SOS Hillary Clinton Gets High Marks for Striking the Right Tone During Her Asia Trip
I ran across these two stories today and both give credit to Secretary Clinton (and to a lesser extent, Secy Gates) for being able to balance the competing diplomatic concerns in a very difficult, and at times hostile, area of the world.
First, from the Miami Herald (excerpt):
If you want to find a harsh crowd for an American official, send him — or her — to Pakistan. That’s why reviews of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s stop in Islamabad during her latest dizzying tour of international trouble spots should make us take notice. “Drum roll for Hillary,” wrote Rizwan Ghani in the Pakistan Observer, “because she has hit a home run.”
Hillary, as she is known around the globe, does not earn accolades just for her cheerful smile. She is tough as nails. In fact, she’s much tougher than her boss, President Barack Obama. And her mastery of complicated issues can leave observers’ jaws dangling from their hinges. The Pakistani daily Dawn spoke of her “Iron fist in a velvet glove,” as it described her taking on Pakistani officials over tense problems, including Afghanistan, the Taliban, China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation, Indo-Pakistani water disputes, and so on.
And that was just one stop on the trip. In South Korea she sent one of the strongest messages this administration has issued to Pyongyang, and then walked right up to the edge of the DMZ, within inches of nervous North Korean soldiers. On Afghanistan, no U.S. official can deal more openly and effectively with President Hamid Karzai….
In fact, Hillary Clinton, who was supposed to ignite the flames of conservatives’ hatred, is becoming more popular every day across the political spectrum. Her hawkish foreign policy views gain her support on the right, and her well known views on domestic policy keep the home fires burning on the left. The two fields intersect in one of the areas where she displays the greatest passion, her signature issue on foreign policy: the need to empower women in poor countries in order to transform the world.
Clinton, whose approval ratings easily surpass those of the president and the vice-president, has acted as something of a bad cop to Obama’s good cop. It’s impossible to know how much of what she says is directed by the White House and how much is her personal message. She was always much more hawkish than Obama on Iran’s nuclear program, for example, showing skepticism that his `outstretched hand’ would nudge Tehran to change course. Her doubts proved correct, and Obama is now pushing the line she advocated two years ago. On Israel, she spoke harshly to the Netanyahu administration, surprising Israelis who had learned to trust her over the years. But now the White House is sounding more like Hillary did in the old days.
Now, I’ll admit, it pains me to have to hear her repeatedly referred to as the major hawk in the administration in article after article, being the dove that I am, but hey, I can’t have everything so I’ll just suck it up for once.
And then over at Foreign Policy (excerpt):
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have just completed a very successful trip to Asia. Their foray into Asia stands in stark contrast to the president’s own disastrous trip (see Leslie Gelb’s critique here), and the inappropriate “we are back” braggadocio displayed by his White House advisers (see Dan Twining). Despite the White House’s smack-talk, the President has now cancelled his return to Asia three times, to the great consternation of Asian leaders.
Here is what Clinton and Gates accomplished: They shored up the South Korea alliance, and in so doing, they reassured Japan. Mrs. Clinton deftly forged closer ties with Vietnam while at the same time pushing them to respect human rights. Mr. Gates lifted restrictions on cooperating with the Indonesian military, paving the way for a stronger defense relationship. And both spoke out strongly about the South China Sea, which China has provocatively claimed to be its territorial waters. Here is Clinton on the matter: “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”
Clinton and Gates are practicing what one might call a distinctly American realism. The realism is manifest in the return to balancing China’s power in the region, something the president said he would avoid as anachronistic. The distinctly American approach is practicing balance of power politics without abandoning our principles. We want and need a better relationship with authoritarian Vietnam. But we need not ignore Hanoi’s poor human rights record. On Indonesia, the military undoubtedly committed abuses in the past. But Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a democrat who has done a remarkable job consolidating his country’s democratic transition. There are sound strategic reasons to closely engage Indonesia, and Jakarta’s president is removing obstacles to a tighter partnership.