WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton defended the U.S. response to crises in Libya and Syria on Tuesday, saying the Obama administration is projecting "smart power" by refusing to act alone or with brute force to stop autocratic repression in the two countries.
Clinton said the United States remains the world's strongest leader but is wisely building coalitions to respond more effectively and better promote universal values of human rights and democracy.
"The United States stands for our values, our interests and our security, but we have a very clear view that others need to be taking the same steps to enforce a universal set of values and interests," she told an audience in a joint appearance at the National Defense University with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"We are by all measurements the strongest leader in the world and we are leading, but part of leading is making sure that you get other people on the field. And that's what I think we are doing," she said.
Clinton has been a champion of the administration's "smart power" policy, which aims to combine defense, diplomacy and development to advance U.S. foreign policy goals. The term is most commonly used to describe the strategies President Obama has employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. has placed heavy emphasis on civilian projects designed to eliminate the roots of extremism. But Clinton said other elements of smart power are also at work in Libya and Syria.
She and Panetta both noted that Libyan rebels had scored recent significant military gains in their struggle to oust Muammar Qaddafi after months of stalemate.
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Clinton said Libya was a study in the use of "strategic patience," whereby the United States resisted the impulse for immediate intervention and instead helped to build support for the country's nascent opposition, which the U.S. now recognizes as Libya's legitimate government. She said the unprecedented NATO-Arab alliance protecting civilians on the ground was a key result of the tactics of smart power.
"This is exactly the kind of world that I want to see, where it's not just the United States and everybody is standing on the sidelines while we bear the costs," she said.
In Syria, Clinton said Washington had adopted a similar stance. The administration has imposed sanctions to protest a ruthless crackdown on reformers but has thus far resisted calls to make an explicit demand for President Bashar Assad to step down, something it did with Qaddafi.
Clinton said it would be a mistake for the administration to demand Assad's ouster on its own because it wouldn't be effective given Washington's long-strained ties with Damascus and limited U.S. influence and trade with Syria.
"It is not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go," she said. "Okay, fine, what's next? If other people say it, if Turkey says it, if (Saudi) King Abdullah says it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."
"I think this is smart power, where it is not just brute force, it is not just unilateralism," she said. "It is being smart enough to say you know what we want a bunch of people signing out of the same hymn book and we want them singing a song of universal freedom, human rights, democracy, everything that we have stood for and pioneered over 235 years."