By Massimo Calabresi | October 27, 2011
Hillary Clinton argues in our cover story this week, now available online to subscribers, that America is not so much in decline as adjusting to a world of increasingly diffuse power, where like-minded networked individuals, non-governmental organizations and other non-traditional global actors may steer events as much as great power capitals. Clinton lays out “smart power” strategies for protecting and advancing U.S. interests in that new non-polar world.
We argue that Clinton is something of an expert at coming up with strategies for maximizing limited power given her life experiences, including being a First Lady with high visibility but little official swat, and a Secretary of State in the administration of her former rival, President Obama, who makes the final call on most major foreign policy and national security decisions with a small group of aides at the White House—and without Clinton.
The story is told largely through the lens of the very limited war in Libya, which is in many ways Clinton’s war, thanks to her efforts lining up the Arab and European coalitions that fought it. We have some good reporting on her trip there last week, as well as on the internal and external challenges she faced in advancing the cause of intervention. We also lay out the ways in which Libya remains dangerously unpredictable, and underscore areas where her new strategies are more talk than action.
Lastly, we polled her against Romney and Perry, and found that she does better, by far, than Obama, leading Romney by 17 points and Perry by 26*. Her closest aides strongly dismiss any 2012 ambitions and say 2016 is very unlikely: she’d be 69 the day of the vote that year. We don’t speculate on the source of her popularity.
One item that came up in research but didn’t fit with the piece. Clinton has been talking about the limits of power from her first moment on the public stage–her rambling, idealistic speech to the graduating class of 1969 at Wellesley. In it, she refers to her favorite passage from T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker” about trying again and again in the face of resistance. It’s not my favorite poem—I like my inter-war humanism without the religious overlay. But it gives a sense of just how long Clinton has been thinking about power and how to leverage it:
…What there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
*A national poll conducted for TIME on Oct. 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.
U.S. plans “virtual embassy” for Iran: Clinton
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON | Wed Oct 26, 2011
(Reuters) – The United States plans to open a “virtual embassy” for Iran that will give Iranians online information about visas and student exchange programs despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.
Clinton, in interviews with the Persian language services of the BBC and Voice of America, defended U.S. sanctions against Iran and said Washington had a strong criminal case linking Tehran to a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
Clinton used both interviews to stress that the United States hoped to broaden contacts with regular Iranians despite tensions with the Tehran government, which she said was being transformed into a military dictatorship.
“My goal in speaking to you today is to clearly communicate to the people of Iran, particularly the very large population of young people, that the United States has no argument with you. We want to support your aspirations.
“We would be thrilled if tomorrow the regime in Iran had a change of mind,” she told the Voice of America.
Clinton said the “virtual embassy” web site would be open by the end of the year and it would provide Iranians with information on visas and other programs.
The United States broke formal diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980 following the Iran hostage crisis, and ties have remained tense amid disputes over Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. charges that Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism around the world.
In his waning months in office, President George W. Bush weighed opening a U.S. Interests Section, which could issue visas, in Tehran, but ultimately decided against it.
Clinton said the United States was providing both technology and training to help Iranians circumvent government limits on the Internet and other forms of communication while seeking to expand sanctions on Tehran.
She acknowledged economic sanctions sometimes caused difficulties for average Iranians, but said they were the best tool to pressure Iran’s leaders.
“We see disturbing trends and actions having to do with the continuing covert effort to build a nuclear weapons program … with a lot of deception, a lot of lying to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the rest of the international community,” Clinton told the BBC.
“We see aggressive behavior toward neighbors in the region, we see efforts to try to hijack and undermine the so-called Arab Spring awakening,” She said. “We do not want a conflict with Iran but we do want to see the rulers of Iran change their outlook and their behavior.”
Clinton said the door remained opened to talks with Tehran on its nuclear program, although she suggested the outlook was complicated by political divisions within the Iranian government itself.
“I believe there’s a power struggle going on inside the regime and they can’t sort out what they really are willing to do until they sort out who’s going to do what,” she said.
Clinton said she was aware that many people around the world were skeptical about U.S. charges this month that Iran was tied to a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador, but said she believed Washington had a strong case.
“I taught criminal law some years ago. It’s a very strong case. It certainly raises the right questions and I think it will be a successful case,” she told the BBC.
Iran has rejected the U.S. accusation as a fabrication designed to sow discord in the oil-rich Gulf.
Clinton said details of the case, in which two Iranians with security links are accused of seeking to kill the Saudi ambassador with help from members of a Mexican drug cartel, reflected a broader pattern of dangerous behavior by the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“I understand people questioning it because it was such a shocking plot. It was shocking to us when we uncovered it,” Clinton told Voice of America.
“They’ve gotten more reckless,” Clinton told the BBC, saying the alleged plot was an attempt by the Quds Force “to thumb their nose at the Americans.”
“TIME Managing Editor Richard Stengel accompanied Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her recent trip to Libya, Oman, Afghanistan and Pakistan. On Oct. 19, in the course of reporting for TIME’s cover story, which is now available online to subscribers, he conducted a wide-ranging interview with her, discussing among other things, the Middle East, China and American exceptionalism. A transcript of most of that conversation follows.