Can Clinton Finally Get Foreign Policy Right?

Can Clinton Finally Get Foreign Policy Right?
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Republican presidential candidates keeping running into the The Question: “Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?” Democrats love it, viewing the answers by GOP leaders as in some way repudiating a Republican president. Still, Democrats might not be so enthusiastic if that type of question were asked Hillary Clinton.

And there are a lot of that type of questions for the all-but-anointed Democrat presidential nominee.

For starters, as a number of Republicans have wondered, why not ask her this one: Knowing what you know now about the rise of the Islamic State and its conquest of Ramadi and other victories in Iraq, would you have pulled out all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 against the recommendation of military advisers?

Then, there’s this one: Knowing what you know now about Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression against Ukraine, would you have gone ahead with the “reset” with Russia?

Or, knowing what you know now about the terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, would you have rejected requests for more security for the U.S. ambassador to Libya? And would you have blamed an Internet video for the killings?

Speaking of Libya, Mrs. Clinton, knowing now about the chaos, strife and terrorism engulfing the country, would you have overthrown dictator Moammar Gadhafi?

And knowing about what Human Rights Watch calls the “contraction of democratic space and respect for fundamental human rights” in Myanmar, would you have become in 2011 the first U.S. official to visit the country in half a century, lifted most sanctions and allocated foreign aid to the country once called Burma? Myanmar policy was termed by Foreign Policy to be the “crowning achievement” of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, but became, the magazine said last year, “Hillary’s Burma problem.”

Democrats might start viewing such “knowing what you know now” inquiries as hypothetical questions, mental exercises based on 20-20 hindsight and arrogantly dismissive of conditions existing at the time the original decisions had to be made. Democrats might also begin to see them as “gotcha questions” — designed to elicit a potentially embarrassing answer — as some GOP presidential contenders see the Iraq question. Those Republicans have a point in that none of the declared presidential contestants, including Jeb Bush, had anything to do with President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

Bush, given his name and family relationship, has no choice but to expect questions arising out of his brother’s White House years. It’s also possible to argue that the questions have relevance because he picked for his foreign policy team some of the same advisers who worked for President Bush and advocated the Iraq invasion.

By the same token Clinton can’t escape such questions, and with more reason. She served as secretary of state for President Barack Obama, was a leading voice on foreign affairs, and advocated many of the positions embodied in the questions above.

It’s also worth remembering that Clinton, as a member of the U.S. Senate, voted to authorize military action against Iraq. She now calls that vote a “mistake.” Would she admit to other mistakes?

No doubt it would be politically problematical for Clinton to try to distance herself from the foreign policy of the president she served.

But the ISIS crisis, Russia’s interference in Ukraine, the festering Libya dilemma, the loss of U.S. credibility in the Middle East and other of today’s headaches are the result of decisions made when Clinton served in the Obama administration.

She is, in effect, running for president on the premise that she is the best person to clean up the foreign policy mess that she is in no small measure responsible for.

“Knowing what you know now” might be the wrong way to approach these issues, but they without doubt pose questions that Clinton must answer to persuade voters she can at long last get foreign policy issues right. 

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