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Heard Around the Hillary-Sphere: Sad Saturday Edition

August 29, 2009

Senators Clinton and Kennedy when they were colleagues in the U.S. Senate

Senators Clinton and Kennedy when they were colleagues in the U.S. Senate

Much of the news is understandably focused on the life and death of Senator Ted Kennedy and of course, Secretary Clinton and President Bill Clinton were in attendance, as were many, many other dignitaries and officials. See my post here if you are interested in coverage of the funeral.

Today is rainy, windy and wet because here in Boston we are experiencing some of the effects of tropical storm Danny and add that to the funeral of Senator Kennedy and one is left with a rather dreary day. That said, my friend Still4Hill reminded us in the comment section of the Kennedy funeral post, that rain on the day of a funeral does not have to be a depressing sign saying, “rain at a funeral is a blessing” so I will try to adopt her more uplifting attitude.

Even though it is Saturday I managed to find some Secretary Clinton-related news, so here it goes…

This WSJ editorial is relatively recent but I don’t think I posted it the day it came out so I will now. It discusses Secretary Clinton’s “defense umbrella” statement which she made while on her trip to Thailand and the ASEAN conference:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently in Thailand that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the U.S. will offer allies in the Middle East a “defense umbrella” to prevent Iranian intimidation. That’s a fine sentiment, but it raises the question: Are we capable of doing so?

The answer is more complicated than most people think.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and associated delivery systems since the collapse of the Soviet Union means that any “defense umbrella” will require the deployment of missile defense technologies capable of neutralizing a potential salvo of nuclear-tipped missiles—whether from Iran or another rogue such as North Korea.
Yet America’s missile-defense efforts are being scaled back. Congress is contemplating a $1.4 billion reduction to the Pentagon’s budget for antimissile capabilities.

Advocates of missile defense are seriously concerned that this is just the beginning, and that the Obama administration seeks to kill the system with a thousand cuts. During the presidential campaign last year, Barack Obama promised to strip $10 billion from the Pentagon’s budget for missile defense. (Actually, the U.S. currently spends only $9 billion in this area.)

During the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, the U.S. government made major investments in the types of technologies (space-based sensors, interceptors and propulsion) necessary to field a robust defense against foreign ballistic missile arsenals, irrespective of origin. The capability to make Iranian, North Korean and other foreign missiles useless has already been developed and field-tested. Only America has it, and we should deploy it.

Mrs. Clinton has the right idea. The U.S. should offer a comprehensive and impenetrable “defense umbrella” to protect itself and its allies. But first we need to match rhetoric with concrete action and get the job done.

Laura Rozen provides another update on the Mid-East peace dialogue/mediation by the State Department, which at this stage is still taking place almost entirely behind closed [locked] doors:

The NSC’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro, back from accompanying U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell to London for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, briefed European diplomats in Washington on the status of the talks Thursday, The Cable learned from diplomatic sources.

The upshot was that more talks are needed, and there is apparently still not a small amount to continue talking about, as the Mitchell and Netanyahu teams try to work out apparently remaining differences over specific exceptions to a total West Bank settlement freeze and in particular the issue of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has tried to argue in more public venues that Jerusalem should not be considered as part of the settlement issue. Privately, a Middle East hand earlier told The Cable, what Netanyahu may be arguing for with the Americans may have more to do with optics, e.g. whether he can privately agree to refrain from further Jewish construction or Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem, but not have it be formally announced as part of a public deal…

Rozen also provides updates on the latest State Department confirmations and she also highlights the fact that quite a few individuals at the State Department have been significantly influenced by Sen. Ted Kennedy’s foreign policy and some served as his advisers/staff, way back when:

Appointments: The Center for American Progress’ Spencer Boyer starts Monday as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, reporting to Assistant Secretary Philip Gordon. At State, Boyer will be focused on western Europe as well as public diplomacy and press relations for the whole European bureau. Before coming to CAP, where he specialized on transatlantic and European affairs and multilateralism, Boyer worked at international courts and tribunals in the Hague, Zurich and Paris. He declined to comment.

State’s Europe bureau has six DASes, including Russia specialist Dan Russell, a foreign service officer who previously served as chief of staff to Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns.


USAID: An association of foreign assistance groups, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, represented by PR firm the Glover Park Group, has launched a poll asking who should be the next USAID administrator.

Kennedy’s staffers: “In the Kennedy mediathon that is now taking place,” a Hill foreign policy hand notes, “you might look at the large circle of foreign policy aides who got their start under Kennedy.” The ones that come to mind, he said: Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, White House general counsel Gregory Craig,  and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg, who all served as foreign policy advisors to the Massachusetts senator. “Although Kennedy was never seen as a foreign policy heavyweight, his staff went places in the foreign policy world.”

The above excerpt mentions a website where they are conducting a poll about who people think should be the next USAID director. You can check it out [and you can also cast your vote!] here. Sadly, Dr. Paul Farmer is not on the list.

Speaking of USAID, the blog, Whirled View[which is a fantastic site, by the way], has a rather critical commentary up questioning the administration’s commitment to development and whether you agree or not, it’s worth a read:

Whatever happened to the U.S. Agency for International Development? Wasn’t it supposed to play a key role in the Obama administration’s accent on diplomacy as a major tool of US foreign policy? Didn’t Hillary Clinton emphasize development as a crucial part of diplomacy – in fact, as important as traditional diplomacy and defense – in dealing with the world? Didn’t Robert Gates support this enthusiastically? Or am I missing something.

After learning last week from an NPR broadcast entitled Diplomacy Under Fire that new State Department Foreign Service Officers should be agronomists, counter-terrorism experts, civilian development, anti-narcotics and democratization specialists rather than masters at traditional State Department skills like political and economic reporting and analysis, negotiation or even running embassies or consulates and dealing with host governments, I wonder what the development officers at USAID are supposed to do. Or, for that matter, if anyone’s home there?
Who is supposed to do traditional diplomatic work?

And if the State Department Foreign Service Officers don’t do the traditional work of running Embassies and Consulates and interacting with host governments and peoples – who is supposed to do it?
I guess this might be one way to eliminate the need for those unsightly fortresses that have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain beginning in 1984.

Just fire – or pension off – the political, economic, administrative, consular and public diplomacy officers who currently staff them or alternatively turn these people into USAID officers who set up shop in remote corners of a country. Then send in demolition squads in a kind of “cash for clunkers embassy” program. This would not only provide work for those proficient in the use of dynamite and nothing better to do with their dubious skills. It might also change America’s face abroad. Who knows, this might just be for the better.

What happens to Consular Services and Public Diplomacy?

That doesn’t address, however, the ongoing need to issue (or not) visas, passports and look after Americans abroad in trouble. This, by the way, is a full time occupation of State Department Consular Officers…

As an aside, one of my all-time favorite posts on Whirled View was this one which explained why the media [and politicians and pundits, for that matter] is/are so damn incompetent when it comes to reporting on Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities, or lack thereof, and while the commentary is obviously about a serious topic, it’s pretty funny to boot.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. still4hill permalink
    August 29, 2009 5:55 pm

    Thanks for the updates, Stacy. The Iran uranium story was very informative.

    As to USAID, this has been infinitely frustrating for Hillary. White House vetter vetoed her choice for Director, Paul Farmer, shortly before her well-publicized outburst in DRC. They need a Director over there.

    And thanks for quoting me! It’s an honor!

  2. August 29, 2009 7:21 pm

    Still4Hill- I agree about USAID and the longer there is a vacancy, the worse it’s gonna get- the folks at USAID & in the development and aid communities have a right to be frustrated/angry and from everything I’ve read, USAID has been woefully under-funded and under-staffed for years and Obama and Hillary did voice their support for the work USAID does but the White House seems to just be making this process [of getting a Director] as slow and painful as possible and I’m guessing that doesn’t do a whole lot to help morale at the agency. I don’t blame Hillary at all- it sounds like Clinton wanted Farmer but the vetting process was so ridiculous and burdensome he couldn’t wade through it. And as Nick Kristof said, if someone with that kind of sterling record can’t, who can?

    And as for quoting you, the honor is all mine 😉

  3. SteveR permalink
    August 30, 2009 10:13 am

    Hey, thanks for this- it’s good to have some Secretary of State news even on the weekend!

  4. Susan permalink
    August 30, 2009 10:15 am

    Stacey, I honestly don’t know how you do it- the State Dept should hire you to do their PR because they’ve got nothin’ on you in terms of updating, the amount of information and the quality!

  5. August 30, 2009 10:37 am

    Steve- you’re welcome!

    And Susan, thanks!

  6. Elizabeth Keathley permalink
    August 30, 2009 1:56 pm

    I want to share two comments from Foreign Policy, one relevant to the present discussion, another less so, but still interesting:

    From Laura Rozen’s blog, “The Cable” on 8/04/09, on Hillary’s frustration with the vetting process for a director of USAID:

    From David Rothkopf’s blog 8/13/09, in a post titled “How Far is Too Far?”:

    ” * Give Hillary a Break, Please

    “This week the media went too far (for a change) in its attacks on Hillary Clinton when she took umbrage at a question about what her husband thought about a particular issue. While the question was misquoted, she had every right to push back on the idea that somehow her views were secondary to his. The attacks on her, focusing on her pique, her mood, her level of exhaustion, the challenges of being married to a powerful man, were almost uniformly sexist. She was delivering through her honesty an important message on a continent where the message needs to be heard. (On a planet where the message needs to be heard.) She is Secretary of State. She is one of the most important political leaders in the United States. She is vastly more relevant to contemporary American politics and policies than is her husband.

    “That said, I wonder if she then went too far in her response to a question about political corruption when she answered that we had our own problems with our “evolving” democracy in the United States and then offered as an example the implication that the 2000 election was compromised by the fact that Republican candidate for president’s brother was governor of the state whose contested election decided the race. Personally, I think the 2000 election is a stain on America’s political history, that almost certainly the results in Florida were not fairly reflected in the result and that the intervention of the Supreme Court along party lines was particularly ugly. But the implication that Jeb Bush rigged the results without proof was probably a step too far especially overseas. That said, I am not of the opinion that speaking of our warts overseas is such a bad thing. Honesty is the only path we’ve got to restoring credibility. It also looked to me like she was a.) joking and b.) exhausted (which is understandable toward the end of an historic 11 day trip across Africa).”

  7. August 30, 2009 2:11 pm

    Elizabeth- thanks for the links/excerpt. I have to agree with the assessment that Secy Clintons so-called “outburst” was way over-blown and given the context of it, I largely don’t blame her. The media went way overboard.

    With respect to USAID- I’m a big fan of the work they do and I wish they could find a good director soon b/c while I know Secy Clinton herself is frustrated, the fact is the longer this drags on the more likely it is that the administrations stated commitment to development, will get called into question. That said, we don’t want just anybody given the position, either.

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