As Hillary Clinton awaits confirmation as the next Secretary of State, I would expect she will have no trouble producing a better record of accomplishments than her predecessors. Colin Powel and Condi Rice, admittedly, were operating under faulty Bush/Cheney thinking and may have accomplished more if left to their own wishes. The record, however, for the last 8 years is bleak.
Hillary, however, is not assured of a smooth ride. She has urgent situations all around the globe and one has to question what type of a State Department she is inheriting. With the Bush Administration’s practice of putting in place only people who were loyal at all cost to the President, you must wonder whether there are people “big enough” to now think in a more complex manner.
· Iraq. Once the invasion and occupation is ended, how will the US deal with a country that can not reliably be trusted to remain secular and at a minimum, neutral to the West. The most likely outcome will be a Shiite dominated, Iran friendly country that may find again that painting Israel as the enemy is politically useful.
· Iran. The potential emergence of Iran as a nuclear weapons possessing country is a huge concern. There appears no direct method, short of war, to stop this outcome. All methods, other than war, will involve rebuilding a world consensus, and that in turn will require the US to repair relations with Russia and China.
· Syria. Modern day Syria claims its power from its strategic location and ability to balance anti-Shiite and anti-Israeli interests for other Middle East players (read Iran and Saudi Arabia). Given Syria’s location, establishing a pragmatic relationship could be key to achieving overall Middle East stability.
· Israel and the Palestinians. This is a problem that does not need to exist but cruelly continues to serve the needs of political factions on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The behavior of both sides has been and continues to be atrocious and child-like in their endeavors to avoid seeking peace. There is no victim here nor is there only one aggressor.
· Saudi Arabia. There are no problems involved in continuing the current charade. The US pretends the Saudis are peace loving and without any pretensions, and the Saudis pretend to not support all sorts of Islamic extremists around the world. There needs to be a better way.
· Afghanistan. Somewhat like in Iraq, when the US lead NATO forces caused a regime change in Karbul, the US inherited the moral responsibility as well as the practical need to rebuild the Afghanistan Government. To date, we have spent lots of money and have little to show for it. If we are not careful, Afghanistan can return to a terrorist training ground in a heart beat. Again stability will require help from others such as Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia.
· Pakistan. This nuclear weapons possessing country represents a constant threat to world stability. The US can not “fix” Pakistan’s fundamental problems of unequal wealth and education, nor its tendency to experience religious extremism. We must, however, find ways to help (quietly) to promote stability between the Pakistani military and its civil government, and trust that in time Pakistan will mature. Once more, others must help. Russia, China, India, and yes, even Saudi Arabia are key.
· India. This large, highly populated, developing country has a full time challenge to manage for its own country. Once you add in the either real, or imagined, politically advantageous conflicts with Pakistan, this nuclear weapon possessing country (that allows cows to roam unrestrained), you have a prescription for real danger. The US can not fix this problem and should with its allies seek to focus India on developing as an economic power.
· China. The current global recession may provide insight into what lies ahead for China. It has been growing economically at far too rapid a rate (over 10% per year) for far too long. China’s population has prospered and is used to seeing a better life each year. As the economic growth slows, the Chinese will blame their government and ferment change. Any competent government faced with that type of problem will create an external threat to China and focus its citizen’s attention elsewhere. Hence, China may consider anti-western foreign policies. Dealing with China now but with a long term strategic view may be Hillary’s greatest challenge and most important contributions since China has the potential to be a great world leader.
· Russia. Most of the problems with Russia today are the results of a totally misguided and wrong headed Bush/Cheney/Neoconservative policy. Never the less, Hillary must be weary of Russia for this is a country that has only known dictatorships and has little in common with western values. Russians are pragmatists and Hillary must steer the US relationship to a point where we do not lecture nor express value based opinions about the Russian government.
There are plenty more delicate situations such as Japan, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, and Mexico. While these are important, they will not play a direct role in the power vacuum stretching from Israel to India. As one can see, one off diplomacy will not be appropriate nor will grandiose ideological initiatives like seeking human rights, democracy, and religious freedom. Hillary must muster all her powers as a complex thinker in order to formulate a comprehensive approach while all the other special interests try to shape American foreign policy.