Saturday, April 18, 2009

Clinton Scores Points

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke during a press conference in Santo Domingo, on Friday.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — It has become a recurring theme of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s early travels as the chief diplomat of the United States: she says that American policy on a given issue has failed, and her foreign listeners fall all over themselves in gratitude.

On Friday, Mrs. Clinton said here that the uncompromising policy of the Bush administration toward Cuba had not worked. That, she said, is why President Obama decided earlier this week to lift restrictions on travel and financial transfers for United States residents with relatives in Cuba.

Like other leaders around the world, Mrs. Clinton’s host, the president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, responded effusively on Friday, hailing the secretary and her boss, Mr. Obama, for their view on Cuban policy, which he said took “great courage” and could utterly transform the political landscape of Latin America.

A new diplomacy, a new diplomat, a new administration.

“President Obama is paving a new road,” he said. “It is recognition of the fact that previous policies have failed. Fifty years of a policy that has not generated the originally sought purposes can be called a failure.”

Nice metaphor: paving a new road.

For a senior American official — someone who almost became president — to declare that the United States had erred, makes a major impact on foreign audiences.

There are holdouts, of course: North Korea has greeted the Obama administration by testing a missile, ratcheting up its language and threatening to pull out of multiparty talks on its nuclear program. Mrs. Clinton, in turn, has had few warm words for North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il.

But in many countries, her statements have elicited an almost palpable sense of relief. And she suggested that the Obama administration’s drive for warmer relations with old foes was just getting started.

Asked whether the United States would build bridges to hostile Latin American leaders, like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Mrs. Clinton said, “Let’s put ideology aside; that is so yesterday.”

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