Clinton’s support for liberal immigration policies will be divisive absent an explanation of how the continued arrival of low-skilled illegal immigrants will not put further pressure on wages at the lower end of the economy. Many Americans are angry that establishment figures advocate a repeat of the failures of the 1986 immigration reform, which gave legal status to millions of illegal immigrants but failed to deliver on the promise to secure the border. Persuading Congress to go along with her current immigration proposals appears problematic. And there is a need to articulate for America and perhaps more broadly the limits of the American capacity to absorb newcomers in an age when mass migration threatens to overwhelm even the wealthy countries of Europe.
Clinton’s current vision for how to deal with major adversarial powers needs greater clarity. The “reset” with Russia appeared to make Putin less risk averse. The “pivot to Asia” was widely perceived as implying pivoting away from Europe and the Middle East and allowing a freer hand to Russia and Iran.
For Clinton, the question is what comes next. How will she restore deterrence and check the increasingly assertive policies of Russia, China and Iran? How would she balance engagement and containment? How can we rebuild confidence in U.S. commitments when many leaders, especially in the Middle East, believe the current administration at times puts placating adversaries ahead of the interests of our allies and friends?
On defeating radical Islam, Clinton has not outlined or explained how she would mobilize our greatest allies in the fight—the many millions of Muslims abroad who oppose extremism and who wish to make common cause with us. She may need to adjust her approach and speak more forcefully and directly about the threat of radical Islamists and set forth a strategy for mobilizing and working with our allies in Muslim-majority countries.
It is questionable that the ambitious national-security agenda Clinton has put forward can be pursued successfully with the current means. The risk of a gap between ends and means on defense and international-affairs spending exists, and she needs to address it. The gap can be closed either by a diplomatic accommodation with China and/or Russia or by specifying what added resources would be needed to deter or counter their aggressive actions. However, to date she has not endorsed either approach. If she opts for countering adversarial powers, she needs to support spending at the levels of the last defense program set forth by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. However, she should do even more to explain what it takes to provide the capabilities needed to ensure deterrence and stability in a world of rising threats.
Her domestic policies should be judged in part whether they would strengthen the economic underpinnings of U.S. power. Slow economic growth and continued growth in entitlement and domestic discretionary spending threatens to reduce the resources needed to implement an ambitious foreign policy. Clinton should do more to address this vital issue.
A final issue in Clinton’s advocacy of globalism is its inadequate differentiation between those things we must do—and those we would like to do. We are in an era of constrained resources. Demands at home to jumpstart our economy means some things we would like to do abroad are beyond our means. In this sense, globalism, as a paradigm, is too unselective and undiscriminating. It commits the United States to engage and devote resources to issues that are peripheral, not essential, interests. It further risks frittering away U.S. power at a moment when it must be preserved to address graver security issues.
Clinton’s campaign thus leaves important questions unanswered. Is she the centrist Clinton of her days in the Senate and her first run for president? Is she a disciple of President Obama, with his reticent view about the American role in the world?
Or is she to the left of President Obama, rejecting his trade agreements, and concerned most with placating Sanders supporters? A great deal rides on the nature of Clinton’s evolving foreign-policy doctrine. It is a test of her leadership to articulate where she stands and persuade the American people of the wisdom of that course.
This is the second in a series of articles on foreign policy in 2016 by Ambassador Khalilzad. The first essay, “The Emerging Trump Doctrine?”, appeared in July; a third, on whether a bipartisan foreign-policy consensus is still possible, will come out closer to the election.
Zalmay Khalilzad is a Counselor at CSIS. He was the US Ambassador in Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN. He is the author of a new book: The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House: My Journey through a Turbulent World, St Martin's Press.
Image: Hillary Clinton in Iowa, 2016. Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0.