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WASHINGTON, Jan 13 2009 (IPS) - In the first comprehensive statement of President-elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy priorities, his nominee for secretary of state, Sen. Hillary Clinton, said “cooperative engagement” backed up by what she called “smart power” will define Washington’s approach to the rest of the world.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is likely to recommend her confirmation in her new post as early as Thursday, Clinton promised that “diplomacy will be the vanguard of [the new administration’s] foreign policy” and that military force would be taken only “as a last resort”.
“One need only look to North Korea, Iran, the Middle East, and the Balkans to appreciate the absolute necessity of tough-minded, intelligent diplomacy – and the failures that result when that kind of diplomatic effort is absent,” she said in one of several implicit swipes at outgoing President George W. Bush’s record.
“The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice,” she added at another point.
On specific hot spots, she stressed that Obama “is committed to responsibly ending the war in Iraq”, although she did not repeat his campaign promise to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months of his inauguration as president next Tuesday, an omission that is likely to add to growing unease among many of Obama’s early anti-war supporters.
She also stressed, as did Obama during the campaign, that the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan will be approached within a wider regional context and promised to “work with those in Afghanistan and Pakistan who want to root out al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other violent extremists who threaten them as well as us in what [Obama] has called the central front in the fight against terrorism.”
On the current violence in Gaza, she said she and Obama “are deeply sympathetic to Israel’s desire to defend itself under the current conditions, and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets,” but that “we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East…” She added that it “must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement that bring real security to Israel; normal and positive relations with its neighbours; and independence, economic progress, and security to the Palestinians in their own state.”
“It is critical not only to the parties involved but to our profound interests in undermining the forces of alienation and violent extremism across our world,” she stressed.
She also indicated that Obama will follow through on his campaign commitment to lift Bush-imposed curbs on travel and financial remittances by Cuban Americans to their homeland.
Clinton’s confirmation testimony comes amid growing speculation about the foreign policy direction the new administration will take, particularly given the preponderance of nominees and rumoured appointees of individuals who served in senior posts under former President Bill Clinton and the retention of Bush’s Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, and several other Republican realists.
The centrist cast of the prospective foreign policy team has worried many of Obama’s early supporters among grassroots Democrats who were attracted to the candidate in major part for his early denunciation – in contrast to Clinton herself – of the Iraq War and their own impression that he shared their opposition to a global order based largely on U.S. pre-eminence and military power.
Of particular concern in recent days has been the rumoured appointment of former Clinton Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, to a super-envoy position that would give him control over the Iran portfolio, if not primary responsibility for developing U.S. strategy across the region. Ross has been strongly criticised, even by some of his former colleagues, for his pro-Israel bias and his endorsement of hard-line neo-conservative positions on Iran.
Clinton did not announce either Ross’s or any other new appointments during Tuesday’s hearing in which the only serious point of contention proved to be Republican concerns to possible conflicts of interest arising from the continuing receipt by her husband’s philanthropic Clinton Global Initiative of money from foreign sources.
Much of her testimony appeared designed to draw a sharp distinction between the unilateralism and militarism that characterised Bush’s first term, in particular, and the “cooperative engagement” and “smart power” – defined as using “the full range of tools at our disposal: diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural” – she said the new administration will pursue with friend and foe alike.
“Today’s security threats,” she said, “cannot be addressed in isolation. Smart power requires reaching out to both friends and adversaries, to bolster old alliances and forge new ones.” She identified “the gravest threat” faced by the U.S. “is the danger that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of terrorists”.
To help address that threat, the new administration will seek agreements with other countries to secure and reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons, shore up the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, revive negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and urge the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
On Russia, she said the administration will “seek a future of cooperative engagement…on matters of strategic importance, while standing up strongly for American values and international norms.” Similarly, it seeks a “positive” relationship with China, “a critically important actor” on the world stage.
She also called for greater inclusion of emerging powers in “global economic governance”, particularly in light of the current financial crisis. “We all stand to benefit in both the short and long term if they are part of the solution, and become partners in maintaining global economic stability,” she said.
The administration will “return to a policy of vigorous engagement throughout Latin America”, she said.
On Africa, she cited a laundry list of U.S. objectives beginning with “combating al Qaeda’s efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa” and ending with “working aggressively to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” to reduce poverty and fight disease.
Praising Bush’s anti-AIDS initiative, she said the new administration intends to work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to “help expand the infrastructure of health clinics in Africa”. She said the incoming team is reviewing policy options on the “terrible humanitarian crisis” in Darfur, including the imposition of “no-fly zones”.
She said the administration will make climate change, which she called “an unambiguous security threat”, a top priority and promised a leadership role in September’s U.N. Copenhagen Climate Conference to begin negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which was boycotted by Bush. She also said the administration would push for ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOS), in part to enhance its territorial claims in the Arctic.
She stressed that promoting grassroots “social development” in poor countries will be “integral” to U.S. policy and placed special emphasis on the promotion of women’s rights and micro-finance for which, according to Clinton, Obama’s mother, anthropologist Ann Dunham, was a pioneer in Indonesia.
She repeatedly emphasised that “smart diplomacy” will require increasing the financial and other resources of the State Department, noting that Gates himself has frequently complained that, in his words, “our civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long”.
“To that I say, ‘Amen’,” Clinton told the senators, noting, as has Gates, that the U.S. armed forces have more musicians in their bands than the State Department has foreign service officers. Reflecting the military’s own views on the matter, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, also called Monday for increasing the State Department’s budget.
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