Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

With news that the Hillary Clinton pick for Secretary of State is final, I thought it might be useful to summarize what she had to say one year ago in her essay for Foreign Affairs (subscription link).  Of course, these were her priorities as an erstwhile president, and the Secretary of State position has less scope.  Still, at the time people said there wasn’t a lot of daylight between her position and Obama’s, so we could reasonably expect similar diplomacy-related priorities.

A strong theme in the essay is “respect.”  It begins with a narrative about how, as First Lady,  Secretary-Select Clinton saw the respect that America had earned in the past.  She laments how it has been squandered in the past six years, through a wasted opportunity after 9/11, the rush to invade Iraq, and intransigence in international dealings.  She sees a need to “to restore America’s global standing and convince the world that America can lead once again.”

Next come six sections on how she would accomplish this:

  • Power and Principle: Means not being driven by ideology, using all aspects or of power rather than just the military, making international institutions work, making sure democracy delivers, and living up to values.
  • Stronger America: Means getting out of Iraq and rebuilding military (especially after-action support like health care) and providing humanitarian assistance for war consequences.
  • Winning the “Real” War on Terror: Refocusing on Afghanistan, better intel and clandestine action, improving homeland security.
  • Security through Statesmanship: Talk with adversaries, also talk to frienemies (my term) like Russia and China.
  • Strengthening Alliances: Repair relations with Europe and friendly Asian countries, quit ignoring South America, engage with Africa.
  • Build the World We Want: Admit our recent diplomatic sins, fight disease, turn threats into opportunities (lemons –> lemonade?), build sustainable energy systems, respect human rights.

She closes with a section on “reviving the American idea” containing historical quotes.  There is another strong admonition to use all aspects of power, making this another strong theme in the essay.

At the time this was published, some observers like Marc Lynch were worried that Clinton didn’t have much to say about matters related to public diplomacy.  While it’s true that her essay doesn’t use that concept, the “all aspects of power” theme clearly implies it.  She also suggests that we be contrite in discussing our failures, something I have advocated as a useful first public diplomacy step for Obama.  The “making sure democracy delivers” point echoes recent concerns about our say-do-gap.

The biggest disappointment for me in re-reading this essay is her lack of focus on communication efforts in fighting terrorism.  It’s not just about intel and spying, it’s also about hearts and minds.

But overall I think there is some room for optimism that public diplomacy will receive due priority under Clinton, especially if she can convince the President-Elect to cut her a more workable slice of budget.  I look forward to hearing more in the coming weeks about her actual plans for public diplomacy and who she will appoint to work on those aspects of the job.