Clinton discloses little about foreign policy

Sunday 07/08/2016
US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on July 28th.

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.