The Clinton Foreign Policy: Will Hillary Pick Up Where Bill Left Off?

I bet that when the Foreign Affairs magazine asked top U.S. presidential candidates to articulate their foreign policy views, Hillary Clinton wasn’t particularly happy.  Clinton’s status as the front-runner in the Democratic nomination race — when the probability of tripping over is always higher than that of pulling further away — makes her extremely reluctant to take definitive positions on almost any issue.  And for Clinton, after her fateful 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution, foreign policy isn’t "any" issue anymore.  So accepting the Foreign Affairs’ offer may have been a psychological equivalent of stepping onto a minefield. 

But all major rivals from both sides — Obama, Edwards, Romney, and Giuliani — have contributed; so, I guess, Clinton had no choice.

She opens her piece with the bold, if somewhat vague, statement:

"The next president will have a moment of opportunity to restore America’s global standing and convince the world that America can lead once again.  As president, I will seize that opportunity by reintroducing ourselves to the world."

Here is my translation of what Clinton really meant to say: I will repair ("restore") all the damage ("to … America’s global standing") caused by the incompetent Bush administration and will return to ("reintroduce … to the world") the time-tested wisdom of my husband, President Bill Clinton.

Clinton’s list of the Bush administration’s blunders in the international arena is indeed impressive, and her intent to stay clear of everything Bush is quite understandable.  Unfortunately, the desire to look as "tough on national security" as anyone else, including Bush, results in verbalisms like this:

"As president, I will never hesitate to use force to protect Americans or to defend our territory and our vital interests. We cannot negotiate with individual terrorists; they must be hunted down and captured or killed. "

(In my opinion, President Bush could sue Clinton for plagiarism.)

The motto, Ariadne’s thread — I’d say, obsession — of Clinton’s piece is "ending the war in Iraq."  It’s also the principal remedy for all ailments brought about by the Bush presidency.  I was amazed to learn how many things Clinton considers contingent upon "getting out of Iraq": continuing to fight against al Qaeda, stabilizing Afghanistan, rebuilding alliances, restoring the strength of the military, protecting critical U.S. infrastructure, and even improving care for wounded soldiers. 

(To achieve the latter, Clinton suggests an expanded version of the Family and Medical Leave Act.  And — all politics, as we know, is local — she proceeds with an idea of a modern GI Bill of Rights to promote educational and home ownership opportunities for military veterans).    

But let’s not deny Clinton  credit for pointing out that ending the war in Iraq will allow the U.S. "play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process." 

The key word here, of course, is "renewed" as Clinton believes that "[T]he fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000."  (Hello, Bill!)

Clinton appears unwilling to admit that the approaches of both President Clinton and President Bush to the Middle East peace process have been conceptually identical.  Both turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the end of their presidencies, being essentially in the lame-duck status.  Both decided to tackle a "major" international problem in an attempt to deflect public opinion from other issues (the Monica Lewinsky scandal for Clinton and the war in Iraq for Bush).

If elected, Hillary Clinton may show maturity as president by attempting to jump-start the Middle East peace process early in her tenure, without waiting until a major domestic policy blunder (health care?) forces her to look for a political cover abroad.

Quite naturally for a Democratic candidate, Clinton has been unable to resist temptation of promising massive cash distribution around the world (something she solemnly calls "foreign assistance efforts").  $10 billion will be spent on building schools and training teachers in poor countries.  Not forgotten are such liberal staples as AIDS/tuberculosis/malaria, clean water, child mortality, and labor standards.

But here is a twist.  If Edwards promised to get personally involved in determining school fees and class sizes in developing countries, Clinton emphasizes a combined effort of governments, the private sector, and charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  (Bill Clinton’s tour in Africa in company with Bill Gates hasn’t gone in vain!).

I hope that, if elected, Clinton will make the next logical step by completely removing the government from the business of "helping" poor around the globe and leaving the stage to those who do it best: charities like BMGF and The Rockefeller Foundation.

I was pleasantly surprised with Clinton’s approach to "climate change" (note the use of the general term "climate change" instead of the reduced to a sound bite "global warming").  She argues that "[F]ar from being a drag on global growth, climate control represents a powerful economic opportunity that can be a driver of growth, jobs, and competitive advantage in the twenty-first century."  Clinton appears to be the only serious contender who views the challenge of climate change in positive light: as a trigger for a new wave of cutting-edge innovation rather than a burden, much less a threat, to American prosperity.

A remarkable feature of Clinton’s piece is the attention she’s paying to the future of U.S.-Russia relations.  The first reference to Russia comes early on in the article:    

"The next president will be the first to inherit two wars, a long-term campaign against global terrorist networks, and growing tension with Iran as it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons. The United States will face a resurgent Russia whose future orientation is uncertain …"

One could feel almost puzzled that "a resurgent" (one of the two most popular adjectives currently applied to Russia, the other one being "revanchist") Russia is mentioned in the context of two wars, terrorist networks, and nuclear Iran.  Does Clinton really consider Russia such a threat to  U.S. national security?  Or is such a high place on the foreign policy agenda a result of stimulating environment provided by President Bill Clinton, whose interest in Russia has been undeniably genuine?

The second explanation seems to be more on point.  Clinton’s take on Russia looks conceptually very similar to that adopted by the Council on Foreign Relations’ task force on Russia whose report "Russia’s Wrong Direction" appeared in March 2006.  The project director — and undoubtedly its ideologue — was Stephen Sestanovich, President Clinton’s top adviser on Russia.

Naturally — and mirroring the task force’s approach — Hillary Clinton couldn’t avoid a few cheap shots at Russian President Putin ("Russian President Vladimir Putin … attempted to use energy as a political weapon against Russia’s neighbors and … suppressed many of the freedoms won after the fall of communism), but at least she gives him  credit where  credit is obviously due ("Putin has used Russia’s energy wealth to expand the Russian economy, so that more ordinary Russians are enjoying a rising standard of living").

More importantly, Clinton’s approach toward Russia betrays signs of pragmatism, a commodity that is traditionally in a short supply in Washington:

"It is a mistake … to see Russia only as a threat … We need to engage Russia selectively ("selectively" — exactly the term used by the task force) on issues of high national importance, such as thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, securing loose nuclear weapons … , and reaching a diplomatic solution in Kosovo."

Although understandably short on specifics, Clinton does spell out the desire "to negotiate an accord that substantially and verifiably reduces the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals."  One would agree that if the future Clinton administration achieves only that, the world will become safer place.

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About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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One Response to The Clinton Foreign Policy: Will Hillary Pick Up Where Bill Left Off?

  1. Jesse Heath says:

    I am curious as to your thoughts on Obama’s stance on US-Russian relations. His first trip abroad as a US Senator was to Russia and he often focuses on the Nunn-Lugar program when mentioning Russia. I worry that, due to his supposed ‘inexperience’, he would fall captive to the conventional Cold Warrior thinking that dominates DC.

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