When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton passed through San Francisco last week I jumped at the chance to get an up-to-date overview on American foreign policy. The former first lady was making a brief San Francisco stop off on her way to meet leaders on an extended Asian tour.
She showed up wearing one of her trademark charcoal pantsuits and a subdued gold necklace, her blonde hair with tinges of grey having grown out from previous years. She was clearly at ease, and far more relaxed than when I had seen her in Washington, having once lived here and counting legions of friends. An extended vacation from the daily hand-to-hand combat of American politics must also be at work.
Hillary is fundamentally restructuring America’s conduct of its foreign policy through the implementation of a quadrennial review, similar to efforts already in place at the Defense Department. While pulling together the many competing and diverse strands of thought at Foggy Bottom and countless other government agencies is nice in theory, it is devilishly difficult to implement in practice.
Afghanistan is front-and-center on her plate these days, as her recent visits to Kabul testify. The US is executing a two-pronged military/diplomatic strategy of stepped-up bombing, while enticing the Taliban to the negotiating table. The code words are “reintegration” and “reconciliation”.
The first is intended to bring young Taliban fighters back to civilian life, who were often forcibly conscripted. The second seeks to bring their leadership to our side and to cut links with Al Qaida. The US has also tripled civilian aid workers in country to propel the development of a stable economy. For the last three decades the Taliban were offering the best-paying jobs in town because they were the only jobs.
In Pakistan, from where the Taliban now launches most of its operations, the military is the strongest and most-stable institution in the country. Recent floods have made the infrastructure needs of the country even more pressing. But before the US helps this volatile Muslim country, it must help itself first, through the raising of taxes. At 9% of GDP, Pakistan has the world’s lowest taxation burden, with many of the wealthy elite paying less than $100 a year.
Iran is a difficult nut to crack, as there are disputes raging within the country on which direction to take. Hillary’s State Department is pushing for a common negotiating forum with Europe to bring Iraq to the table on the nuclear issue, which will hopefully yield results.
The administration may push the passage of the START treaty with Russia on nuclear weapons control in the Senate, which has so far received bipartisan support. The US is supporting Russia’s application to enter the World Trade Organization because of its assistance in stopping weapons flows into Afghanistan and its anti-terrorism efforts.
The US supports China’s peaceful rise, but the picture is complex. China has certainly earned points through buying our debt and imposing sanctions on North Korea and Iran. It failed to move forward during the Copenhagen climate negotiations, but then went home and initiated enormous alternative energy projects on its own. The revaluation of the Yuan, relations with Taiwan, human rights, and the status of the Dalai Lama stand out there as potentially contentious issues.
Relations with Mexico are a top priority. The US is helping the beleaguered country in its brutal war against drug lords, which are now fielding paramilitary forces adopting terrorist tactics. Car bombings have become a regular occurrence. The US is partly responsible for Mexico’s plight with its endless demand for illegal drugs and a steady supply of weapons South of the border. We are bolstering law enforcement efforts, and helping raise a conviction rate in drug cases of only 2%, partly because so many witnesses disappear.
Hillary has launched a complete reorganization of US foreign aid efforts, which are currently scattered around 24 different government organizations whose management don’t know or contact each other. This will be rebuilt around the USAID organization originally established by president Kennedy, so the expenditure of hard-fought tax dollars can become more efficient (click here for their site). The US lost its way in foreign aid during the seventies, was hollowed out by successive conservative administrations, and degenerated into wasteful subcontracting to non-governmental organizations.
There are few places I can go to get a complete, well researched, well thought out, truly global view. Hillary Clinton is certainly one of them.
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