Hillary Clinton faces world of problems as secretary of state

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  Nov. 24, 2008 at 10:33 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton had better order up lots of late-night coffee and round-the-clock pizza if she replaces Condoleezza Rice as U.S. secretary of state, as is now generally expected.

Around the world, threats to U.S. national security and global interests have metastasized. Cleaning up those messes will make mucking out the Augean Stables look easy.

In the Middle East, the Bush administration has failed to bring any effective economic pressure to bear on Iran to curtail its nuclear programs. Yet the financial crisis and collapse in global oil prices have left the mullahs more insecure and weaker than ever.

Israel's current leaders are much more ready to give a warm welcome to the new Obama team and work with them diplomatically on the Iran issue, forgoing the airstrike option, than U.S. pundits dream. On Monday Amos Yadlin, the current head of Israeli military intelligence -- long regarded as far more hawkish in its intel estimates and recommendations than the Mossad general foreign intelligence service -- said in the prestigious Moshe Dayan annual memorial lecture that there was only "a low probability" of any calculated attack on Israel by one of its neighbors.

Arab optimism over President-elect Barack Obama's victory runs parallel with the reassuring atmosphere that Obama has fostered in Israel and among American Jews by the appointment of Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. This "feel good" honeymoon won't last forever, but it gives the Obama team a chance to revive a real Middle East peace process for the first time in eight years.

It's a safe bet that veteran peace negotiator Dennis Ross, currently a consultant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is hot to trot again, probably with the augmented powers of being at least an undersecretary of state. But if Clinton becomes secretary of state, she will have to make the Kissinger-esque act of committing herself to the grind of shuttle diplomacy to really get things done.

In Afghanistan, the Obama team will have to tread carefully, but U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus will be an excellent guide. The U.S. armed forces need far less targeting of munitions fired from UAVs remotely controlled from U.S. Air Force installations in Nevada and far more of the highly successful work with local tribal leaders, the buy-friends-and-influence-people strategy, that Petraeus implemented so well to buy the United States time in central Iraq.

In Europe, the Obama team running foreign policy will have to work hard to rein in firebrand President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, and it will have to set up a close and constant dialogue with President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and his dueling prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Most of all, they will have to work on building a new dialogue of trust and hard-dealing with the Kremlin.

China has steadily continued its ominous arms buildup facing Taiwan, not even pausing since moderate Kuomintang leader Ma Ying-jeou succeeded Chen Shui-bian as president earlier this year. Reviving a serious relationship with Beijing is necessary and possible, but it won't be easy.

Obama's secretary of state will also have to get hands on to revive any momentum in the six-party talks with North Korea to curtail its nuclear program. Brief spasms of hope on that front fizzled out this year. However, South Korea's new conservative and pro-American President Lee Myung-bak shares Obama's goals of seeking a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue while engaging the reclusive leaders in the North to increasingly open up their country.

In East Africa, pirates operating out of Somalia seized 90 ships in the past year while the Bush administration did nothing. Nor did President Bush and Rice make any progress in ending the genocides in Darfur and Congo, the worst continuing human rights violations and areas of mass suffering on the planet. Expect Obama and his secretary of state, backed by determined foreign policy adviser Susan E. Rice, to give those areas priority as well.

In Latin America, U.S. bilateral relations with Mexico need to be revived -- something Democratic administrations historically have been successful in doing back to Franklin Roosevelt. And the United States badly needs a diplomatic initiative to counter growing Chinese economic power and influence in Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

If Clinton gets the job of secretary of state, she will take office with more national and foreign policy experience, a higher profile and a more forceful presence than any secretary of state since James A. Baker or Henry Kissinger. Given the depth and breadth of the problems she's going to face, she'll need all of them.

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