On July 15th, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, making what has been called a “heavyweight” speech on diplomatic policy. Clinton comprehensively expounded on the Obama administration’s diplomatic policies. American media has commented widely on it; and internationally, there were also many lively discussions about it. Some believe Clinton’s speech indicates that the Obama administration’s diplomatic policies will be a farewell to rigid ideologies and old formulas, thus keeping “up with the times.” Yet others believe that while Clinton repeated herself over and over, the basic point still emphasized a desire to realize “American leadership,” with only specific policies and strategies changing.
What, then, is the real situation?
Clinton actually said a lot of things that differ from former President George W. Bush's diplomacy during his eight years in office. There are three points that stand out the most and are most obvious. Number one: Clinton acknowledged that America cannot now “run the whole show” because at present, America “cannot meet the world’s challenges alone.” Number two: Clinton emphasized that U.S. diplomatic policy “must reflect the world as it is.” Clinton believes the “20th century balance of power strategy” is meaningless. America “cannot go back to Cold War containment” now, and neither can it adopt “unilateralism.” The United States will be “inducing greater cooperation with a greater number of actors, reducing competition….” and forming “.…a multi-partner world.” Number three: Clinton pledged to commit to forming closer relationships with emerging global powers — at the top of her list were the BRICs. These sentiments obviously conform to the changes and developments in the current international situation, and have received a pretty broad welcome internationally. So, saying that the Obama administration’s diplomatic policies are “up with the times” is not incorrect.
Yet, Clinton constantly clung to the strategic goal of realizing “American leadership” around the world. While she acknowledged that America alone cannot control global events, Clinton still continuously emphasized “no challenge can be met without America,” stating “the question is not whether our nation can or should lead, but how it will lead in the 21st century.” Clinton also reiterated Obama’s diplomatic concept based on common interests, shared values, and mutual respect. In the five areas of her so-called “smart power,” Clinton also stressed the comprehensive leveraging of America's economic and military strength as well as the "power of our example" and emphasized that there must be "principled" dialogue and engagement with "states who disagree with us."
So, questions immediately arise. Is America’s desire to be the 21st century world leader realistic? Is this commensurate with America’s real strength in the world? Does this correspond to changes in the current international distribution of power? What do the so-called "shared values" and "principled" dialogue and engagement, emphasized by the U.S., mean?"
Anybody with a little common sense can give a clear answer to this question: this is the “American dream” detached from reality; it is wishful thinking in the new administration’s diplomacy. No wonder a Harvard University professor remarked that Clinton proposed a vaulting ambition of “liberal internationalism.” In Clinton’s eyes, if America does not directly get involved, no problems can be resolved. But she’s wrong. To resolve current world problems, we need to strengthen North-South relations and “commit to work together on global challenges and to improve international governance,” as stated in the Joint Declaration recently issued in L’Aquila by the G-8 and the leaders of developing nations. Actually, Obama himself has also said it; he firmly believes that if people think they can solve global challenges without the participation of countries like China, India and Brazil, they have the wrong idea.
Since this is how it is, America had better wake up from the “American dream” a little sooner. As the world’s strongest power, America has responsibilities in the areas of “world leadership” and “global governance” that are not easily shrugged off, but it is definitely not the only one with these responsibilities. The era of one nation controlling the world it is “outdated,” just as some politicians in the West and some visionaries have said. What developments in the current world environment need is not only the “multi-partner world” in Clinton’s mind, but a “world of equal partners,” the “democratization of international relationships” and “cooperative joint governance.”
[Editor’s note: some quotes may be worded based on translated material].