If Obama’s foreign policy is sometimes incoherent, Hillary’s is simply Bush-lite. Her recent essay in Foreign Affairs reveals herself as someone who does not depart substantially from the globalist paradigm of Bush and President Clinton, with the main difference being her greater faith in “diplomacy.” In a world where many nations’ interests involve knocking America down in prestige and power, this is simply wishful thinking of the worst sort. It’s essentially the foreign policy espoused earlier by John Kerry. It is vague about how she will fight terrorism, focusing instead on a policy of supporting the people that will clean up the pieces in the wake of an attack, the lauded “first responders.”
The flaws in Hillary Clinton’s basic perspective are never more apparent than in her discussion of one of the major foreign policy failure of the last decade, the payoff deal given to North Korea to cease its nuclear programs. This deal was brokered by Jimmy Carter and signed off by President Clinton and promised North Korea money to cease its nuclear arms programs after it had essentially threatened the West with its arsenal. She writes:
Like Iran, North Korea responded to the Bush administration’s effort to isolate it by accelerating its nuclear program, conducting a nuclear test, and building more nuclear weapons. Only since the State Department returned to diplomacy have we been able, belatedly, to make progress.
Actually, North Korea was undertaking all these programs after the deal when it promised it would not do so. Nothing in Bush’s “axis of evil” remark could have set off such a massive undertaking. The money paid off by the ’94 Clinton Deal enabled the North Korean regime by giving it much-needed financial and material support. As I wrote earlier:
I can’t say I blame Clinton for not discovering North Korea violations and weapons plans earlier. The secret North Korean regime is notoriously hard for our spies to penetrate. But I do fault him for thinking he could bribe a criminal regime like this into behaving sensibly. The basic concept of the agreement was the problem, and the end result was more or less inevitable. Even the most minimally rationally black-mailer, once he’s been paid, has an incentive to seek more. And that’s exactly what North Korea’s been trying to accomplish ever since. Clinton’s plan was all carrot and no stick. Bush has been tasked with cleaning up a mess that he did not create, where he did not fail to negotiate real security guarantees, and under the threat of a far more substantial North Korean weapons capability.
On top of its flawed concepts, Clinton’s lengthy essay provides little guidance as to when and where diplomacy is necessary or unlikely to be of use, nor does it articulate when force is needed and under what circumstances she would use it. For instance, does she embrace the “humanitarian wars” concept of President Clinton? Does she think a UN mandate is always necessary (after all, her husband did not in Kosovo)? Does she recognize that certain irrational players on the world stage, such as A-Jod in Iran, may not respond to the same incentives as less ideological and religiously-tinged leaders? Finally, does she recognize any inherent or at least structural tension between the Western World and the Islamic world? She’s either silent or vague on these issues. The world Muslim only comes up in referring to her support for “building a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan.”
Bush has been a disaster on foreign policy because he is a liberal. He believes in spreading democracy, the universality of American values, and the necessity of idealism in our foreign policy. He also has been incompetent, using tough talk without backing up words with appropriate action, alienating potential friends like Russia, using democracy as a substitute for the necessity of real security in Iraq, and being diffident and inarticulate about the need for intelligence-gathering against al Qaeda. There is no reason to think Clinton will not be worse in all these respects, even if she is accepted more readily by the Europeans.
Let’s not forget that it is al Qaeda, China, Iran, and Russia who matter most in the next President’s foreign policy. On all four matters, the first President Clinton, embracing a very similar view as Hillary was a disaster. Al Qaeda grew in strength and planned 9/11 during his watch. China grew stronger military and economically under his watch, and its increasing trade with the West did not liberalize its internal affairs as promised. Iran continued to support terrorism during Clinton’s more mild presidency and was linked to the Khobar Towers bombing without any retaliation on his part. Finally, Russia grew increasingly alienated from the West during Clinton and Bush’s presidency because both presidents desired to expand NATO, criticized Russia on Chechnya (where it’s fighting al Qaeda and its allies), and both meddled in Russia’s internal affairs and elections. Clinton may not be loony on foreign policy, but liberals and conservatives alike should expect many of the same problems as Bush has had, coupled with the likely disappointments that the deus ex machina of diplomacy will foster. These problems will persist because both Hillary Clinton and Bush use liberal ideas–the importance of the UN, democracy (including among our allies), and human rights–as guides when hard-headed realism about diplomacy and the use of force is needed.