Clinton discloses little about foreign policy
Washington - Between taking the mantle from US President Barack Obama and facing a progressive base wary of her reputation for hawkishness, Democratic Party’s nominee Hillary Clinton offered few insights into what foreign policy she would pursue as president. Neither the Democratic Party’s official platform nor her July 28th convention speech shed much light.
Foreign policy was not high on the agenda for the Democrats who met in Philadelphia to nominate Clinton. Beyond former Defense secretary Leon Panetta and retired US Marines Corps general John Allen, most speakers did not address global challenges. Clinton’s acceptance speech had only two foreign policy arguments: She accused the Republican nominee Donald Trump of not offering the “steady leadership” the world needs — “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” Clinton said. — and Clinton took ownership of the Iran nuclear deal while reiterating the need to enforce the agreement and “keep supporting Israel’s security”.
The DNC platform identified a list of global threats — terrorism, Syria and Russia were mentioned — but the crises in Iraq and Libya did not make it to the final draft, and the party’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) echoed the Obama administration’s approach, calling on a greater role for “Gulf countries and local forces on the ground”.
Interestingly, the Democrats rejected in their platform “Trump’s willingness to mire tens of thousands of our combat troops in another misguided ground war in the Middle East” even though the Republican nominee has used a non-interventionist and anti-war rhetoric and has been critical of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The most recurrent chants by the supporters of US Senator Bernie Sanders during the Democratic convention in Philadelphia were “No more wars” and “No TPP” in reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Obama is seeking to have passed in the US Congress before his term ends and that Clinton opposes (after initially supporting).
Two important issues were notably absent from the platform document: The use of drones by the Obama administration in the fight against ISIS, a contentious issue with the progressive wing of the party, and the September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi when Clinton was secretary of State.
On Syria, the platform offered no new policy recommendations beyond stating the need for a political transition that ends the rule of President Bashar Assad but it did not refer to the coordination between Washington and Moscow nor the Iranian intervention in Syria.
While compromising with Sanders on economic and social justice issues, Clinton put her own stamp on the platform’s international policies.
The document hinted that Democrats under Clinton “will not hesitate to take military action if Iran races” towards developing a nuclear weapon. It mentioned “the detrimental role” of Iran in the region, in particular its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and called on “robustly” enforcing non-nuclear sanctions against Tehran.
The platform affirmed that Russia is “propping up the Assad regime, which is brutally attacking its own citizens” in Syria and warned of Trump overturning “more than 50 years of American foreign policy by abandoning NATO partners”.
Democrats elaborated on Israel’s right to defend itself and retain its qualitative military edge, while opposing any effort to “delegitimise Israel, including at the United Nations” or through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the platform emphasised a negotiated solution that gives Israel “a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognised borders and provides Palestinians with independence, sovereignty and dignity”. There was no reference to the Palestinians’ right to control their own security nor to the Gaza siege nor Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Sanders’ delegates on the platform committee tried but failed to distance the Democratic Party from the near unquestioning American support of Israel.
Even though Clinton as a secretary of State had different views from Obama on Egypt and Syria, among other issues, she has yet to reveal a clear foreign policy approach. One of her advisers, Jeremy Bash, told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that if elected Clinton would order “a full review” of US policy in Syria. Another Clinton ally, former US diplomat Jamie Rubin, suggested that a Clinton administration would not be as constrained in its foreign policy as Obama has been.
Clinton told Sanders’ supporters in her speech “I’ve heard you” and asked them to work with her to implement the Democratic platform. However, the Clinton-Sanders compromise moved the Democratic platform to the left only on domestic issues, whereas foreign policy is at the centre.
While Clinton is giving an impression that her administration would essentially be a continuation of the Obama presidency, there were enough hints in Philadelphia that she would pursue a more hawkish policy.