Hillary Clinton's New Approach to Diplomacy

"Maybe it is unusual ... but to worry about saying something that is so obvious is an impediment to clear thinking."

-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Seoul, South Korea

Feb. 20, 2009

America's chief diplomat is using some refreshingly undiplomatic language on this first foreign trip. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is referring to the news frenzy she created after warning that a "succession" fight in North Korea could further complicate nuclear negotiations.

The New York Times said Clinton "broke an informal taboo" by talking publicly Wednesday about who might replace Kim Jong-il, the North Korean dictator who is believed to be recovering from a stroke.

Clinton-Era Diplomacy Marked by Blunt Talk

So much for taboos. Clinton has not backed down. In fact, she turned up the heat.

"I don't think it is taboo to talk about the succession of the hermit kingdom," she told the reporters traveling with her during an informal roundtable she held with us in Seoul.

And if her blunt talk gets all those lovers of diplomatic nuance, or those allies of Kim's all worked up? That does not seem to bother Hillary Clinton. While acknowledging that a lot of diplomacy is a "head game, " she said it is "worth being more straightforward and trying to engage on the reality that exists."

I have to admit that having sat through more than a decade of achingly vague and arcane diplomatic briefings, this could be a welcome change.

There is always a huge part of me that wants to shout: "Quit dancing around and say what you mean!" Obviously, diplomats must choose their words carefully, but there does seem to come a point where it becomes absurd.

I'm not expecting miracles in openness with the new secretary. She can dodge questions with the best of them. She has yet to answer any questions about Pakistan's acceptance of strict Islamic law in the Swat Valley, which is a terrifying cave n to the Taliban. But Clinton clearly has a new approach to diplomacy. The combination of her diplomatic charm offensive, her notorious toughness and blunt talk may give "smart power" new meaning.

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