Commentary Magazine


Hillary’s World

Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. The text can be read in full here. A few observations.

She, unlike the president, seems rhetorically willing to fly the banner of American exceptionalism:

The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century.

Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American Moment. A moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways. A moment when those things that make us who we are as a nation — our openness and innovation, our determination, and devotion to core values — have never been needed more.

Her argument, however, that she and the Obama team have furthered American influence and power is belied by the facts. But this does not deter her from offering disingenuous platitudes. (“From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.” Apparently Britain, Honduras, Israel, India, Eastern Europe, and others don’t understand that their relationship with us has “deepened.”) She touts progress with China, but one is left wondering where this has manifested itself. China has grown more aggressive, not less, and its human-rights abuses have not abated.

Second, the aversion to hard power is obvious. The cornerstones of American leadership according to Clinton are domestic economic strength and “diplomacy.” She has a single line, a throw-away to mollify the easily mollified (“This administration is also committed to maintaining the greatest military in the history of the world and, if needed, to vigorously defending our friends and ourselves.”) But in paragraph after paragraph of blather (I spare you the extract) about global architecture and centers of influence, she makes it clear that her idea of foreign policy is: talk, talk, and more talk. And her sole mention of the two wars is this: “Long after our troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, our diplomatic and development assistance and support for the Afghan security forces will continue.” So much for projecting American power and values.

Most troubling, however, is the placement of Iran in the speech and the content. It comes at the very end, suggesting that it really is not at the top of her to-do list. She gives no indication that this is the most pressing issue we face. And she dispenses with even the formulaic “all options are on the table.” None of this suggests that the administration is serious — gone is even the term “unacceptable”:

First, we began by making the United States a full partner and active participant in international diplomatic efforts regarding Iran. Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.

Second, we have sought to frame this issue within the global non-proliferation regime in which the rules of the road are clearly defined for all parties. To lead by example, we have renewed our own disarmament efforts. Our deepened support for global institutions such as the IAEA underscores the authority of the international system of rights and responsibilities. Iran, on the other hand, continues to single itself out through its own actions. Its intransigence represents a challenge to the rules to which all countries must adhere.

Third, we continue to strengthen relationships with those countries whose help we need if diplomacy is to be successful. Through classic shoe-leather diplomacy, we have built a broad consensus that will welcome Iran back into the community of nations if it meets its obligations and likewise will hold Iran accountable to its obligations if it continues its defiance.

This spring, the UN Security Council passed the strongest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever on Iran. The European Union has followed up with robust implementation of that resolution. Many other nations are implementing their own additional measures, including Australia, Canada, Norway and most recently Japan. We believe Iran is only just beginning to feel the full impact of sanctions. Beyond what governments are doing, the international financial and commercial sectors are also starting to recognize the risks of doing business with Iran.

Sanctions and pressure are not ends in themselves. They are the building blocks of leverage for a negotiated solution, to which we and our partners remain committed. The choice for Iran’s leaders is clear, even if they attempt to obfuscate and avoid it: Meet the responsibilities incumbent upon all nations and enjoy the benefits of integration into the international community, or continue to flout your obligations and accept increasing isolation and costs.  Iran now must decide for itself.

That is it. The whole thing. It is a shocking, even for them, signal of the nonchalance with which the Obami view the most pressing national-security concern of our time. And much of what she says is simply gibberish. For example: “Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.” What is she talking about? Iran made excuses before, they make them now, and we’ve lost 18 months in fruitless negotiations.

Israelis, I am sure, are listening carefully. While they go through the motions at the save-face-for-Obama Middle East peace talks, they must surely be coming to terms with the fact that their military is all that stands between the West and a nuclear-armed Iran. If Hillary is any indication, they will get no help from us.

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