This will be my last day manning the Madam Secretary blog. After four great years, I have decided to leave FP and have accepted a position at the Online NewsHour as Economics Editor. I've had a fantastic time watching Secretary Clinton these past few weeks. With so much to be done, her tenure promises to be nothing less than fascinating.
Thank you to all our Madam Secretary readers, and especially to all those who have emailed or left comments. You have consistently kept us on our toes and provided great feedback.
I plan to be a devoted reader and hope you will be as well. Thanks again.
The State Department confirmed yesterday that Secretary Clinton will depart for her first official trip abroad as secretary on February 15, with stops in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China.
So, for our weekly Hillary Poll, we asked our panel of experts for some diplomatic travel advice:
What is the gaffe or mistake secretaries of state should avoid at all costs on their first official trip overseas?
The so-called gaffes and blunders that reverberate in the news for a few days don't mean a damn thing -- even if Hillary makes a dumb move, which she will not.
The real rookie mistake is just to treat these initial trips as photo and goodwill voyages. The truth is they represent genuine opportunties for the Secretary of State to demonstratrate that the trip means something, something important. And what's truly important to the hosts and to us is for HRC to lay out a strategy for future American relations with our closest allies and with important nations.
The hosts want America to lead, contrary to what foreign policy simpletons assert, and they want the United States to put forward a strategy that will help solve problems -- theirs and ours. HRC has the chance to show how we intend to build bond and solve problems. And the mistake would be to squander this initial opening on rhetorical baloney.
Secretary Clinton will stumble if she treats each Asian capital like a campaign stop and approaches foreign leaders as if they were voters she is trying to win over. That's what senators do, and what she did for over a year while running for president, but that's not how the Secretary of State ought to act.
She is now Diplomat-in-Chief of the most powerful country on earth, and while treating her foreign counterparts with respect, she also doesn't want to pander or (dare I say it?) kowtow. Instead, she should articulate U.S. interests and goals clearly, listen carefully to what her interlocutors have to say, and make it clear that the more help we get from them, the more help they can expect from us.
She also has to take care not to be either too confrontational with the Chinese or too accommodating with long-time allies like Japan. One of America's great diplomatic assets is its ability to play different regional powers off against each other, and this requires some delicate diplomatic balancing. Our leverage will be maximized if Asian countries understand that we can be a major asset for them, while being subtly reminded that U.S. support cannot be taken for granted.
Secretary Clinton needs to tread very carefully on the thin ice of the North Korean nuclear issue. With all the press reports of a possible missile test by Pyongyang, our allies -- and China -- will hang on every word she uses to address this matter. She must take care not to signal in any way that we are prepared to countenance bad behavior by the North, and that such behavior will immediately terminate any commitments that Chris Hill may have offered in his negotiations with the North Korean regime. We will be back to square one.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
I have few worries about what will be in her briefing books or on her agenda. It is also highly unlikely to me that given her experience and her persona that she will make a grand public gaffe along the way.
Rather, my greatest concern is about what will happen out of sight of the cameras...and indeed, beyond the sight of anyone. I am concerned about the far too commonplace, invisible, odorless killer of American diplomacy: the failure to listen. It is tempting to think that these trips are all about America, what the new administration thinks, about hitting the talking points hard.
But everywhere -- and in Asia in particular -- first encounters need to be about establishing relationships. Eye contact and sincere attentiveness are likely to send a stronger message about what is new and important in Obama-era foreign policy than the most powerful prose a career diplomat can craft for his boss.
Hillary Clinton should learn from the mistake of past diplomats -- and of the stimulus package: She doesn't have to do it all at once. She needs to meet top officials and connect with them, laying the foundation for successful long-term collaborations.
Wonks too easily underestimate the great and vital power of personal diplomacy. The greatest diplomats do not. She needs to hear what Asian leaders are hoping for and worrying about with regard to the relationship.
Yes, of course, we have agendas in each of these countries and if progress can be made, that is great. But the message most important to those at the top in Asia will be that they and the region are important to the U.S. (her trip is an excellent way to send that message) and that we are not the hamfisted hegemon but are seeking to be a constructive partner in the Asia-Pacific region. If there are difficult messages to deliver, like to China on their currency, by all means, deliver them...but in private.
She should not think like a politician playing to U.S. audiences. Much of her best work as Secretary of State will be seen by no one, advancing the interests of the president and the country without making a media ripple.
This afternoon, Hillary met with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines (who, incidentally, went to Georgetown with Bill, as they are both fond of pointing out) and, during their short press appearance, used the opportunity to voice concern about a Pakistani court's decision to release A.Q. Khan, who gave secret nuclear information to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, from house arrest.
And though I know I already posted a photo of French Foreign Minister Kouchner and Clinton from yesterday, I came across this one that I just had to post. There is something charming about this photo, no? Kouchner and Clinton, in sync.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images and Mark Wilson/Getty Images News
Hillary is rounding out a busy week of meeting with her European counterparts with several more meetings. Yesterday, she met with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (above). At the press conference, they touched upon Afghanistan, Hamas, and briefly Kouchner's wife, journalist Christine Ockrent, who wrote a bio of Clinton when she first entered the Senate.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News
SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON:12:30 p.m. Bilateral with Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines.
11:30 a.m. Bilateral with His Excellency Sali Berisha, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China February 15-22 to discuss issues including the global financial crisis and climate change, the State Department said on Thursday.
"In all capitals, the secretary will be discussing common approaches to the challenges facing the international community, including the financial markets turmoil, humanitarian issues, security and climate change," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.
Hillary meets with her French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, today and ends the evening preparing for her first trip overseas to Asia:
SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON:
7:30 a.m. Attend 57th Annual National Prayer Breakfast at the Hilton Washington Hotel.
12:30 p.m. Lunch with His Excellency Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the French Republic.
1:15 p.m. Bilateral with His Excellency Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the French Republic.
5:00 p.m. Bilateral with His Excellency Rene Preval, President of the Republic of Haiti.
6:30 p.m. East Asia Policy Working Dinner.
Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton met today to talk about the Middle East - and they go way back, though they had plenty of public differences over the Iraq war. Blair must have been somewhat relieved a few weeks ago, when the White House ceremony in which George W. Bush gave him the presidential medal of freedom (for Blair's support of the Iraq war) was overshadowed by a more interesting event down the road: Clinton's confirmation hearing.
Don't miss FP's Epiphanies with Blair, where he reveals what he really wanted to be when he grew up.
Paul. J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary Clinton held a very interesting Town Hall meeting today with State Department employees. The Q&A session covered a great deal of ground - the role of special envoys, the relationship between State and Defense, and benefits for same-sex partners working in war zones - and Hillary had great responses on the whole and was fast with a quip, joking about food in the cafeteria and how she "sometimes totally forget[s]" having run for president.
But her response about private military contractors surprised me - and contradicts her past positions. On the presidential campaign trail, Clinton was vehement in her opposition to using private military contractors in Iraq. And last February, she was the sole cosponsor in the Senate of a bill that would require the Secretary of State to ban all use of military contractors in protecting State Dept. employees. According to the bill,
Not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that all personnel at any United States diplomatic or consular mission in Iraq are provided security services only by Federal Government personnel.
But today at the Town Hall meeting, she backpedaled:
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. My name is Chris Dilworth. I’m an intern from Indiana University. I’m interning in the Bureau of Human Resources, Department of Resource Management and Organizational Analysis. My question is a quick one. Will you ban private military contracts?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have, as you know, expressed a lot of concern about private security contracts. The Department ended the Blackwater contract in Iraq. But here’s the dilemma, and take Iraq as the example. We are going to be withdrawing our troops. Now, the President’s working right now on how to sequence the withdrawal and how to do so in as safe and effective manner as possible. We believe there will be an important role for our civilian employees.
How we provide security and safety for those performing civilian functions is a very difficult question. The military assets will be diminishing. The numbers of civilians in Iraq, to go back to Steve’s question, will also be decreasing. But there will be a corps of, you know, Foreign Service and Civil Service and foreign nationals who will be performing the work of the United States of America. And I, for one, as your Secretary, want to make sure that they have necessary security.
So we’re working that out. This is one of the issues on a long list of issues about Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. I certainly am of the mind that we should, insofar as possible, diminish our reliance on private security contractors. Whether we can go all the way to banning, under current circumstances, seems unlikely, but we ought to be engaged in a very careful review of where they should and shouldn’t be used, and under what circumstances. And that’s what we’re doing right now.
As senator, Hillary accused outfits such as Blackwater as having "compromised our mission in Iraq" and "endangered U.S. lives." Her new vantage has apparently softened that stance?
And for the comments: Do you think the State Department should use private military companies to protect its employees overseas?
Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
Madam Secretary is an obsessive blog about all things Hillary Clinton. From her policies to her pantsuits, Madam Secretary delivers up-to-the-minute news, analysis, and gossip about America's top diplomat.