Close-Up on Clinton

If elected president, would Hillary Clinton be more concerned with the long-term interests of the United States or the way the political winds were blowing?

Senator Hillary Clinton excelled in the recent rounds of primary voting with those constituencies that her carefully preened message seemed to target. Regardless of who ends up winning the primary race, Clinton has proven her political acumen by appreciating the numbers of voters that would not only favor the broad strokes with which she outlines some of her key foreign-policy positions, but would also remain undisturbed by the varying positions she has taken on other pivotal issues, such as the Iraq War and challenges posed by Iran.

While Clinton has broad experience to highlight on the campaign trail, she appeared to have been at a considerable disadvantage on the substance of some of her positions, vis-à-vis her main rival Senator Barack Obama, who proved in a 2002 speech his foresight of the troubles to come in Iraq. Not only did Clinton cast in 2002 her widely discussed vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq, she also in December 2003 sharply criticized President Bush for possibly having an exit strategy in Iraq-a position Clinton is now campaigning on-and called for more troops to be sent to the theater. And when she was asked directly about the politically risky position that then-Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean had taken in opposition to the Iraq War, Clinton maintained neutrality.

Clinton has also been notably successful in addressing the potentially damaging revelations about the context in which former President Bill Clinton praised Kazakhstan's autocrat, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in 2005. Shortly before the primary's critical Super Tuesday, the New York Times revealed in a front-page article that the former president had made the statements and trip to Kazakhstan alongside a key donor to his foundation, and that the donor later received a lucrative contract to mine uranium in that country.


The Voters

According to exit polls, Clinton did well with those voters that said they valued experience and presumably favored her exposure to Washington's political process-a quality that Obama's supporters appeared to take exception to. The elderly favored Clinton as did those of that were generally less affluent and those that had less education. Obama claimed those voters that said they wanted to see change and were especially concerned about the war in Iraq.

Those polls indicate that Clinton seemed to understand that large numbers of voters wanted only a modicum of change and would support an experienced Washington "insider" able to work with so-called special interests in negotiating deals on the issues that mattered to them, such as health care, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and other matters. Indeed, these were some of the qualities that the New York Times cited in its editorial endorsing Clinton.

But apart from the general preferences and demographics of voters exhibited in exit polls, it is difficult to determine who Clinton's supporters are, why they voted for her and what her mandate is. Do the primary voters that supported Clinton favor ending America's military adventures in the Middle East, or do they want Washington to more aggressively confront Iran, possibly militarily? Do they support a multilateral approach to addressing some of the key foreign-policy issues of today, or do they believe America should act unilaterally? Given the diversity of Clinton's positions, her supporters could easily believe in any of these juxtaposing positions.

According to pollsters, Clinton struggles with voters that consider themselves independents. But according to some anecdotal exit interviews with voters, Obama's call for change may have been a negative with other constituencies. In an article about the broad (if qualified) support that Jewish voters are giving Hillary Clinton in New York City and Long Island, Jewish Week reported that one voter said: "I never thought I would say so, but I voted for Hillary. . . . But more importantly, I voted against Obama. He scares me."

And though Clinton is now making her plan to withdraw troops a cornerstone of her campaign, one Brooklyn voter told the newspaper: "I feel Obama doesn't have the experience. . . . If he pulls the troops out of Iraq there'll be chaos, Iran will get the upper hand and that's no good for Israel, that's for sure. Israel's a big concern, it has to be." If there is confusion about what Clinton's current positions are, it may be due to the seeming disparity of some her positions.


On Iran

Clinton's much-discussed support for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which designates the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, has prompted some critics, including Obama, to charge the senator with potentially providing Bush with the political pretext to take America to war with Iran. Obama was absent from the vote and later said he would have voted against it. But some of Clinton's own statements on Iran are perhaps more noteworthy.

Given her campaign call to end the war in Iraq and "repair all the relationships that have been damaged by President Bush, on [this] very continent [and] across the globe" (January 28, 2008, Hartford, Connecticut), some of Clinton's backers may expect that she would preside over a less-bellicose foreign policy. But on Iran those expectations may be unwarranted. During a speech in Princeton University on January, 19, 2006, Clinton accused the Bush Administration of not being forceful, or unilateral, enough on Iran: