The Emerging Clinton Doctrine?

Image: Hillary Clinton in Iowa, 2016. Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Hillary's campaign has left many questions about U.S. strategy unanswered.

Hillary Clinton enjoys a long record on foreign policy as a senator, a presidential candidate in 2008, and a secretary of state during the first term of the Barack Obama administration. Now, as the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, she is articulating a revised foreign policy doctrine, one which both builds on her previous views and incorporates adjustments made during the current campaign.

This electoral season has already demonstrated that in this era of globalization, international issues—trade, terrorism, immigration and others—often shape domestic politics in a decisive fashion. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders upended the expectations of the political establishment by recognizing in a profound way how large segments of Americans perceive these questions. Clinton has had to adapt in response. She has thus arrived at a doctrine composed of the following elements:

U.S. Global leadership. Particularly since 9/11, Clinton has been a centrist on foreign policy, taking positions to the right of President Obama. Clinton believes that international stability and progress require the United States to lead, sometimes echoing the sentiments of her husband who in his second Inaugural Address famously described the U.S. as standing alone “as the world’s indispensable nation.” She has been unequivocal in articulating support for the U.S.-led alliance structures in Europe and East Asia formed after World War II and her belief America has a central role in catalyzing progress on major global issues like climate change. She views the alliances with developed democracies as the foundation for projecting American influence, which she sees as a positive force in the world. She has remained true to this liberal-internationalist credo during the campaign.

Globalist agenda. Clinton remains loyal to Obama’s policies of global economic integration. She continues to defend expanded free trade in principle, though under the current campaign’s political pressure she has pulled back on support for the Trans Pacific Partnership and equivocated in her views on the North American Free Trade Agreement. As secretary of state, she was an advocate of larger development-assistance budgets. Her support of the Obama climate-change agreements means she is willing to see Americans bear a disproportionate economic burden, at least in the near term, to address this threat. Her advocacy of the military intervention in Libya demonstrates a willingness to wage a war for humanitarian objectives, detached from a direct connection to U.S. security and economic interests. She also believes in the use of military to achieve diplomatic goals.

Support for a permissive immigration regime. Clinton’s support for legalization of illegal immigrants, both those who crossed borders illegally and those who overstayed visas, is not paired with proposals to enhance security at the border or in the visa process. Her campaign talking points say little about immigration enforcement, and she endorses Obama’s executive actions to limit the scope of deportations. She also advocates allowing 65,000 Syrian refugees into the United States and is silent on how to respond to potential large-scale movements of migrants in the future. What she calls her comprehensive immigration-reform program focuses almost exclusively on legalization and citizenship for illegal immigrants, although she does (like President Obama), favor expelling those who have committed crimes.

Engagement with great and adversarial powers. As Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton embraced and implemented a national security strategy including engagement with adversaries and hostile powers. She designed the “reset” with a Russia led by President Dmitry Medvedev, which entailed early concessions on missile defense in Europe and in the New START agreement. These concessions went largely unrequited as President Vladimir Putin later adopted aggressive policies toward Ukraine. She sought a “new kind of great power relations” with China, even soft pedaling U.S. human rights concerns. China’s assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, limited response on North Korea’s nuclear program, cyber espionage and intellectual property theft, and economic mercantilism remained unresolved. Regarding Iran, Clinton supports the nuclear agreement, with its uneven verification provisions and restrictions on enrichment activities that lapse over time. While she continues to describe China as part friend and part adversary, she has taken a hard confrontational line against Putin’s Russia, including calls to provide lethal military assistance to Ukraine.