I’m trying not to be too cynical about the speeches, because I recognize that they often serve as the birthplace of foreign policy doctrines. I’m not sure if we yet have the makings of an Obama doctrine, per se, since President Barack Obama’s four major speeches have so far been more calibrated to specific audiences, even if there have been some broad declarations of vision.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech yesterday seems like an ambitious attempt to collect the scattered bits of already articulated principles into a coherent conceptual structure for the Obama administration’s conduct of foreign policy. Time will tell if events treat it kindly. But it’s smart and well-conceived.
Here’s a bullet point rendering of how Clinton recapped the administration’s foreign policy priorities as Obama has already articulated them:
– We want to isolate and defeatterrorists and counter violent extremists while reaching out to Muslimsaround the world.
– We want to encourage and facilitate the efforts ofall parties to pursue and achieve a comprehensive peace in the MiddleEast.
– We want to seek global economic recovery and growth bystrengthening our own economy, advancing a robust development agenda,expanding trade that is free and fair, and boosting investment thatcreates decent jobs.
– We want to combat climate change, increase energysecurity, and lay the foundation for a prosperous clean-energy future.
– We want to support and encourage democratic governments that protectthe rights and deliver results for their people.
– And we intend to standup for human rights everywhere.
She goes on to articulate the conceptual foundation underlying American foreign policy under the Obama administration, followed by an examination of the method to be used. First, the conceptual foundation, which is anchored in the idea that American leadership must adapt to the demands of a changing world:
– Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be.
– [J]ust as no nation can meet these challenges alone, no challenge can be met without America.
– In short, we will lead by inducing greater cooperation among a greaternumber of actors and reducing competition, tilting the balance awayfrom a multi-polar world and toward a multi-partner world.
– We are both a trans-Atlantic and a trans-Pacific nation.
Then the method, which grows out of an initial definition of soft power as “a blend of principle and pragmatism”:
– Our second policy approach is to lead with diplomacy, even in the cases of adversaries or nations with whom we disagree.
– Our third policy approach, and a personal priority for me as Secretary,is to elevate and integrate development as a core pillar of Americanpower.
– Our fourth approach is to ensure that our civilian and military effortsoperate in a coordinated and complementary fashion where we are engagedin conflict.
– Our fifth approach is to shore up traditional sources of our influence,including economic strength and the power of our example.
Not a whole lot of this is new, and many of the catchphrases we’ve seen before. For me, the most interesting novelty is the substitution of a “multi-partner world” for a “multi-polar world,” which comes close to coining a new doctrinal formulation.
My biggest complaint is the renewed the insistance on aid as an element of American power. I continue to believe that aid assistance and development should be need-based and independent of interest-driven considerations, rather than contingent on them. Naive, perhaps, but also important if American assistance is to remain untarnished by skeptical — and accurate — charges of self-interest. So I would have preferred the use of the word “influence” there, rather than “power.”
Spencer Ackerman has some smart commentary on the speech, which he saw as a blueprint for institutional transformation (it is), and Laura Rozen has a rundown of the speech and the Kremlinology surrounding it that’s worth a read.