a snobbish attitude. And it was not only the American citizens, but the locally-engaged staff also. It seemed like they had been infected with the same attitude. In my opinion, most people know America through movies and TV shows. They get their news from the local channels that they learned to trust. Those that need visas or permits get to know the "real Americans" through the embassy staff. Believe me, I, being an American citizen by birth, felt their contempt towards me and particularly towards the nationals that were there asking for help.

I believe that Sec. Clinton could help to improve our image in many of these countries by arranging for training on how to treat the locals that visit our embassies all over the world.

David Rothkopf: My sense is that a central dimension of the changes sought by Secretary Clinton is in the way embassies interact with the populations in which they operate. This is not to disparage the great work done by most in the foreign service. Rather it is to say that there is a recognition that the State Department sees many tools that exist with which to better interact with many new populations worldwide and that they are making such outreach a center of their efforts.

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Dallas, Tex.: Mr. Rothkopf, What suggestions would you offer for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

David Rothkopf: George Mitchell, the special envoy for the Israel-Palestinian issue, seems close to finalizing a plan for moving forward on that issue. Perhaps it will come by the time of the UN General Assembly meetings in late September. Interestingly, the end-outcome is hardly argued by anyone...two-states, secure borders, etc...but the key is getting the opposing sides to move forward in tandem toward those goals. That will require pressure on both sides from the U.S...and a recognition that a demographic clock is ticking for all concerned.

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Washington, D.C.: How will Sec. Clinton utilize the existing Foreign Service to fit her new agendas? Why all the new appointees to tackle the big foreign policy issues -- is the present service not relevant?

David Rothkopf: My sense is that they see the foreign service as central to their strategy. How many "new appointees" are you referring to? A handful. The bulk of the work will be done by the 62,000 employees of the department.

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Lakewood, Colo.: One of the most pressing and lingering world issues is peace in the Middle East. Sec, Clinton's role would be vital in bringing about a settlement. What plans has she drawn up to make this goal a reality? Will she spend time shuttling the various countries, meeting with leaders, effecting compromises and leveraging the full power of our nation in calling for an end to all the violence/terror of past years? Will she be instrumental in prodding the Palestinians towards a civil society and a peaceful nation?

David Rothkopf: First, the greater Middle East consists of not one issue but many, dozens perhaps. Among the first tier of these: Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, weapons of mass destruction, the future of the Kurds, basing of terror groups, etc., the Secretary of State is involved in all...but all are truly inter-agency efforts and thus will see much coordination coming from the White House. Will she be the final decision-maker in any instance? No, that's the President. Will she be among the two or three or four most influential people in every instance? Yes, of course.

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Landrum, S.C.: " pre-Galilean notion"; I like the astronomical term, but could you explain the metaphor?

David Rothkopf: When I called the Bush policies "pre-Galilean" it was a reference to the idea that before Galileo most people believed everything revolved around the earth and he disproved that by observing moons revolving around other planets, etc...and that the seeming Bush belief was in a "uni-polar" world in which everything seemed to revolve around the one superpower, us.

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Annapolis, Md.: Mr. Rothkopf,

In her former lives as a senator and first lady, Hillary Clinton was outspoken about women's rights around the world.

Her more circumspect language as secretary of state is befitting of her new position, but do you think she is still interested in and actively working towards improved conditions in this regard?

David Rothkopf: This has been a central aspect of her work as Secretary, coming out notably in the Africa trip. There was a great story on this on the front page of the Post last Friday and one in the NY Times over the weekend. She is seeking to move beyond "women's rights" as a "fringe" issue or a "soft" issue as it has been treated in the past and to move toward a recognition that promoting the rights of women, the world's majority population, is absolutely central to U.S. economic, political and security interests worldwide. It says something about the views of the world that concern for the majority population of the planet is treated like a secondary or "niche" issue.

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San Diego, Calif.: Hi, you mentioned Clinton's spat with North Korea, in which she said Kim Il Sung was acting like a child, I think, and they responded back with some choice words. It's really difficult to see how that accomplished anything; however, things could always turn around. Do you think she will be able to do this, or will she be permanently on their bad side?

David Rothkopf: Within a matter of days of that exchange the Secretary of State's husband was in North Korea winning the release of two captive American journalists...a few days after that there have been several North Korean efforts to reach out to the U.S. and our allies diplomatically. I hardly think you can conclude the exchange of comments had too much of a negative effect.

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Middlebury, Vt.: Dr. Rothkopf, I don't detect a "revolution" here. What I see is acknowledgment of common sense, especially a move toward "whole-of-government" policy that began playing out before Sec. Clinton. As for the impact of appointing the Best and Brightest, can you point to specifics? For instance, what exactly differentiates this "revolutionary" approach to public diplomacy from so many failed precedents?

David Rothkopf: First, the "revolutionary" changes come in the acceptance and acknowledgement by this administration of changes that have been taken place in the world for years. The rise of new powers. The centrality of new issues like climate change. The recognition that technological change affords opportunities to create new approaches to diplomacy that are no longer just government to government or embassy to embassy. And so on. Could Bush have embraced such changes? Yes. He did not. The Obama Administration will not be the authors of the future, but if we are lucky then will recognize what is coming and adapt to it. My point is they seem to be trying to...and seem to be doing so with a willingness to change, to embrace new ideas, new vocabulary, new partners, new approaches to enemies, new technologies, etc.

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Ariz.: What will it take to get the mainstream media to cover the secretary more fully?

David Rothkopf: She will always get the "People Magazine" treatment. But gradually, as the Secretary is seen in the context of her current role and less as the former First Lady or Senator or Presidential Candidate, the coverage will become more in tune with what is appropriate. Or at least I hope that's the case.

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Washington, D.C.: Your Sunday essay was very good.

However I did catch 2 errors.

Clinton's CFR speech was in D.C., not NYC.

President Obama has not been to China yet (Huntsmann, our new man in Beijing just announced that Obama will visit in November.)

Comment?

David Rothkopf: Typos. Not in the original text. Goofs. On a par with snapping at a bad question in the Congo. Not on a par with invading Iraq.

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Munich, Germany: Regarding Hillary Clinton's themes of "partnership" and "engagement" and "common interests", I'm reminded of an opinion article by Henry Kissinger (Rebalancing Relations With China (Post, Aug. 19)), where he writes that America needs a vision of a structure broad enough to enable other countries bordering on the Pacific to fulfill their aspirations.

Is it possible to consider that Hillary Clinton, like Henry Kissinger, is a practitioner of Realpolitik?

David Rothkopf: This administration has been called "neo-realist." I'm not a big fan of such labels. But there is a sense that there is a return to a more "realist" view and of course, Kissinger was one of the fathers of modern realism...at least in an academic sense.

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Geneva, Switzerland: Does Hillary Clinton have any plans to push a reset button with Americans living overseas? Does she have any plans to meet with overseas Americans for a Town Hall event in the near future.

Thanks.

David Rothkopf: I'm not aware of such plans. But it's certainly not a bad idea with 4 million Americans living overseas and the U.S. seeking ways to build deeper and different ties with the world.

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Olney, Md.: Why do you think Hillary Clinton has consciously and deliberately ignored the suffering and oppression of women in Islamic supremacist nations, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc., choosing only to be concerned about women's suffering in the Congo?

David Rothkopf: I don't believe she has done so. I believe she has been...for many many years...an advocate for women's rights everywhere.

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Washington, D.C.: RE: State and USAID. I really enjoyed your piece, but I wonder whether you could speculate on why after seven months there has still been no announcement of an USAID administrator -- or even whether the agency will continue to exist. As much as I admire Sec. Clinton, I find the lack of movement and transparency on this subject extremely demoralizing and worrying. Your thoughts?

David Rothkopf: Actually, she got some flack for expressing very clearly her frustration with her inability to get her candidate for the job vetted and in place. She has been, therefore, quite transparent at least to that degree. I think there is deep frustration in the White House and at State with the direction this issue has taken (which is a circular road to nowhere thus far) and there is a growing resolve to get it addressed sooner rather than later.

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Evanston, Ill.: Relative to others in the foreign policy team how hawkish is Hillary towards Iran?

David Rothkopf: I wouldn't say she is "hawkish". I would say that, as during the campaign, she is skeptical of Iranian promises and very committed to protecting U.S. interests in the region by sending a clear message to Iran that acceptance of their "civilian" nuclear program is not a wink and a nod with regard to their military nuclear efforts. Given that the Iranians have lied about their intentions for decades in this regard, her position seems reasonable.

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Fairfax, Va.: Your article didn't mention Canada, a country that has gotten considerably colder toward the U.S. in recent months over protectionist provisions in the stimulus bill. What is Clinton doing to repair that relationship?

David Rothkopf: There have already been multiple high-level meetings with the Canadian leadership (Obama was in Mexico for a North American leaders summit just a couple weeks ago). I would hardly say that relations between the two countries seem particularly cool. Rather, I would say that they are generally good and, as has often been the case, there are some issues that are going to take some work and that, as is usually the case, they center on trade.

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Arnold, Md.: The YouTube reporting from the Iranian elections showed that the world is pretty tech-savvy. What is Cinton's State Department doing to produce a "Radio America" on the internet?

David Rothkopf: I address this question in the article. Secretary Clinton hired one of President Obama's top tech policy advisors to be a special advisor to her on these issues and her Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Judith McHale, former CEO of Discovery Communications is focusing on these issues all the time.

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Washington, D.C.: David,

Great piece! You wrote that Sec. Clinton is helping shape how the Obama administration pursues its engagement strategy with rogue states and old enemies. You also wrote how she is also helping develop a new way in which the U.S. recognizes the multipolarity of 21st century diplomacy and identifies and works with "others."

Could you speak about these issues in regards to the recent flurry of American diplomacy related to Sudan since the appointment of U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration? On the issues of Darfur and the salvaging the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, what has been the Secretary's role?

Thanks.

David Rothkopf: The Secretary and the Africa Bureau at State have been deeply involved in these efforts...and the administration as a whole, has made them a priority as the appointment of General Gration indicates.

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David Rothkopf: Many thanks for the opportunity to exchange views with you and for the terrific reaction the article has generated. I look forward to the next opportunity have such an exchange again here in a Washington Post online forum.

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