Paris high­lights Clin­ton for­eign pol­icy record

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Lisa Lerer

How the West should re­spond to the threat posed by the Is­lamic State in the wake of the at­tacks in Paris ap­pears likely to be­come the dom­i­nant ques­tion of the next phase of the 2016 race for pres­i­dent, per­haps for no one more than Demo­cratic fron­trun­ner Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton. The at­tacks that killed 129 peo­ple, fu­el­ing a fresh wave of anx­i­ety about the threats posed by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, high­light Clin­ton’s ten­ure as a for­mer sec­re­tary of state and her ar­gu­ment that she is the 2016 can­di­date most ready to sit in the Oval Of­fice. But in her role as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s top diplo­mat, Clin­ton was deeply in­volved in craft­ing the Mid­dle East pol­icy that crit­ics say con­trib­uted to the rise of Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists. That dual dy­namic played out Satur­day night dur­ing the sec­ond Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial de­bate, which be­gan with a mo­ment of si­lence and 30 min­utes of ques­tion­ing fo­cused ex­clu­sively on the at­tacks and un­rest in the Mid­dle East. Clin­ton cast her­self as a strong leader in a scary world, at­tribut­ing the chaos in the Mid­dle East not to US pol­icy fail­ures but a decades-long “arc of in­sta­bil­ity, from North Africa to Afghanistan.” Yet she also grap­pled with tough crit­i­cism of her ap­proach to more than a decade of un­rest across the re­gion. Ver­mont Sen Bernie San­ders blamed her 2002 vote for the war in Iraq for the rise of Al-Qaeda and the Is­lamic State group, say­ing the de­ci­sion to in­vade “un­rav­eled the re­gion com­pletely.” For­mer Mary­land Gov Martin O’Malley of­fered his own con­dem­na­tion, paint­ing a pic­ture of a world in flames and an Obama-led strat­egy that’s been “not so very good at an­tic­i­pat­ing threats”. “Libya is now a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess,” he said.

Dif­fer­ences

While Clin­ton has high­lighted her dif­fer­ences with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on their ap­proach to the civil war in Syria in the past, she now largely de­clines to crit­i­cize his strat­egy. Af­ter us­ing her open­ing state­ment to make the point that the Is­lamic State group “can­not be con­tained, it must be de­feated”a dig at Obama’s de­scrip­tion of the group as “con­tained” in an in­ter­view a day be­fore the at­tacks - Clin­ton was quick to align her­self with ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy. She passed up op­por­tu­ni­ties to men­tion her sup­port for a more ag­gres­sive strat­egy in Syria that in­cludes a no-fly zone, a pol­icy backed by her Repub­li­can ri­vals and op­posed by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Dis­put­ing a charge the White House re­peated the mis­takes of the war in Iraq in Libya, she ar­gued the ad­min­is­tra­tion had a plan for the oust­ing of Muam­mar Gad­hafi. And she sup­ported the White House’s ar­gu­ment that the pres­i­dent does not need a for­mal dec­la­ra­tion of war from Congress to go af­ter the Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, dis­agree­ing with some prom­i­nent con­gres­sional Democrats who’ve split with Obama over whether his con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers cover the new con­flict. When asked whether Obama un­der­es­ti­mated the threat of Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, she dodged the ques­tion, say­ing sim­ply, “what the pres­i­dent has con­sis­tently said, which I agree with, is that we will sup­port those who take the fight to ISIS”. Obama re­mains a pop­u­lar fig­ure in the Demo­cratic Party and Clin­ton’s abil­ity to cap­ture the White House will de­pend in large part on whether she can win over the coali­tion of mi­nor­ity, women and young vot­ers that twice cat­a­pulted him to vic­tory. But his for­eign pol­icy re­mains deeply un­pop­u­lar. An As­so­ci­ated Press-GfK poll re­leased ear­lier this month found more than 6 in 10 Amer­i­cans re­ject his han­dling of the threat posed by the Is­lamic State. Repub­li­cans are ea­ger to tie Clin­ton to the legacy of her for­mer boss. “The pres­i­dent has ad­mit­ted he does not have a strat­egy as it re­lates to ISIS. Hil­lary Clin­ton last night said that it’s not our fight,” said for­mer Florida Gov Jeb Bush in a Sun­day morn­ing in­ter­view on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It is our fight.”

Weak­ness

They jumped on her re­fusal, like Obama, to la­bel the ef­forts to fight ter­ror­ism as a war against “rad­i­cal Is­lam”, a rhetor­i­cal choice Repub­li­cans fre­quently cite as a sign of weak­ness. “That would be like say­ing we weren’t at war with Nazis, be­cause we were afraid to of­fend some Ger­mans who may have been mem­bers of the Nazi Party but weren’t vi­o­lent them­selves,” said Florida Sen Marco Ru­bio said in an in­ter­view on ABC’s “This Week”. Repub­li­cans are in for their own reshuf­fling in the wake of the at­tack. For months, GOP pri­mary vot­ers have fa­vored out­sider can­di­dates with lit­tle pub­lic pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence, most no­tably bil­lion­aire businessman Don­ald Trump and re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon Ben Car­son. New wor­ries about fu­ture at­tacks may prompt them to re­assess the field. There’s lit­tle ques­tion the West will take a more ag­gres­sive stance against the Is­lamic State group, a shift de­scribed by White House na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Ben Rhodes as an “in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of our ef­forts” and by a stunned French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande as be­ing “un­for­giv­ing with the bar­bar­ians”. —AP

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