Hil­lary has a for­eign pol­icy prob­lem

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Amir Hand­jani

LAST week, Hil­lary Clin­ton made his­tory by be­com­ing the first pre­sump­tive fe­male nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent of a ma­jor US political party. In do­ing so, she fended off a se­ri­ous threat from Ver­mont Se­na­tor Bernie San­ders, a self-pro­claimed so­cial­ist who has be­come a ti­tanic force in the Demo­cratic Party. San­ders has chal­lenged Demo­cratic or­tho­doxy on free trade, Mideast pol­icy and the scope of ex­ec­u­tive power to con­duct un­lim­ited mil­i­tary cam­paigns un­der the aus­pices of the war against ter­ror­ism. In do­ing so he has ex­posed one of Clin­ton’s great­est vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in a gen­eral elec­tion: Her judg­ment in con­duct­ing for­eign af­fairs.

Clin­ton’s record as a mil­i­tary hawk is well-known. She voted for the Iraq War as a se­na­tor. As sec­re­tary of state, she pushed for US in­ter­ven­tion in Libya and lob­bied Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to take mil­i­tary ac­tion against Bashar As­sad in Syria. She was luke­warm about the nu­clear deal with Iran. With re­spect to Is­rael, in March she gave a ma­jor pol­icy speech to the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee with­out so much as men­tion­ing the plight of the Pales­tini­ans — a point later high­lighted by San­ders, a son of Jewish im­mi­grants, dur­ing their de­bate in Brook­lyn.

Pro­gres­sives, in­de­pen­dents and lib­eral democrats who have been vot­ing in large num­bers for San­ders hold the keys for Clin­ton to de­feat Don­ald Trump. If Clin­ton is to con­sol­i­date her sup­port among th­ese con­stituen­cies, she must re­as­sure them that de­spite her record, she is will­ing to fol­low in Obama’s foot­steps and not seek mil­i­tary so­lu­tions to ev­ery vex­ing for­eign pol­icy prob­lem. Yet in this elec­tion year she faces two prob­lems. First, in the past two na­tional elec­tions, the Demo­cratic base has em­braced Obama’s for­eign pol­icy doc­trine, loosely de­fined as em­pha­siz­ing ne­go­ti­a­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion rather than con­fronta­tion and uni­lat­er­al­ism. San­ders has pro­jected a sim­i­lar view of the US role in the world.

Sec­ond, Clin­ton’s op­po­nent in the gen­eral elec­tion, Trump, has con­sis­tently con­veyed a mes­sage that Amer­ica is tak­ing on too much of a bur­den in pro­vid­ing global se­cu­rity for its al­lies and not re­ceiv­ing enough of the com­mer­cial ben­e­fit. This ar­gu­ment has gained trac­tion in a Repub­li­can Party that in­creas­ingly sees end­less mil­i­tary cam­paigns in the Mid­dle East as a drain on Amer­i­can blood and trea­sure. Thus, Clin­ton’s reliance on hard power as a means of ad­vanc­ing Amer­i­can in­ter­ests is a tough sell in an elec­tion year where vot­ers seem to pre­fer re­trench­ment rather than mil­i­tary ad­ven­tur­ism.

Rather than em­brace Obama’s for­eign pol­icy of mil­i­tary re­straint, Clin­ton sig­nalled in a ma­jor for­eign pol­icy ad­dress last week that she would be dou­bling down on the con­flict in Syria by im­pos­ing a no-fly zone — some­thing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has ruled out for fear of deep­en­ing Amer­ica’s in­volve­ment in the Syr­ian civil war and risk­ing es­ca­la­tion with Rus­sia and Iran, the As­sad gov­ern­ment’s main pa­trons.

Fur­ther­more, Clin­ton has pro­claimed that she would reaf­firm her “un­break­able bond” with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. Fi­delity to Is­rael’s se­cu­rity is a sta­ple of all pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, but Clin­ton has gone on record em­brac­ing an Is­raeli prime min­is­ter who re­peat­edly em­bar­rassed Obama, tried to tor­pedo his sig­na­ture for­eign pol­icy achieve­ment — the Iran nu­clear deal — and paid only lip ser­vice to the peace process with Pales­tini­ans.

Such po­si­tions put her at odds with San­ders’ sup­port­ers, who, like Obama, are committed to Is­rael’s se­cu­rity but also rec­og­nize the tremen­dous toll the oc­cu­pa­tion and con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of Is­raeli set­tle­ments take on Ameri- can se­cu­rity in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East and on Pales­tinian so­ci­ety. They would like to see the United States play a more even­handed role. So far, Clin­ton has not shown any will­ing­ness to con­front more hard-line Is­raeli poli­cies that make peace harder to achieve. To de­feat Trump, Clin­ton must not re­vert back to the US for­eign pol­icy sta­tus quo, which is grounded in the the­ory that mil­i­tary force and in­ter­ven­tion hold the key to peace and pros­per­ity — and has brought lit­tle in the way of ei­ther. Dur­ing the more than two decades that US forces have been en­gaged in mil­i­tary ac­tion in the Mid­dle East, mil­i­tancy and in­sta­bil­ity have in­creased.

Obama, to his credit, charted a dif­fer­ent course. His in­sis­tence on ne­go­ti­at­ing with Iran, a long time ad­ver­sary, pro­duced a land­mark nu­clear agree­ment — some­thing that seemed in­con­ceiv­able when Ge­orge W. Bush oc­cu­pied the White House. Clin­ton needs to show that she is equally com­fort­able ex­er­cis­ing re­straint, and that she un­der­stands the lim­its of US power as well as its ef­fec­tive­ness — an un­der­stand­ing that forms the bedrock of the world view em­braced by San­ders and Obama sup­port­ers. The writer is Board Mem­ber of the At­lantic Coun­cil. — Cour­tesy: The Japan Times

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