home North America, Politics Ms. Clinton goes to the State Department

Ms. Clinton goes to the State Department

Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy rhetoric on the campaign trail was filled with testosterone-rich words like “destroy” and “kill.” She even ran the now-infamous “red phone ad,” where she implied that her then-opponent, Barack Obama, was unprepared to deal with a situation that might call for a military response.

Her muscular posturing and hawkish Senate record drove much of the leftist, pro-peace wing of the Democratic party into the waiting arms of Barack Obama, and eventually won him the nomination.

During the general election, though, Obama’s cooler, pro-diplomacy approach and McCain’s attempt to echo and even ramp up Clinton’s militarism were overshadowed quickly by domestic issues. Bailouts and calls for a “new New Deal” outweigh foreign concerns on the front pages.

But when Clinton entered the State Department on Wednesday, having been confirmed 94-2 as the new Secretary of State, all eyes were on her, and on Obama’s decision to appear first at that department, not the Treasury or Defense.

“I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” Clinton said, and Obama followed her words with the quip, “I’ve given you an early gift: Hillary Clinton.”

I wrote before of the cover that Obama’s foreign policy advisers could provide for his plans, and after Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearings, I still believe that I was right. Obama and Clinton’s words on her first day in office have only cemented that belief.

Hillary Clinton’s best quote from her confirmation hearings was, of course, “America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America. The best way to advance America’s interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions. This isn’t a philosophical point. This is our reality.”

She called for “working aggressively” to meet the Millennium Development Goals, endorsed a “bottom-up” approach to ending poverty, and gave a shout-out to Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, who she called a “pioneer in microfinance in Indonesia.”

On the negative side, she also conflated Iran’s enrichment of uranium to a nuclear weapons program, despite intelligence to the contrary, and though she didn’t mention the “war on terror” specifically, did repeatedly mention “terror” as a major concern.

Clinton didn’t go out on a limb for Palestine, but she did mention “independence, economic progress and security to the Palestinians in their own state.” Obama echoed this concern on his second day in office, saying, “Our hearts go out to the Palestinian civilians who are in need of food, clean water and basic medical care.”

Obama followed these words with the appointment of George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland, as special envoy for Arab/Israeli affairs, in a sign that his administration is actually serious about peace.

Obama also appointed Richard Holbrooke to be special representative, responsible for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The choice of such high-level diplomats so early in the administration, working with the highest-profile cabinet appointment, bodes well for Obama’s seriousness about dealing diplomatically with the rest of the world, as did his phone calls on his first day in office not to traditional allies, but to President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, President Mubarak of Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Of course Clinton agrees with Obama’s stated goals of diplomacy first–what ambitious person wouldn’t want more support and attention for her own department?

I’ve never been one of those who criticized Clinton for being ambitious. The world needs more ambitious women who are ready and willing to lead on the global stage, not fewer. I faulted her instead for being willing to go along with militarism for its own sake when that was popular in America, and her unwillingness to say that her pro-Iraq War vote was wrong.

But as I wrote before, the best way to get Clinton on board with a policy of diplomacy first is to put her in charge of diplomacy.

She’s not going to change the name of her department to the Department of Peace, nor is she going to assert solidarity with the people of Gaza against Israel. Expectations of such things were unrealistic at best. But I remain optimistic about Clinton’s ability to lead and to engage the world, and in the face of more bad news about Obama’s economic team, I’d like to think that she’ll be a voice for progressive causes around the world.

Here’s to hope, I suppose.