Skip to content

Obama’s Unsung Tech Hero: Hillary Clinton

January 25, 2011

I’m glad to see she’s getting a lot of props of late for this. After criticizing President Obama for not doing much in the area of technology policy, Marvin Ammori gives Secretary Clinton two thumbs up on her use of digital diplomacy. Via Huffington Post (excerpt):

The most surprising and impressive successes on technology policy in this administration have come from perhaps the agency and the woman least expected to deliver them — the State Department and Hillary Clinton. In 2008, she was supposedly techno-challenged and out of touch… a creature of the 90s… a luddite who ignored Silicon Valley in the campaign and didn’t quite understand the Internet era.

Today, in 2011, I’m giving Secretary Hillary Clinton the nod as the Obama Administration’s improbable MVP in the technology realm. While she has not magically downloaded world peace on every nation’s hard drive, she has been the smartest, most aggressive, and most successful senior member of the Obama Administration to attempt to harness all things digital to serve her department’s wide-ranging agenda. For that alone, she deserves credit. She has initiated several innovative technology-based diplomacy and development efforts as a means of re-imagining power relationships in a networked world, under the umbrella of a State-Department marketing slogan — “21st Century Statecraft.”

So, while I have often noted Administration shortcomings (especially at the FCC), here I can give credit where due.

From where I sit, it appears the State Department has become a hub of technology activity. The Department has been dreaming up imaginative ways to use technology and actually implementing them in particular communities, for the benefit of particular people, in ways that further American diplomatic and development goals.

Here are some encouraging examples:

* Clinton’s team facilitated more than $30 million in donations from Americans through text messages for earthquake relief in Haiti. This “people-to-people” diplomacy can be more immediate than “diplomat-to-diplomat” diplomacy, both to other nations’ citizens and to our own. It can win hearts and minds abroad and increase engagement here.

* Clinton’s team has rethought the State Department’s approach to civil society with a program called Civil Society 2.0 that connects grassroots organizations with technologists. They have used multiple strategies based on mobile technologies in both the Afghanistan war zones and Mexican drug wars.

* They have started initiatives that further economic and human development by promoting entrepreneurship in developing countries.

* Clinton has also used technology to address the key development challenge of gender inequality, announcing, with Cheri Blair, an “MWomen” initiative aimed at slashing in half the gap between men and women who use mobile technology. She’s also sending a delegation of women techies to Liberia and Sierra Leone to explore how technology can increase opportunities for women and girls in those countries.

* And they are injecting new ideas into the State Department while inspiring the next generation. For example, more than 100 college students now have internships in the “virtual student foreign service,” helping embassies understand how to use social media.

But, more than even these initiatives, Clinton’s global Internet Freedom agenda has struck me as the most important Internet policy initiative of the Obama Administration. Of course, I have worked on open Internet, speech, and entrepreneurship issues for years; so this item is close to my heart.

But Clinton has done something historic here.

Almost exactly a year ago, she launched the initiative to place Internet Freedom at the center of our nation’s diplomacy and development agenda. While this initiative specifically challenged China and Iran in some ways, it’s more a broad directional commitment than a specific project.

Putting Internet Freedom center stage in our diplomatic agenda is part of a long game. International relations, and even international “law,” turn largely on persuasion, on ideas, and on customs among nations. The long game is to change assumptions about, and actions concerning, technology, politics, and economics in the Internet age.

Rather than being mere rhetoric, in international relations, demonstrating thought leadership and injecting ideas into international dialogue plays an important role in this long diplomatic dance. Governments, supporters, and critics already measure their views and actions on global Internet Freedom against the standard she set in that speech and subsequent actions.

The Internet Freedom agenda has some vocal skeptics. And they make some good points, though many of these points seem to be criticizing some 1990s utopian hacker rather than Hillary Clinton.

I don’t see much evidence that Clinton and her deputies are cyber-utopians overlooking the threats of digital technologies in the hands of autocrats. Clay Shirky has addressed this strawman. Do you really think Hillary Clinton, of all people, is an impractical utopian? Her point-man on these issues told the New York Times Magazine the obvious: Clinton “doesn’t believe you can sprinkle the Internet on something and everybody grows up to be healthy, wealthy and wise.” Even in her Internet Freedom speech a year ago, she noted the Internet’s double-edged sword-that technological disruption would bite the US in some ways, even while it fueled our economy and our own diplomatic initiatives.


Definitely go read the whole article.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011 5:48 pm


  2. Terry permalink
    January 26, 2011 4:23 pm

    I’ve run across these two books in my local library: Leadership secrets of Hillary Clinton / Rebecca Shambaugh and Big Girls Don’t Cry: the election that changed everything for American women/Rebecca Traister. Anybody want to comment? Worth reading?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: