16 October 2007

Clinton on foreign policy

This new article by Hillary Clinton in Foreign Affairs magazine is as good a basis as any for assessing what her foreign policy as President would be like. With the exception of one major point, I found it generally reassuring.

To address the most important issue first, there's this:

There is a time for force and a time for diplomacy; when properly deployed, the two can reinforce each other. U.S. foreign policy must be guided by a preference for multilateralism, with unilateralism as an option when absolutely necessary to protect our security or avert an avoidable tragedy. Use our military not as the solution to every problem but as one element in a compre-hensive strategy. 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. Nor can diplomacy alone stop the perpetrators of genocide and crimes against hu-manity in places such as Darfur. But soldiers are not the answer to every problem. Using force in lieu of diplomacy compels our young men and women in uniform to carry out missions that they may not be trained or prepared for. And it ignores the value of simply carrying a big stick, rather than using it.

On Iran:

Iran must conform to its nonproliferation obligations and must not be permitted to build or acquire nuclear weapons. If Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table.

This addresses my main concern about having a Democrat as President. The unilateral use of force when necessary is endorsed. The article spends a lot of time emphasizing multilateralism; to the extent that this takes the form of closer cooperation with other countries which share common interests with us, it would be a good thing. Clinton will probably waste more time fiddle-faddling around with the UN than a Republican would, but neither the UN nor any foreign government will have a veto over the use of American military power. Our national sovereignty will not be compromised.

Clinton is firm where the Russian regime is concerned:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has thwarted a carefully crafted UN plan that would have put Kosovo on a belated path to independence, attempted to use energy as a political weapon against Russia's neighbors and beyond, and tested the United States and Europe on a range of nonproliferation and arms re-duction issues. Putin has also suppressed many of the freedoms won after the fall of communism, created a new class of oligarchs, and interfered deeply in the internal affairs of former Soviet republics.....we must make clear that our ability to view Russia as a genuine partner depends on whether Russia chooses to strengthen democracy or return to authoritarianism and regional interference.

While the Bush administration has understandably focused on the Middle East since September 11, the efforts (however unsuccessful so far) of the Putin regime to create a new version of the Soviet threat deserve more attention than they have visibly received. The US should have been far more outspoken in affirming that the independence of countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic states is an irreversible reality and that their internal affairs are none of the Russian government's business. Perhaps Clinton would do a better job in this area.

I was encouraged by what Clinton had to say about our country's most scandalous failure under the Bush administration:

Our brave soldiers who are wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq must receive the health care, benefits, training, and support they deserve. The treatment of wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center was a travesty. Those convalescing or struggling to build new lives after grievous injuries need an expanded version of the Family and Medical Leave Act to enable their families to provide the support they need. Beyond health care, it is also time to develop a modern GI Bill of Rights in order to expand professional and entrepreneurial opportunities as well as access to education and home ownership.

This is what "supporting the troops" should mean: concrete action, not just a slogan.

The one major point that concerns me is this, on Iraq:

I will convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration.

Clinton is far too savvy not to realize that this is a very unwise commitment to make. It's impossible, in October of 2007, to know what the military situation in Iraq will look like in early 2009. Withdrawing might be the best option at that point, or it might not be. We're simply not in a position to know what will happen over the next year-and-a-quarter.

So I would interpret this passage as a political concession to the "withdraw-immediately-and-don't-confuse-me-with-facts" element of the Democratic base, which has been giving Clinton a huge amount of flak over this issue. It's unlikely to be meant as a serious commitment to a specific course of action. Still, given the likelihood that it could encourage the enemy and undermine the work of our own troops, it would have been better if she hadn't said it.

Clinton supports a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but US foreign policy has been paying lip service to that idea for years, and it will not suddenly become any less unworkable (or fatuous) in 2009 than it is now. The US has only limited influence over that situation.

Most of the rest is encouraging: a strong focus on anthropogenic global warming (even the Bush administration has given up on pretending that this problem doesn't exist, but still shows little inclination to do anything about it), an increase in the number of intelligence analysts proficient in Middle Eastern languages (it would help if we stopped arbitrarily firing the ones who turn out to be gay), rolling back the administration's encroachments on civil rights at home, and so on. Clinton wants America to lead the world differently, but does not question its right to lead. I stand by my conclusion here.

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