Clinton: International portfolio, domestic concerns
On paper, Karzaiâs talks with Clinton are historic. A famed American political figure is helping negotiate the end of the longest war in U.S. history â a 12-year odyssey that has claimed 2,100 American lives and more than $600 billion in treasure.
But Karzaiâs visit is being greeted with a yawn. There has been more media coverage of Clintonâs exhaustive travel, physical appearance and political prospects in recent days than her wartime diplomacy.
Clinton is partly to blame for this dynamic. She has been a very good but very cautious secretary of state, who kept her distance from Afghanistan and other seemingly intractable conflicts. Clinton established a strong relationship with President Barack Obama, was innovative and worked tirelessly, but her position as a potential 2016 presidential candidate clearly influenced her performance.
One State Department official praised Â Clintonâs tenure, but talked about looking forward to the arrival of her presumed successor, Senator John Kerry.
“I came to admire Clinton as secretary of state,â this official said, âher focus on women and innovation in particular. But am really happy to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions.”
A former State Department official said much the same. Clinton was âbrilliant,â but her aidesâ primary concern was how her actions as secretary of state would affect her political standing in the U.S.
âThey were running the State Department like her Senate office,â said the official, who asked not to be named. âIt was a political mindersâ approach.â
Clinton, of course, is one of hundreds of politicians to Â serve in presidential Cabinets. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is a career politician. As is incoming Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. And to Clintonâs credit, she has made sweeping reforms at the State Department and modernized the staid world of American diplomacy.
Still, Â her tenure is a marker of how politicized our approach to foreign policy has become. Clinton is not alone. Obama and his inner circle have politicized foreign policy as well.
After promising a sweeping break with the approaches of President George W. Bush, the Obama White House has proved just as insular and controlling of foreign policy as the Bush administration. In fact, Obama and his inner circle has arguably proven more political.
Loath or love Bush, he embarked on a risky, unpopular and open-ended troop surge in Iraq. The Obama administration, by comparison, backed an 18-month surge in AfghanistanÂ â just long enough to protect it from charges of being soft on terrorism. And just short enough to telegraph to the Taliban and their backers in Pakistanâs intelligence serviceÂ that they simply needed to wait the U.S. out.
I support Obamaâs plan to draw-down U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Karzai has proven enormously corrupt and failed to assemble an effective government despite vast amounts of foreign aid. The best hope for the country is a new leader, peace talks with the Taliban, a small American residual force and continued U.S. funding of Afghan security forces.
But with the exception of the Libya intervention and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Obamaâs first-term foreign policy was marked by cautious, political calculation. Members of his foreign policy team rightly point to the presidentâs re-election as proof that their approach worked. A more decisive Obama approach in foreign affairs, though, may have helped him at the ballot box.
To be fair, Obama and Clinton are reacting to Bushâs disastrous invasion of Iraq. But the pendulum is now swinging too far toward a smug isolationism, driven by short-term domestic political calculations. As Clinton departs, worrying trends are emerging in the way America engages with the world.
The new U.S. weapon of choice is the drone strikeÂ â a tactic that spreads anti-Americanism abroad but carries zero political risk at home.
Foreign policy conundrums that threaten American security in the long-term are increasingly seen as âentanglementsâ best avoided. There is also a convenient view that there are no âgood guysâ in the complex conflicts and political struggles now emerging throughout the post-Arab Spring Middle East.
The lesson of Iraq is that American invasions are not the answer. But neither is isolation.
Traditional American diplomatic engagement is needed in the Middle East, including efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, new means of diplomacy â what Clinton called âsmart powerâ â should be carried out as well. U.S. trade, technology and private investment â not simply drones â should be used to counter militancy.
Clinton deserves credit for restructuring the State Department and embracing innovative new forms of diplomacy. Stephen D. Krasner, a Stanford University professor who served as the State Departmentâs director of Policy Panning under George W. Bush, praised Clinton for restructuring the department for a changed world.
âIt was organized for a world of fairly well-governed states,â Krasner said. âNow, we have a number of states that are not well governed. Itâs really a different situation.â
Kerry will be an able secretary of state. But whether U.S. diplomacy changes in Obamaâs second term depends on the president himself. Since his re-election, Obama he has shown flashes of boldness on the domestic front. He should do the same abroad.
PHOTO (Top): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech at Dublin City University in Ireland, December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
PHOTO (Insert): Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai responds to reporters as he sits with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her outer office at the State Department in Washington, January 10, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst