Clinton on Foreign Policy: “Strength and Experience”

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Hillary’s Clinton’s presidential campaign website touts her “strength and experience” in foreign affairs. Yet Clinton has not clearly defined what her foreign policy goals are in any detail. Washington Post staff writer, Anne Kornblut, calls her positioning a “foreign policy balancing act.”

While preparing to give a major critique of the war in Iraq last month, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton read a draft of the speech and added a few lines of her own.

“I would also consider, as I have said before, leaving some forces in the Kurdish area to protect the fragile but real democracy and relative peace and security that has developed there,” Clinton said in the final version of the speech.

It was a small but important caveat in an otherwise harsh speech about ending the war — overshadowed by repeated promises to withdraw troops as quickly and responsibly as possible.

Advisers close to Clinton (D-N.Y.), who confirmed that she personally inserted the lines, said it illustrated her approach to running for president these days — as a deliberate practitioner of foreign policy, with an eye toward the general election and the realities of governing if she becomes president.

That has been the subtext of her fights with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the past few weeks. Clinton called his willingness to meet with leaders of hostile states “irresponsible and naive” after the Democratic debate in South Carolina two weeks ago, then responded coolly to his statement last week that he would not use nuclear weapons against terrorist cells in Pakistan.

Refusing to say whether she agreed with him on the specific question, Clinton said she did not “believe any president should make blanket statements with regard to use or nonuse.” Although many experts said Obama was fundamentally correct that the United States would not use nuclear force in the region, Clinton’s answer seemed more attuned to a general election campaign and a future presidency.

Much has been made of Clinton’s slow rhetorical shift from authorizing the war in 2002 to attacking it now. Less scrutinized have been her maneuvers along the way to try to avoid the trap that befell Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 — being “for the war before he was against it,” as his Republican rivals mocked.

From her position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clinton has developed something of a “third way” of talking about the war, by emphasizing the future and what she would do as president. Some of her advisers refer to her as “antiwar and pro-defense,” a stance skewered by advisers to Obama, who has said that he is the only viable Democrat who opposed the war from the beginning.

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There is another article on Clinton–really one of her advisors–in this week’s Economist comparing and contrasting Mark Penn to Karl Rove. Penn has a “huge influence” over Clinton and is “responsible for crafting her political image.” In this sense, and others, the comparison with Rove is apt. Both are skilled at evaluating poll data, “masters of demographic trends,” and agree that the Democarats biggest liability is on national security issues.

However, if Rove was the master of using so-called wedge issues to drive the conservative base to the polls, Penn is “a committed centrist who thinks elections are won by wooing swing voters.” Further, unlike Rove, “there is little chance that Mr. Penn will try to yield Rove-sized influence over a Clinton White House.” This is all for the good. Yet Mr. Penn, like myself, also has great distaste for the politics of populism:

This all sounds like a formula for success: a brilliant pollster who will steer his candidate to the centre but who will not try to turn an election victory into a White House empire. Perhaps it will be. But Mr Penn may have a weakness of his own—his umbilical ties to business interests and his visceral distaste for anything that smells of populism. The left already regards him as exemplifying everything that is wrong with the Democratic establishment. Continued economic problems may intensify resentment of the Beltway fat cats. Mr Rove eventually fell because he tried to change American politics too much. Mr Penn’s biggest problem—and perhaps Mrs Clinton’s too—is that he wants to change too little.

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