What Will U.S. Diplomacy Look Like in the 21st Century?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton envisions a future shaped by pragmatism, collaboration and shared values

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City on Sept. 24, 2012

Rising above the clamor and broadsides of the U.S. election campaign, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered a glimpse of her and the Obama Administration’s vision for the future of American foreign policy. Her Monday keynote speech (dubbed Designing Diplomacy for the 21st Century) at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York City, hosted by her husband, President Bill Clinton, dwelled on how the U.S. intends to reshape its commitment to global development in the face of a rapidly changing world. “We have to think fast and innovatively and be willing to change ourselves,” warned Clinton. Her message was a world away from the bluster of those in the U.S. who still hunger for a militarist, muscular stance on the global stage.

And it was a message Clinton’s audience seemed very keen to hear. As my colleague Bryan Walsh adroitly wrote yesterday, CGI’s annual meeting “is the apotheosis of philanthrocapitalism.” More sharply focused than the World Economic Forum’s vast conclave in Davos, Switzerland, the meeting brings out luminaries in the private sector who are already committed to tackling an array of development challenges. Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s former Secretary of State and moderator of a panel called Champions of Action, summed up the proceedings with a somewhat ungainly metaphor: rather than a forum for telling people which way the wind is blowing, says Albright, “we enlist the help of others to change the direction of the wind.”

For Secretary Clinton, the U.S.’s top diplomat, the end goal for the State Department’s development and aid programs ought to be “putting ourselves out of business.” By shifting from aid to investment, from throwing money at governments to targeting projects with the private sector, from dictating terms to encouraging reforms, the U.S. can with greater agility and precision affect how development plays out in poorer countries worldwide. As it is, aid from the West is a far smaller proportion of the capital flowing into the coffers of developing nations now than half a century ago. “I look forward to the day when our development assistance is no longer necessary,” said Clinton. “We are working with partner countries to strengthen their political will for reform and provide technical assistance on issues like taxes.” That last point drew murmurs of audience approval that Clinton seized upon, insisting that “collecting taxes in an equitable manner, especially from the elites in every country” is essential for countless nations. “There are rich people everywhere, and yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries,” said Clinton, alluding cheekily to the status quo in the U.S.

In keeping with CGI’s (and the Obama Administration’s) liberal internationalism, Clinton’s speech made clear moral gestures, appealing to the importance of universal values. At root, she said, is a shared commitment to “freedom, democracy, opportunity and dignity,” which she hailed as “the great cause of the 21st century.”

There’s little unfamiliar about that sentiment, but it came at a rocky moment for U.S. foreign policy. The shadow of recent events hung over the ballroom — namely the unrest and violence of the past two weeks in the Middle East and North Africa, triggered in part by an obscure, controversial anti-Muslim video made in the U.S. If stung, both by the supposed anger of the Arab street and by opponents in Washington who have branded the Administration weak, the Secretary of State remained resolute, defending her belief in the importance of the Arab Spring’s revolutions. “The people of the Arab world did not set out to trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of the mob,” said Clinton, who went on to applaud last Friday’s popular uprising in the Libyan city of Benghazi, where tens of thousands marched against the extremist militia that was behind an assault on the U.S. consulate there and the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. “Dignity does not come from avenging insults but advancing our common humanity,” she concluded.

Few would dispute that. Yet implicit in Clinton’s address was a sticky tension: the champion of American diplomacy was facing up to the dawning reality that, in the decades to come, the U.S.’s ability to impose itself on global affairs will shrink. Clinton’s trumpeted platitudes — “We are standing up for democracies that unlock people’s potential and against extremists who seek to exploit people’s frustration” — belied the fact that her good intentions are still not welcomed or trusted by many overseas. Writing in the New York Times today, Indian commentator Pankaj Mishra discussed the “inevitable retreat” of the U.S. from the Middle East, a region that has long bristled at U.S. diplomatic and military interventions.

It is not just extremist Salafis who think Americans always have malevolent intentions: the Egyptian anti-Islamist demonstrators who pelted Hillary Rodham Clinton’s motorcade in Alexandria with rotten eggs in July were convinced that America was making shady deals with the Muslim Brotherhood. And few people in the Muslim world have missed the Israeli Prime Minister’s blatant manipulation of American politics for the sake of a pre-emptive assault on Iran.

With emerging powers flexing their muscle on the international stage, the scope for assertive U.S. action is narrowing everywhere. Clinton seemed intuitively aware of this, painting a picture of American diplomacy that engages a range of diverse “partners,” from governments to the private sector to fledgling civil societies. She said the principle of development was as vital a tenet in U.S. national security as defense. American power, in this vision, is diffuse, subtle — it cares more for collaboration than confrontation, it wields no big stick. That’s a note that sounds just right in a forum of international do-gooders. How it plays out in an election year is another matter altogether.

24 comments
aritra gupta
aritra gupta

What Will U.S. Diplomacy Look Like in the 21st Century?

 This has a one-word answer if Syria is anything to go by

"Bullshit"

Chhajuram Induscharwak
Chhajuram Induscharwak

freedom, democracy, opportunity and dignity, are just words without unless backed by capital investment through out world for completing globalization.

Heterotic
Heterotic

It is good if our influence wanes, as long as it is accompanied by reduced defense spending and handouts to countries like Egypt and Pakistan. Let them deal with their own problems. They might start by building more factories to manufacture condoms.

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

>> At root, says Clinton, is a shared commitment to “freedom, democracy, opportunity and

dignity,”

See, this is how you rub it in sneakingly. You put in a few good words, and add the one at the end.

So Clinton is basically saying my values have dignity and yours don't. It's the same as my God is better than yours.

I really don't understand the motive of using such coded words. But I know Bush used it, like "civilized".

Tim Durocher
Tim Durocher

 I'll remember that next time someone stabs your a bunch of times. It's dignified for him so don't be upset!

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

Your attitude is exactly the problem I am talking about. Words like "dignity" can mean many different things depending on the speaker.

So what kind of person would assume violence is someone's dignity?

There is only one answer. It is those who are trying to enslave others. They always use these empty words to try to impose their will upon others. But your kind has tried that many times before and this time, you can neither scare nor fool anyone.

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

proletaria:

"What is this "kind," of which you speak?"

Manipulative ones, of course, especially tyrants.

"absolute moral relativism"

I actually oppose relativism. But I am not sure what kind of "moral" you have in mind, especially you are using "absolute" and "relative" together.

"too cowardly"

Where did I show that? This is unnecessary and it makes your intention suspicious.

"the moral superiority that you presume to have?"

I respect free will. Are you asking me to assert my free will upon your? I won't. But I ask you to get your logic straight.

proletaria
proletaria

What is this "kind," of which you speak? Are you of the opinion that absolute moral relativism is the only way to approach foreign policy or are you simply too cowardly to assert the moral superiority that you presume to have?

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

"You can't be in contempt for half the population and be president," Fowler said of Romney. "This is the message that you've just sent to Americans and it was off the chain."

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JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

"You can't be in contempt for half the population and be president," Fowler said of Romney. "This is the message that you've just sent to Americans and it was off the chain."

Citizens UNITE AGAINST Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court Case allowing OUTRAGEOUS SUMS of MONEY to be GIVEN to REPUBLICAN candidates.  

VOTE the DEMOCRATIC TICKET to SAVE the USA come November!

In 2016, RUN HILARY RUN for President of the USA!

Lorraine Conely
Lorraine Conely

United States must have a honest diplomacy that countries can trust, not  Hillary Rodham Clinton/ Obama's attacks on peoples conscience 

Barack Obama and his administration (Hillary Rodham Clinton) are only using that video 'Innocence of Muslims' to conceal to stop the video "She's buried chest high" movement. Sharia Law - "She's buried chest high" http://youtu.be/vOIbgd5qcrg HILLARY (Hillary Rodham Clinton) THREATENED JUANITA BROADDRICK 2 WEEKS AFTER her husband Bill Clinton RAPE JUANITA BROADDRICKhttp://youtu.be/5KZ8...

Byst1nder
Byst1nder

"We are never going to have the elite, smart people on our side." - Santorum

One of the potential reasons this statement rings true is that with you on their side, who provides conspiracy issues without a thread of logic or fact, smart people will come running away from you....

karur
karur

This profound change in US foreign policy is driven by domestic realities in the US, where funds for adventurism don't exist and a world that is willing and able to do without US intervention. Clinton and her team must be complimented in articulating this new policy, which is driven by a desire to help in a growth and development agenda

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

It is really not about how much money you are throwing, but about how things are done.

The Bush doctrine is military intervention while the Clinton doctrine is business bribery. Hillary Clinton must be thinking she is still sitting on the board of Walmart.

Surfboat Dan.
Surfboat Dan.

 In the last 9 yrs or so China has invested 25 times as much as the US has around the world,  especially in Brazil, Russia, Africa and Iran.    The US is becoming irrelevant so fast that Hillary is actually right!   Her carefully chosen words sanitize how badly we have crapped all over ourselves regarding international diplomacy.

Shams Aci
Shams Aci

America's recent performances ventilates the impression that it prefers compulsive friendship policy through its semi threat to compel other countries to embrace it as their master, not just a friend.

Hence, thus America seems loosing friends and making enemies, as per critics.

Talendria
Talendria

I think you have a self-serving idea of friendship, which is supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship among equals.  Relieving someone of their money and then kicking them in the goolies is not friendship.

proletaria
proletaria

Can someone translate this into English?

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

@proletaria 

I wish my English improves to that extent that I can understand even if that's writen in your colloquel English. Thanks for bearing me!

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

Maybe.

Hillary gives foreigners money so that she can be the master. But those damn foreigners take the money, do nothing, and ask for more. So Hillary threatens them and they become enemies.