This is one of those puff-pieces that could only have been written by a career diplomat, unless it was by a "visiting scholar" who depends on both the State Department and the White House for access. If you dig down past about seven paragraphs of flattery and excuse-making, however, you do learn something about the direction of US foreign policy under the new administration.

The United States has abandoned the idea of working with its traditional allies. The author mentions the failure of the G8 as a vehicle for our policy: those nations, excepting Russia, are Cold War allies. NATO is barely mentioned in the article, but its continuing difficulty fielding real fighting forces in Afghanistan has shown how weak it has become in its original role -- that of a military alliance. The new vehicle? The author states that this is not clear: "the administration has an effort underway to determine whether the successor to the G-8 will be the G-20, or perhaps some other grouping."

The questions that Sec. Clinton is described as asking have been of interest to the military for some time. A model for addressing the question of building networks of sub-regional partners was considered here, in a piece from the US Army's War College. That model is not entirely theoretical: the US Pacific Command leveraged our relationship with Singapore to assert US interests on a Singapore-Malaysia-Indonesia alliance to patrol the Malacca Straits.

The Malaysians and the Indonesians both have reasons to wish to avoid a formal alliance with the United States. Malaysia, in particular, has a longstanding foreign policy that balances several local third-world governments against any great powers operating in the region. Direct partnership isn't an option for that reason: Malaysia won't have it, not with us. Yet they will partner with the Sings, and our strong alliance with Singapore allows us to exert indirect influence.

Indonesia, meanwhile, is a partner of extraordinary importance as both the largest Muslim nation on earth and a modernizing force within Islam -- but it is also a noted human rights abuser, and a competitor in some respects to a genuine ally, Australia. We would like to work more closely with Indonesia, but political pressures prevent it.

In spite of that, by building strong sub-regional partnerships, we are able to influence the entire area. We have the alliance with Australia, which allows for the good-cop/bad-cop influence on Indonesia; we have the partnership with Singapore, which allows us to influence and keep apprised of the patrolling of the Straits; we have the alliance with the Republic of the Philippines, to whom we provide direct military support in the form of the Joint Special Operations Task Force there, and diplomatic support also to their peace process; and we have another strong ally in Thailand.

One reason the relationship between Sec. Clinton and the military is as good as it is, is that many of the solutions she has been looking for were pioneered by the DOD. The piece makes a sketch of a bow to that fact, noting that a lot of 'statecraft' resources are currently at the Pentagon. Why would that be? Because the Pentagon was the one having the success in creating the desired effects.

This is true even for her signature focus on getting State to attend to 'nonstate' actors, especially those focused on 'women's issues': one of the key places for State officials to learn that is with an ePRT or PRT in Iraq, where the military has been setting up women's committees for several years. These committees are often initially resourced by American money -- formerly CERP, but these days State may be involved from the beginning -- and may meet at US-secured facilities (though that is also increasingly unnecessary).

I'm not sure I agree with the author that the Obama administration has had any notable foreign policy successes. The Clinton State Department, however, may be poised to have some internal successes. If so, the lady does deserve the credit for having both the sense to recognize practical solutions, and the personal power to move the bureaucracy to adopt them.

However, the piece seems to overstate the effects achieved so far. For example:

Even just a few months in, it's clear that these appointments are far from window dressing. Lew, Slaughter and the acting head of the U.S. Agency for International Development are leading an effort to rethink foreign aid with the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, an initiative modeled on the Pentagon's strategic assessments and designed to review State's priorities.
Confer that assertion with this piece by Matt Armstrong, at Small Wars Journal, on the serious problems with USAID at State. USAID is one of the most effective arms of the State Department. Also relevant is Mr. Armstrong's commentary on State's failures at re-establishing a role in Public Diplomacy. You might say that he agrees that the Clinton State Department is an improvement, but with less effusive praise:
I'm not sure where Pincus has been, but until the recent year (ie. this year), the leadership at the State Department was out to lunch....

It is worthwhile to recall that it was the Secretaries of Defense (both Donald Rumsfeld and Gates) and not the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that frequently and seemingly continuously fielded questions about the need of resurrecting the United States Information Agency. It was Rice who raided the public diplomacy budget to help fund the Embassy in Baghdad.
Dr. Rice was indeed a disappointment, both as Secretary of State and as National Security Adviser. Sec. Clinton does seem to be an improvement over her, but there is a very long way to go. If State wants to begin reasserting its traditional perogatives, it can do worse than to start by trying to "buy back" some of those DOD strategic communication assets, and re-building USAID.

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