Clinton: U.S. should be ‘chairman of the Board of the World’

Photo courtesy of Department of State.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States has “to be in effect the chairman of the board of the world,” because true security and prosperity at home can only be achieved if the entire world is as stable and economically viable as possible.

In my new book “America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy,” Clinton says that “more peaceful, prosperous and democratic countries are not only good for the people living in them, but also good for the United States and our global goals.”

“In order to maximize the chances that we will enjoy security and tranquility here at home, we have to be in effect the chairman of the board of the world — to try to get friends and allies to work with us, to mitigate problems, to bring about solutions that neutralize or prevent non-state actors, as well as rogue states, from taking actions that put the lives and property of our people and our friends and allies at risk,” the secretary told me.

“There is no doubt that, where people feel that their aspirations can be addressed through their political and economic systems, and where they have accountable governments, they are more likely to be partners in helping us solve problems,” she said.

America’s Other Army” brings the high-flying world of international diplomacy down to earth and puts a human face on a mysterious profession that has undergone a dramatic transformation since September 11, 2001. It’s based on my interviews with some 600 career diplomats during visits to more than 50 U.S. embassies and consulates, as well as with former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, James Baker and George Shultz.

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew says that, even though many members of Congress have a keen interest in diplomacy and appreciate the work of the Foreign Service, there are still funding challenges. “What we’ve tried to do in this administration is make a case that we have national security needs that come in multiple colors, and they all have to be considered part of our national security budget. I think that argument is catching on, but it’s always going to be hard,” Lew says.

Eliot Cohen, a foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, says he has been “impressed by the professionalism and discipline, and in some cases self-sacrifice” of the Foreign Service. However, Cohen says one of the service’s main weaknesses is that it “doesn’t do enough to develop good leadership” in its ranks. “If you come across good leaders, they just happened to be born that way,” says Cohen, a longtime Johns Hopkins University professor. “There are leaders like [Deputy Secretary of State] Bill Burns, but that’s because of whatever magic was in his DNA.”

Burns says the Foreign Service needs “people who are as good at getting things done on the ground overseas as they are in the Situation Room at the White House, driving the policy debate — that’s not a common combination, but it’s what we need to aim for.” He adds, “We perversely prides itself on its ability to adapt quickly to different circumstances, and we are not particularly systematic about how we go about doing that.”

Condoleezza Rice says that diplomacy is very different today from what it was 20 years ago. “Ungoverned and poorly governed countries and spaces that can’t act as responsible sovereigns end up giving their territory over to terrorists, drug traffickers and human traffickers. And those are then dangerous places from which a lot of transnational threats emerge,” she says. “Nobody thought that we’d have to worry about the fifth-poorest country in the world, an ungoverned territory or a failed state. But that’s not a matter of largesse and compassion — it’s a matter of security.”

Addressing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Foreign Service officer who asked not to be named says this: “Frankly, I’m not convinced that what we’ve been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is in the best interest of the U.S. The intentions were right, for the most part. But to be where we are in both countries, particularly Afghanistan, one has to ask, purely from a return-on-investment standpoint, what we’ve gained. What has our investment accomplished? What could we have done with a fraction of that money in the last decade in the U.S. to look after our own citizens?”

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