TOPICS > Politics

Hearing Holds Clues to Clinton’s Foreign Policy Approach

January 13, 2009 at 6:20 PM EST
Loading the player...
Sen. Hillary Clinton took questions on Iraq, Iran and other foreign policy issues in her confirmation hearing Tuesday. Analysts examine what she may face as the nation's top envoy.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: For more now on what to expect from a Secretary of State Clinton, we turn to Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard — he held intelligence and Pentagon posts in the Clinton administration — and Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank. She serves as an informal adviser to the U.N. officials — to U.N. officials on Middle East issues.

So, Phyllis Bennis, what did we learn today from Hillary Clinton at this hearing about what kind of secretary of state she would be?

PHYLLIS BENNIS, Fellow, Institute For Policy Studies: Well, I think, Gwen, that we learned that her stated commitment to making diplomacy the vanguard of foreign policy is a very important commitment, but it’s one that is already somewhat undermined by specifics that she gave, for example, the idea of not talking to Hamas until certain criteria that externally are met.

At a moment of crisis, you need to talk to both sides. She said that we are not giving up on peace in the Middle East. But it seems to me that you are giving up on peace if you refuse to talk to both sides. It means you’re even giving up on a cease-fire.

So, I think that was a bit problematic. She also said very little about the fundamental point that president-elect Obama had made such a stirring commitment to during his campaign, which was this idea that we need to change the mind-set that led to war.

He was very clear about that, and it was, in my view, one of the key reasons that his support grew so exponentially, that it wasn’t only about ending the war in Iraq. It was also about changing the mind-set.

And it seems to me that Hillary Clinton, as we heard today, is not representing change. She’s representing that same mind-set that leads to war, despite some words that indicate to the contrary.

Clinton keeps Iran options open

Joseph S. Nye
Harvard University Kennedy School
(Clinton) was very careful not to be trapped in a confirmation hearing and to say something that would foreclose one of her options or one of the president's options.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Joe Nye if he heard it the same way.

JOSEPH NYE, Kennedy School Dean, Harvard University: No, I heard a very smart and able senator, realizing that she has to stay close to the president and the president's policies, and to represent him, not just herself.

And I thought that she did very well. Take, for example, her answer to Sen. Kerry about Iran, which was a difficult one. But she was very careful not to be trapped in a confirmation hearing and to say something that would foreclose one of her options or one of the president's options.

I think that's what a secretary of state needs to do. And I think she sounded secretarial.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you to continue on that point. She said, when it came to Iran, that no options were off the table. How did you read that?

JOSEPH NYE: Well, that's been our American position -- and I think it has to be -- which is, the president-elect has said that he's going to go seriously at diplomacy, and diplomacy across a wide range, but he has said that he's not going to take options off the table.

That means the Iranians have to realize that, while there is an opening for them diplomatically, there are sticks in the background, as well as carrots. And I think that probably is necessary if we're going to see the kind of bargaining that's going to be part of the process of stopping the Iranians developing a nuclear weapon.

Obama, Clinton policies unified

Phyllis Bennis
Institute for Policy Studies
It would not have been untoward ... for the new incoming secretary of state to say that one of the goals of the new administration would be to implement all United Nations resolutions, including the one calling for an immediate cease-fire (in Gaza).

GWEN IFILL: Phyllis Bennis, that hearing today went on for four or five hours. And that answer that you just referred to that she made about Hamas and Gaza was basically the only time the subject came up. Were you surprised at that?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I was. I think that there -- we really learned very little detail about new policy ideas.

But that's particularly disturbing when you have this extraordinary crisis in Gaza right now. The -- the deaths of Palestinians is now over 950, more than 300 -- 3,500 injured. Thirteen Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, have been killed. But the numbers of Palestinians, it's about half civilians.

It's a dramatic crisis that cries out for real leadership. There's a United Nations resolution that has been passed. It would not have been untoward, I think, for the -- the -- the new incoming secretary of state to say that one of the goals of the new administration would be to implement all United Nations resolutions, including the one calling for an immediate cease-fire.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask...

BENNETT: The fact that she didn't was unfortunate.

GWEN IFILL: Let me -- well, let me test that theory against Joe Nye.

Is that the sort of thing that an incoming secretary of state is supposed to do? Or would that have taken her beyond where she's supposed to be in lockstep with -- with the president-elect?

JOSEPH NYE: Well, a successful secretary of state has to stay close to the president.

A number of people have said, well, you know, Sen. Clinton is such a star in her own right, won't she go off on her own? The answer is, she's so smart, she knows that success as a secretary of state means not allowing any space to open up between her and the president.

So, I think she's got to make sure that she is right on board with the president. And I think that's what she's doing.

Combination of hard, soft power

Joseph S. Nye
Harvard University Kennedy School
We have had an overly militarized foreign policy for eight years. And I think what Sen. Clinton was saying today is that we have to have more balance in our toolkit.

GWEN IFILL: I want to ask you, Joe Nye, about this term she used today, smart power, because you have written about this. And perhaps you can define what she means by that when she refers to it. Or is it her -- or is it just diplospeak for less military action?

JOSEPH NYE: Well, Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary in the Bush administration, and I chaired -- or co-chaired -- a commission on smart power last year.

And what we meant by -- and it what I think she may mean, though I don't know, because I didn't ask her -- is that you need to combine the hard military and economic power that we possess with the attractive soft power of diplomacy, culture, ideas, values.

And that's something we haven't done well in the last eight years. We have focused so much on our hard power, that we haven't included our soft power with it. Even Secretary of Defense Gates has argued that we should invest more in our soft power and give more resources to the State Department.

We have had an overly militarized foreign policy for eight years. And I think what Sen. Clinton was saying today is that we have to have more balance in our toolkit.

GWEN IFILL: Phyllis Bennis, is that a realistic approach, at a time when the United States is still, after all, engaged in war on two fronts?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think, again, going back to what president-elect Obama said -- and I absolutely agree with Joe Nye that the goal of a successful secretary of state should be to represent the president -- it was president-elect Obama, not candidate Hillary Clinton, who said that we have to change the mind-set that led to war.

So, I find the commitment to that important. But it's rather disturbing that, for example, when -- when the incoming secretary spoke about Afghanistan, she talked about her own view of -- in support of what appears to be president-elect Obama's plan to double the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and then engage in a serious strategic discussion to figure out what to do.

To me, that sounds backwards. It seems to me that you figure out your strategy first, before you send additional troops. So, I think that this notion of soft power is very important, but I heard too many parts of her testimony today where she sort of said the opposite when it came to the specifics.

Potential conflicts of interest

Phyllis Bennis
Institute for Policy Studies
I think the problem is not only transparency. It's the very phenomenon of foreign governments knowing that they can sweet-talk a secretary of state, to whatever degree she tries to distance herself from (the Clinton foundation).

GWEN IFILL: And I want to ask you both -- I will start with you, Phyllis Bennis, about this discussion that -- today about whether there's a conflict of interest that exists between the incoming secretary of state-designate, Hillary Clinton, and her husband's foundation, and whether there should be more transparency.

Do you feel that those questions were satisfied today?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: No, I really don't. And I think that this is probably something that will be a continuing issue.

I think the problem is not only transparency. It's the very phenomenon of foreign governments knowing that they can sweet-talk a secretary of state, to whatever degree she tries to distance herself from it.

But the appearance of it, when any government, whether it's Norway, or whether it's Iran or Afghanistan or whatever government, wants to give a large amount of money to that foundation, I don't really see a way that it cannot have some impact on how she sees that government.

GWEN IFILL: Joe Nye, do you see a way?

JOSEPH NYE: Well, I -- I don't know the details. My impression is that the ethics officers have been satisfied by the arrangements which were reached with both Clintons.

But I do know that Sen. Clinton is smart enough to realize that any apparent conflict of interests would undercut her. And I don't think she will allow that to arise.

GWEN IFILL: Joseph Nye at the Kennedy School, and Phyllis Bennis at the Institute of Policy Studies, thank you both very much.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thank you.