Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Obama administration's foreign policy strategy of rebuilding alliances and applying so-called soft power is beginning to yield dividends. But Clinton warned that mounting government debt is beginning to erode U.S. power abroad.
Clinton's address to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington amounted to a foreign policy progress report, a year and a half into the Obama administration.
She said the administration's approach of rebuilding traditional alliances and acting multilaterally, as opposed to the Bush administration's reliance on military power is beginning to show dividends.
Clinton declared that U.S. global leadership remains essential and that the United States "can, must and will" lead in the new century, even if it must do so in new ways.
But in a question and answer session, Clinton also acknowledged that U.S. national security and global influence are being threatened by a debt burden she blamed on Bush-era unfunded tax cuts and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waged on borrowed funds.
"It undermines our capacity to act in our own interests and it does constrain us where constraint may be undesirable," said Clinton. "And it also sends a message of weakness internationally. It is very troubling to me that we are losing the ability to not only to chart our own destiny, but to have the leverage that comes from this enormously effective economic engine that has powered American values and interests over so many years."
Clinton listed among administration policy achievements the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which she attributed in part to the U.S.-led building of effective Palestinian Authority security forces.
She also said American leadership has yielded the strongest and most comprehensive sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. She said Tehran is beginning to feel the economic impact and is hopeful the leverage will yield a negotiated solution.
Clinton told a questioner the United States will continue to support freedom and human rights in Iran, which she again said is "morphing into a military dictatorship with a religious-ideological veneer."
She said the United States wants to avoid injecting itself into Iranian politics and said she is cautiously optimistic long-term, about the country's future.
"I think there is very sad confluence of events occurring inside Iran, which I think eventually - but I can not put a time-frame on it - that the Iranian people themselves will respond to," she said. "And we want to be helpful, but we do not want to get in the way of it. So that is the balance we try to strike."
The appearance also included Clinton's most extensive comments on the controversy surrounding a Florida Christian pastor's announced intention to burn a Quran to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Clinton said she hoped the clergyman, as an act of patriotism, will reconsider his plans, but said if he does go through with the action it will not reflect the views of the vast majority of Americans.
"It is regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville Florida with a church of no more than 50 people, can make this outrageous, and distressful, disgraceful plan and get the world's attention," said the secretary of state. "But that is the world we live in right now. It does not in any way represent America, or Americans, or the American government, or American religious or political leadership."
Clinton said in the new media era, anyone with a blog or iPhone can say something outrageous that draws world attention. She said Americans want to be judged by what they are as a nation and not by an aberration like the Quran furor.