Maybe Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been hiding her sense of humor all this time, or maybe she was just feeling relaxed and relieved as her two-week tour of Asia reached its conclusion. But whatever the reason, she loosened up in a Nov. 7 interview with Australian radio hosts Hamish and Andy, pontificating on gravy chips, the Kardashians, Chinese food, and her "Goldilocks theory" of how to deal with foreign governments.
"If you look at American TV as much of the rest of the world does, you would think we all went around wrestling and wearing bikinis," she told the radio hosts, who were asking her about the difficulty of explaining the United States to a world youth culture that gets its information from cable television shows, such as Keeping up with the Kardashians.
Clinton also described how she interacts with foreign governments who aren't living up to their responsibilities to their own people. Too much pressure can be counterproductive, she said, but letting poorly performing governments off the hook is just as bad.
"I've got this Goldilocks theory of foreign relations," she said. "It's not too hot; it's not too cold. You've got to get it just right."
She also described the delicate discussions she often has with husband and former President Bill Clinton over their take-out dinner decisions.
"We practice different models of negotiation around important issues like that," she said. "Because if I were to say to him, as I have on many occasions, ‘What shall we have for dinner tonight?' If he says to me, ‘Oh, I don't care; you choose,' I know that's a really bad answer, because then I'm stuck with the responsibility."
The hosts pointed out that if those dinner negotiations were overheard and taken out of context, they could cause a diplomatic row.
"You want to make sure people don't know that he had half of the conversation, because you've got [a] former president talking to the current secretary of state: ;‘How do you feel about Chinese?' ‘I don't know. I don't really like Chinese.' That could be catastrophic," one host said.
"That's why we have our rooms swept [for listening devices] every day," Clinton shot back.
Read the whole interview here:
After some behind the scenes wrangling, the Obama administration and Congress agreed this week on terms for new defense trade agreements that will allow freer movement of military goods with two of its top allies.
The Defense Trade Cooperation Treaties, which were signed with the British and Australian governments, were approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 21 and now must be ratified by two thirds of the Senate. Accompanying implementation legislation must also passed by both the Senate and then the House.
"This bipartisan vote comes after three years of negotiations and thorough examination. It is a critical step toward enhancing our cooperative efforts to combat the mutual threats we face," committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said in a statement. "These treaties help make cooperation between the United States and two of its closest allies more streamlined, efficient, and effective by removing unnecessary bureaucratic delays."
Basically, the treaties will remove the need for the British and Australian governments, and a select group of companies from those countries, to apply for arms export control licenses when buying or selling military items for joint projects they are working on with the United States. This will primarily affect the allies' cooperation in Afghanistan, but it could also have implications for a host of other programs, including missile defense. Nuclear technology and other highly sensitive technologies are not included in the agreements.
Though the vote was unanimous and the agreements enjoy bipartisan support in Congress, it still took three years to get from the initial signing of the agreements to this point. The Bush administration signed the treaties in 2007, after failing in several attempts, dating back to 2003, to push through legislation permitting "executive agreements," which would not have required Congressional advice and consent.
Congress insisted on maintaining its ability to oversee and monitor these agreements, which are the first of their kind, besides Canada's country-specific exemption. Lawmakers held hearings in 2008 and 2009 as part an effort to make sure Congress could ensure the agreements were properly enforced and that violations would be punished.
"Senator Lugar and I crafted these resolutions, and the accompanying implementing legislation, to ensure that our law enforcement officials will have the tools they need to catch and prosecute anyone who might try to abuse the treaty regimes," Kerry said. "These measures will also fully preserve long-standing Congressional prerogatives in the oversight of military assistance and cooperation."
Administration sources said that in the home stretch leading up to the committee vote, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher played a large role in ironing out differences, not only between the administration and Congress, but also between the State Department and the Justice Department.
No full Senate vote has yet been scheduled.
President Obama's family could be back in on the Asia trip, now that it has been postponed again until June, a White House official told The Cable.
The White House informed the Indonesians of that possibility when giving them the bad news that the president's trip to Southeast Asia would be delayed until June so he can be on hand for Sunday's health-care vote and its aftermath. The president's family had been initially scheduled to go, but were bumped from the trip after the first delay, which didn't jive with the girls' school schedules.
"Indonesian officials have expressed full understanding of the need for delay, and told us they were pleased with the prospect of a visit in June," the White House official said. "The president's reference to his hope that his family could go was particularly well received, since Indonesians feel a bond with the president because of his personal history." Obama spent about four years in Jakarta as a young boy.
The White House is also not worried about any damage to U.S.-Australia relations, according to the official, because Obama and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have a close relationship, which has included two Rudd visits to the Oval Office, several meetings at the G-20, and "frequent phone calls." (Frequent phone calls? Have we finally found Obama's world leader buddy?)
"The postponement of the visit will not affect the strong ties and partnerships the United States enjoys with Indonesia and Australia," the official explained. "Both relationships are positive and deep, and the timing of a visit is less important to the Indonesians and the Australians than the fact that the president had to reschedule and will visit soon."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.