Hillary Clinton outlined her vision for bolstering U.S. influence in her final address as secretary of state, offering a defense to critics who say her tenure has been scatter-shot or inconsequential.
Clinton compared the “new architecture” necessary for “a new world” to the fluid and quirky work of architect Frank Gehry. “Some of his work at first might appear haphazard,” Clinton said, “but in fact it’s highly intentional and sophisticated.”
U.S. foreign policy under Clinton combined traditional elements such as military power and decades-long alliances with newer components such as the use of social media, an increased focus on economic matters, encouragement for female empowerment and an increase in regional cooperation.
“America today is stronger at home and respected in the world, and our global leadership is on stronger footing than many predicted,” Clinton said today at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington policy group.
Describing the U.S. as “the world’s indispensable nation,” Clinton declared that “the declinists are wrong.”
Asked about a “Clinton doctrine,” she described building networks to draw in other countries and then “expect them to play their role in a rules-based global order.”
“As the world has changed, so too have the levers of power that can most effectively shape international affairs,” Clinton said. “We have to be strategic about all the levers of global power” and be open to new ones, “even ones that haven’t been invented yet,” Clinton said.
The new demands also require broader engagement, said Clinton, who set records for the position by traveling to 112 countries in her four-year term.
While critics such as scholar Fouad Ajami have derided her globe-hopping travel schedule as “foreign policy trivialized,” Clinton said secretaries of state can no longer limit themselves to a few major capitals.
She offered her January 2012 trip to Togo as an example, citing people who asked why she would bother going to the tiny west African country. “Why Togo?” she said. “Well, Togo happens to hold a rotating seat on the UN Security Council,” Clinton said. “Going there -- making the personal investment -- has a strategic purpose.”
Clinton said criticism that her emphasis on technology, human rights, women and development is “a bit soft,” misses the point. It’s a “false choice” to see traditional tools of power and so-called soft power as mutually exclusive, she said.
Instead, she calls the mix of the two “smart power” and offered examples of how that has worked in Asia and the Middle East.
Though military shifts in the so-called pivot to Asia have garnered a lot of attention, U.S. foreign policy in the region involves energy politics, trade and economic diplomacy, and the promotion of democracy and universal norms, Clinton said.
She described the U.S. relationship with China as “uniquely consequential” adding that, “the Pacific is big enough for all of us, and we will continue to welcome China’s rise -- if it chooses to play a constructive role.”
The Middle East is another complex region, Clinton said, and she said it has seen some progress. Nascent democracies are taking root in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, she said, and U.S. troops have come home from Iraq.
She acknowledged the region’s challenges, including the continuing “slaughter” in Syria, Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon and the terrorist threat in North Africa.
The Middle East needs good governance, a vibrant private sector, respect for women and minorities, and “you can’t have true stability and security unless leaders start leading,” Clinton said.