Hillary Clinton's Key Insight

02/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In all her years in public life, Hillary Clinton has always been well-prepared. So, in that sense, her superb performance at her confirmation hearing was not a surprise. Nonetheless, it takes more than drilling to be able to handle so deftly and contextually the myriad challenges for US foreign policy. To do that takes mastery, and that is what she displayed.

It was also very comforting to hear her say, in answer to Senator Feingold's question about Somalia, "I don't know the answer." It was not that she did not know the situation in Somalia, but that she, like others, does not know what to do about it. That is more convincing than any protestation about shunning ideology in favor of pragmatism. That is "Change I Can Believe In."

As superb as all of this was, however, it pales in comparison to her observation that the country needs to fund what it says it prefers, and that if diplomacy and "smart power" were to have a chance of success, funding priorities need to change.

It seems obvious but, to my knowledge, no prior Secretary of State has ever made such a clear, unambiguous statement and, by contrasting with the Defense Department that basically always gets whatever funds it requests, she crystallized the de facto policy choices that are made by budgeting.

With the size of the Democratic majorities, with the Secretary of State, the President and the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, all committed to elevating diplomacy and "smart power", it seems that Secretary Clinton provided herself an invitation to determine the funding the State Department needs to execute those policies, and is likely to get what she asks for.

Now we are getting somewhere.