Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hillary at the CFR

Because of my affiliation with the Foreign Policy Association I am able to access media events, though to this point I have not really done so. But today I decided to partake in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's on-the-record speech and presser at the Council on Foreign Relations. I am going to write a piece for the FPA and wrote a blog post for the Africa Blog, but I thought I'd share my notes (and that is all these are, so they are pretty fragmented) here:

Hillary Clinton On-The Record Event and Conference Call – Council on Foreign Relations

*Clinton is a much better, and frankly, more palatable and likable speaker in this capacity than she is on the stump.

*Advice she once received: Don’t try to do too much. But today this is impossible.

*The question today isn’t whether America should, but rather how it should lead.

*Obama – caused us to think outside traditional boundaries.

*We will exercise American leadership that no nation can do alone.

*While the idea that shape our foreign policy are critically important, this is not just an intellectual exercise.

*Does not make sense to utilize 19th c concert of powers, 20th c balance of powers, Cold War containment, etc,

*Countries face many of the same issues and “obstacles that stand in the way of turning commonality of interest into common action” – no nation can face these challenges alone but none can face them without America.

*A combination of boilerplate and heady rhetoric – clear break from previous administration in many areas – emphasis on coalitions and working with international community, climate change and nonproliferation, torture, talking with enemies, etc.

*Economic turmoil changes the calculus – normally economic matters not a major factor for SecState, but in these times she believes that there needs to be a restoration of State role in economic outreach, trade issues, etc.

*Good speech, to be sure. Coherent, well presented, smart, but certainly broad and even diffuse.

*Very little on Africa. Mentioned Ghana but in context of larger policy goals.


Israel/Palestine peace prospects in 2010? She carries forward hope. Wanted a skilled negotiator and got it in envoy George Mitchell. Not just responsibility of Israel, nor even of Palestinians, but of Arab States as well. Will not make predictions, but commitment is deep and durable.

Could Hamas play a role in the peace process? Firmly committed to quartet process. Would expect Hamas to recognize Israel, denounce violence, and support peace process. (Yeah, right.)

Elaborate on administration’s willingness to engage with Iran – any response from Khamenei to letter sent in May, and if they do show interest, what if they stonewall with no give? Has there been a green yellow or red light sent to Israel (re: Biden) with regard to attacking Iran? Troubled by repressive actions post-election, but there is no path opened up right now. There is a choice for the Iranian government to make. Will wait to see how they decide. This would not be an open-ended engagement, a door that stays open no matter what. Re: Biden: White House clarified the next day (ie: punt).

What do you expect from trip to India, especially foreign policy/global aspects? Delighted to be engaging in broad comprehensive dialogue – most wide ranging ever put on table between India and US. India has an opportunity to play a greater global role. There are a number of areas where we would welcome Indian leadership or involvement.

Reports that in discussions between Mitchell and Ehud Barak there was some agreement to allow construction to go forward – can you comment? Not going to step on the process – will announce decisions that have been made.

Talk a little more about Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review? Served on armed services committee for 6 years. This (QDDR) seems to be a very important discipline and tool for Defense Department. Allows us to justify what we are doing and to show concrete results. This is both a policy approach as well as an attempt to explain and justify what they are doing – wants this to become long-term policy put into place by Congress.

Dividends being received from recommitment to alliance relationships – early on it seems that some allies are still skeptical? She agrees that we are still dealing with the “down payment” process where we are taking unrequited steps without clear responses. But in the long run she is quite optimistic. We have intense ongoing discussions with allies trying to implement our strategies. Economic downturn plays a role. Furthermore, after eight years we are actually adding troops to Afghanistan and both at home and abroad we still have to answer questions and clarify our positions. We still need to assuage fears and anxieties (referenced loss of 8 British soldiers and Gordon Brown’s political difficulties as a result). Slow development and change in Afghanistan indicative of the difficulties we are facing. Of course she cannot say that all of our allies are going to come through to our thinking, but she is optimistic.

Previous Presidents from Carter to Clinton have set out to reach out to Iran and has been rebuffed – what happens if this attempt fails – are we prepared to live with a nuclear Iran? We have consistently said that we cannot accept a nuclear Iran. But we are not going to negotiate with Iran sitting here. Policy to Iran in last eight years was a mistake – we basically outsourced our policy to Iran and it failed. It’s not just US that should be concerned, but many others in world, including some much closer to situation for whom consequences are much more dire.

Expand on point about State Dept approach to economic issues – trade agreements, but also exports, etc. – what is the role of State in commercial advocacy? Takes commercial advocacy seriously, as it is part of State Dept. role, and trade policy is certainly an important issue for State. We are a trading nation and we need to make that clear, but economic policies also seen as important part of the diplomacy of nations. Role of State’s economic agenda needs to be strengthened, work with Treasury, work with Economic Council. Why would State say it is not part of economic mix when economics are so vital to our relations with other countries. Have worked to make ties with China comprehensive because economic issues are at the forefront.

In six months what has struck you most about your job? Excitement of new administration, this has also allowed us to improve our image in the world. Shocking that we do not Have full gov’t in place after six months. Realizes how shortsighted she was in Senate when it came to asking a ton of questions of every nominee! It’s been a real privilege and an honor and she is proud of what the gov’t has done so far.

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