08/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reestablishing American Power

In a major speech Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C., Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described her vision of American diplomacy and how it fits into the Obama administration's approach to the use and maintenance of American power abroad. Clinton described the international agenda as "unforgiving," but said that "the same forces that compound our problems -- economic interdependence, open borders, and the speedy movement of information, capital, goods, services and people -- are also part of the solution." Reviewing the speech, the New Republic's Peter Scoblic wrote that "the difference between this approach and the previous administration's is stark. ... The secretary seemed to be saying that, despite the grave dangers we face -- indeed, because of the very character of those threats -- the emphasis in U.S. foreign policy today must be on cooperation rather than conflict."

Robust Multilateralism: Though previews of the speech had predicted undertones of a Bush-era approach to national security, the speech itself described a vision of American power embedded within a robust system of multilateral institutions. Explaining her vision of "smart power" -- a concept described by Center for American Progress-affiliated scholar Suzanne Nossel in a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs as "a blend of principle and pragmatism" -- Clinton said, "It means the intelligent use of all means at our disposal, including our ability to convene and connect. It means our economic and military strength; our capacity for entrepreneurship and innovation." Back on July 10, Clinton announced that she would be launching "an effort to study the mission, posture and resourcing of the State Department and USAID every four years, called the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review," which is modeled on the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review. Clinton said on Wednesday that the purpose of the new QDDR was to "explore how to effectively design, fund, and implement development and foreign assistance as part of a broader foreign policy."

Engagement Is Not Open-Ended: A willingness to talk with adversaries is a key component of the Obama administration's foreign policy approach. Even though Clinton had previously criticized Obama's statements that he would be willing to sit down and deal with the Iranian regime, as his Secretary of State, she has embraced Obama's contention that engagement represents an assertion of American strength, rather than of weakness. Calling Iran's crackdown on demonstrators protesting Iran's recent elections "deplorable and unacceptable," Clinton said, "We know that refusing to deal with the Islamic Republic has not succeeded in altering the Iranian march toward a nuclear weapon, reducing Iranian support for terror, or improving Iran's treatment of its citizens." Clinton noted, however, that "we remain ready to engage with Iran, but the time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely."

The President's Agenda: Clinton stressed that her vision of smart power fell within Obama's larger foreign policy vision. "President Obama," she said, "has led us to think outside the usual boundaries. He has launched a new era of engagement based on common interests, shared values, and mutual respect." As he made clear in his speech in Prague, Obama has put "nuclear deterrence to the top of the national-security agenda" -- a reflection of his interest in nuclear issues going back to his university days. As shown in his speech to Moscow's New Economic School last month, Obama's perception of the Cold War, and the way it ended, involves robust and painstaking cooperation between governments and between peoples, rather than the simple exercise of power by one nation alone. As with Clinton's, it is a vision of foreign policy that puts people at the center.

By Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ian Millhiser and Nate Carlile. To receive The Progress Report in your email inbox everyday, click here.