Will US continue with Hillary Clinton's soft legacy?

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In November 2011, Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, the 67th US Secretary of State who resigned from office on February 1 to pave way for former Senator John Kerry, had written a piece in the Foreign Policy journal titled 'America's Pacific Century'. In this article, Clinton had said the future of international politics would be decided in Asia but not in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the US would be at the centre of all action.

Clinton said between 2001 and 2011, the USA had devoted huge resources for the cause of Afghanistan and Iraq, the two countries which were attacked by President George W Bush but would rethink its strategy for the next decade. She said the American statecraft would concentrate on making diplomatic, economic and strategic investment in the Asia-Pacific region. It was not an accident hence that Washington decided to shift its focus from the west Asian theatres towards the east.

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Shifting focus to Asia-Pacific

Hillary explained why Asia-Pacific became an important player in international politics. She said this huge region stretching from the Indian sub-continent to the western shores of the Americas, comprising two oceans and is home to half of the globe's population. Its economic importance is paramount and some of the emerging world powers like China, India and Indonesia are located here. She said the USA had a special commitment towards this region since the latter was working towards betterment in terms of security and economy. She compared the USA's catering to the Asia-Pacific with its post-World War II connection with Europe across the Atlantic.

She lauded India's 'Look East' policy too

Now, the USA aimed to make a significant effect as a Pacific power, which signifies that Washington decided to look east. It was no co-incidence that Clinton said during her final speech as the Secretary of State at a Washington-based think-tank on January 31 that Washington was happy that India was also moving towards the Asia-Pacific theatre. India is an important player in the scheme of things and Clinton understood its importance more than anybody else, irrespective of New Delhi's closeness with Tehran.

Reasserted foreign policy priorities despite Afghanistan and Iraq debacles

Clinton reasserted her administration's obsession with foreign policy engagements as she said those who wanted the USA to shift its focus back on its domestic issues after the horrific experience in Afghanistan and Iraq were actually misguided for the USA could be secure and maintain its domestic prosperity only if it had served its foreign policy goals better. "For more than six decades, the United States has resisted the gravitational pull of these "come home" debates and the implicit zero-sum logic of these arguments. We must do so again," she said.

Clinton was committed to President Obama's emphasis on utilising Asia's growth and dynamism. The huge markets in the Asian continent and massive trading and technological opportunities are irresistible for a country, which had been affected by economic adversity in recent years, thanks to both domestic and foreign policy reasons. Besides, the strategic necessity of maintaining peace and security in the region where potential military aggression or proliferation activities are not unlikely.

Clinton even took less-known countries into confidence, met Mamata Banerjee

Hillary Clinton broke with the tradition of working quietly on the Pacific region and she made a number of trips to Asia during her stint as the Secretary of State to see her government's engagement with the region intensifies. Besides the regular allies, even countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Mongolia, Brunei and island states in the Pacific were also brought on her radar. She even met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in May last year as a part of her greater plan on South Asian peace and amity. These bits-and-pieces efforts of Clinton laid the foundation of the future American strategy and policy for the Asia-Pacific.

She did not ignore domestic opponents

But Clinton did not ignore her political opponents back home while building on the new foreign policy priorities. She wrote: "we seek to build upon a strong tradition of engagement by presidents and secretaries of state of both parties across many decades. It also requires smart execution of a coherent regional strategy that accounts for the global implications of our choices."

Clinton called the USA's regional strategy as "forward-deployed" diplomacy. It meant Washington would deploy its entire range of foreign policy specialists to reach out to every nook and corner of the Asia-Pacific resgion so that the USA gradually adapts to the dynamism across the continent. Clinton had cited boosting bilateral security alliances, working with emerging powers, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, setting up broad military presence and advancing democracy and human rights as the basic guidelines for the American policy in the Asia-Pacific.

The USA, during the tenure of Clinton, aimed to move away from the complications of the post-Cold War days and the bloodied experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a fresh direction to the USA's foreign policy perspectives based on cooperation instead of confrontation. Pakistan has been the least talked-about nation in the USA's grand design in Asia and even with China, Clinton has asserted that she looked forward to cooperation with Beijing and not conflict.

No confrontation but engagement with China

She had started the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to engage more with China. Although the USA also did not miss the point that it had a challenge in China and other states close to it and its own efforts to bring states known to be anti-Chinese closer are a calculated counter-move.

John Kerry more hawkish? Will Clinton matter in future?

It is said that John Kerry is softer on Pakistan and that Obama was inclined to make a team of more hawkish personnel during his second term as the US President. Will he ignore the legacy of softness and inclusive approach of Clinton? The 65-year-old had shown how women could leave a softer legacy even in the harsh world of political realism. Washington must build on this legacy.

As for New Delhi, it will watch closely.

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