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Hillary’s “Soft Power”

In her most comprehensive—if characteristically cautious—foreign policy pronouncement to date, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton...

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In her most comprehensive—if characteristically cautious—foreign policy pronouncement to date, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) stressed a clear preference for diplomacy and "soft power" in pursuing U.S. interests abroad, but added she would not hesitate to use military force unilaterally if she deemed it necessary.

In a lengthy article entitled "Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-First Century," published in Foreign Affairs magazine, the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2008 pledged to expand the U.S. armed forces and consider military action against Iran if it did not abandon its nuclear program.

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

At the same time, she called for intensified diplomacy in the Middle East, including engaging Iran and Syria in efforts to stabilize Iraq, and to gain Arab support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord based on the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in exchange for normalized relations with Israel’s Arab neighbors.

She also wrote that she would begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within the first 60 days of her administration but would retain units to train Iraqi forces and conduct operations against al-Qaida in Iraq and "other terrorist organizations in the region." In addition, she would consider leaving "some forces in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq."

As for other issues, Clinton wrote that she would seek more constructive relationships with Russia and China, rebuild traditional U.S. alliances in Europe, and promote closer ties with India, including enhancing cooperation with India, Australia, and Japan on "issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism … [and] protecting global energy supplies."

The Foreign Affairs essay—part of a series of policy statements by the major presidential candidates in both parties—comes amid a new round of polling data that shows that Clinton has widened her lead over Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and her other Democratic rivals in advance of next year’s state primary contests that should determine the nomination.

One poll released Monday had her leading Obama—her closest rival—by some 20 percentage points.

Barring a major gaffe in the coming months, a growing number of veteran political analysts here believe that Clinton is almost certain to win the Democratic nomination, and, given the persistent unpopularity of Bush, as well as the Republicans’ general demoralization, is thus an odds-on bet to be elected the next president.

If she succeeds, her latest policy statement suggests that she would change the style more than the substance of Bush’s foreign policy—at least as he has pursued it in his second term, when the administration’s "realists" have exercised more influence.

Under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and, more recently, Pentagon chief Robert Gates, the administration has tried hard to reassure traditional U.S. allies, especially in Europe and the Middle East, that it is much more willing to take their interests into account and give a higher priority to diplomacy than it was during the first term.

Indeed, while Clinton’s article is filled with attacks on Bush’s mistakes and shortcomings, her differences with him on specific policy initiatives are relatively few. Among them, she would revive the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), take other measures to promote the de-nuclearization goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and commit the United States to a "binding global climate agreement," all of which were explicitly rejected by Bush.

She did not, however, indicate interest in pursuing U.S. adherence to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court, even though her husband signed it in 2000, only to have his signature repudiated by Bush during his first term.

Still, Clinton stressed that, without renouncing unilateral action, she would be far more committed than Bush to multilateralism in pursuing U.S. aims. "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," she wrote.

At the same time, she depicted her brand of multilateralism as more utilitarian than based on principle. "The United States must be prepared to act on its own to defend its vital interests, but effective international institutions make it much less likely that we will have to do so," she wrote. "[I]nternational institutions are tools rather than traps."

On specific policy issues, Clinton also suggested more continuity with rather than fundamental change in current policies. She hailed the State Department’s recent diplomacy with North Korea, and, like the Bush administration, stressed that Russia, while increasingly authoritarian and interventionist in its neighborhood, should not be seen "only as a threat."

Similarly, Washington should work for a "cooperative future" with China by "persuad[ing it] to join global institutions and support international rules by building on areas where our interests converge and working to narrow our differences."

Clinton’s recommendations for Middle East policy were also strikingly similar to those made by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) last December, many of which were subsequently adopted—albeit reluctantly—by Bush.

Like the ISG, which reflected the "realist" views of its co-chairs, former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), Clinton called for greater diplomatic efforts to stabilize Iraq and to promote a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Similarly, she also called for reinforcing U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, adding that Washington should "redouble" its efforts with Pakistan to "root out terrorist elements" in the tribal areas along the western border. She did not make clear if that included cross-border raids into Pakistan that were endorsed by Obama last summer.

And while she pledged to convene her top military and national security advisers to devise a plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of March 2009, she did not endorse a complete withdrawal, let alone a deadline, and left the door open to a prolonged U.S. military presence, particularly in Kurdistan, an idea that has also been floated by senior Bush administration officials.

While suggesting a willingness to use military force against Iran, she stressed that negotiations were also possible, although she left unclear whether Tehran would first have to meet certain preconditions, as the Bush administration has insisted.

"[I]f Iran is in fact willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq, the United States should be prepared to offer Iran a carefully calibrated package of incentives," she wrote without elaboration.

Similarly, Clinton echoed some of the Bush administration’s notions about the nature of the "war on terror," noting that the "motives" of al-Qaida "and a growing number of like-minded extremist organizations" rested on "a rejection of modernity, women’s rights, and democracy, as well as a dangerous nostalgia for a mythical past."

Others, including the ISG, have stressed the role of U.S. policies in the Middle East, including the 2003 Iraq invasion and strong support for Israel, in motivating support for Islamist militancy.

Jim Lobe is the Washington, DC, bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org/).

Citations

Jim Lobe, "Hillary's 'Soft Power'," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, October 17, 2007).

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