Robert Gates's Departure Is Hillary Clinton's Opportunity

State Department has chance to reassert itself on foreign policy.

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And testifying before a Senate panel last week, the day after Obama's East Room address on his Afghanistan strategy, Clinton spoke about the progress and remaining challenges for Americans, civilians and diplomats especially, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While doing so, she underscored the importance of the civilians and diplomats in ensuring America's national security interests in these countries. "I know it may be tempting to peel off the civilian elements of our strategy that make fewer headlines. But as our commanders on the ground will tell you, that would be a serious mistake," she said.

So apart from Clinton's ability to communicate her foreign policy agenda publicly, it will ultimately be the readiness of Congress to support foreign service and assistance abroad that will dictate the outcome. "As they're talking about cutting the Defense Department, nobody's talking about growing the foreign affairs budget," Sanok says. "She's putting herself out there trying to have a greater voice on national security, but the money's really not going to follow it."

Clinton, of course, has said this will be her only term as secretary of state, so how well she reasserts her department's role in the next couple of years could determine her foreign policy legacy.

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  • Correction 06/30/11: A previous version of this article misspelled the name Richard Weitz.