TAMPA, Florida — The Special Operations Forces Industry Conference had a surprise guest on Wednesday — one that had some here scratching their heads. At a black-tie dinner following the day’s panel discussions, product displays and tech demos, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived behind a phalanx of State Department and Special Operations Command security. Clinton’s presence seemed incongruous at the gaudy Tampa Convention Center packed with weary-looking commando staffers, paunchy industry reps and chipper media handlers. Special Operations Forces are a big deal, sure, but it was still just a trade show.
Then Clinton, wearing pearls and a silver and black blouse, climbed the stage and began to speak. And soon it all made more sense. She had an idea to sell — and to defend — to some of the people she’s counting on to make it happen.
In a 30-minute speech preceding a dinner of beef tenderloin and roasted red potatoes, Clinton first heaped praise on Adm. William McRaven, chief of Special Operations Command and her host at the conference. Then she described a vision in which shadowy U.S. and allied Special Operations Forces, working hand in hand with America’s embassies and foreign governments, together play a key role preventing low-intensity conflicts. And where prevention fails, the same commando-diplomat team goes on the attack, combining the Special Operations Forces’ fighting prowess with the language and cultural skills of State Department officers.