Gerald Herbert/AP
Secretary of State-designate Sen. Hillary
Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton Introduces “Smart Power” Approach to Foreign Policy

January 14, 2009 03:01 PM
by Christopher Coats
Outlined by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton during her confirmation hearings before Congress this week, the new administration’s foreign policy philosophy seeks to strike a balance between past presidents’ agendas.

Finding a Policy Middle Ground

Dubbed “smart power” by Clinton on Tuesday, the administration’s foreign policy philosophy is meant to blend the “soft power” adherence to diplomacy championed during the administration of Bill Clinton and “hard power” approach of the last eight years under George W. Bush.

This blending of philosophies was outlined in early December by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, himself the author of the term “soft power.”

Detailing the importance of using the country’s strength to address immediate concerns, Nye argued that the country would also need to take a leadership position in soft power efforts such as “global public goods—providing things people and governments in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain in the absence of leadership by the largest country.”

In practice, smart power means a more equal working relationship between the State and Defense Departments, which have remained at odds throughout the Bush administration.

The current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—a Bush appointee who Obama has elected to keep on, and who has appealed for additional funding and resources in the name of diplomacy—has supported this equal footing.

Furthering the comparisons to the Clinton years, Obama has chosen a number of the former president’s foreign policy experts to join his diplomatic team.

These include Richard Holbrooke, who helped broker a peace deal in the Balkans, to act as advisor on Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Middle East expert Dennis Ross to help guide the administration’s Iran policy.

“These are people who reflect Obama’s world-view that sees the world less from a power-projecting perspective and more from looking at problems and seeing how to solve them,” Michael Fullilove, a fellow at two independent think tanks, the Brookings Institution in Washington and the Lowy Institute in Australia, told the Guardian.

One of the starkest examples of an increased concentration on diplomacy could come with the incoming administration’s comments regarding a possible meeting with Hamas—a move strictly prohibited during the Bush presidency.

Context: Keeping some Bush policies in place

However, the adoption of smart power does not mean a complete abandonment of the Bush-era focus on displaying power through military force.

Both critics and proponents of the incoming administration have noted that it is unlikely that Obama will veer far from the Bush presidency’s use of military power when necessary, only that he will be more likely to exhaust diplomatic possibilities before pledging troops.

The president-elect’s philosophy will also differ starkly from the previous eight years in its avoidance of unilateral actions, relying more on collaborative efforts that the United States may take leadership positions in without claiming the projects as their own.

Proponents of such an approach point to the creation of the United Nations, NATO and the Marshall Plan as examples to potentially learn from.

Opinion & Analysis: Not possible in the real world

However, critics have been quick to insist that the impending threats of countries, especially Iran, could force immediate action from the incoming administration and its focus on diplomatic over military actions.

“It will be a high-risk and extremely dangerous strategy. It would project weakness and indecision and not prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,” Nile Gardiner, a director at conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, told the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Britannica’s Josh Xiong suggests that Obama’s foreign policy roster offers little change and almost guarantees a return to Bush-era policy making, citing UN ambassador-designate Susan Rice’s comments regarding acting without the support of the United Nations and retention of Robert Gates at the Department of Defense.

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