Aaron David Miller once again gives Hillary Clinton too much credit on foreign policy:
What is perhaps the greatest constraint on a putative President Clinton’s hawkishness? The bad options that exist for projecting military force, particularly in the Middle East. Mrs. Clinton’s strategy toward ISIS doesn’t differ much from President Obama’s: She has talked about creating a partial “no-fly” zone, though it’s hard to see how this would improve the situation, and it risks conflict with Russia. It’s likely that as president Mrs. Clinton would try to work with Moscow to deescalate the situation in Syria through diplomacy. She is highly unlikely to deploy thousands of additional ground troops to Iraq or Syria, though she talks about using special forces more–something President Obama is already doing. Meanwhile, as a staunch defender of the international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program [bold mine-DL], she is not looking for a fight with Tehran.
This is a remarkably generous assessment of what Clinton is likely to do, and it requires us to ignore or dismiss many of his past and current positions. For instance, Miller acknowledges that Clinton supports creating a “no-fly zone” in Syria, and he acknowledges this risks conflict with Russia (not least since establishing would involve attacking Russian air defenses in Syria), but seems to assume either that she doesn’t mean what she says. He supposes that she will somehow “work with Moscow” to “deescalate” the conflict when she has publicly committed to escalating American military involvement. To sustain the argument that Clinton won’t really be all that hawkish on Syria requires us to overlook the likely consequences of the policy that Clinton has endorsed.
On the nuclear deal, things aren’t quite so simple, either. Clinton has expressed support for the nuclear deal, but it would be an exaggeration to say that she is a “staunch defender” of it. The recent New York Times report on her involvement in Iran diplomacy as Secretary of State was revealing in that it showed how uninterested she was in pursuing negotiations:
Interviews with more than a dozen current and former administration officials paint a portrait of a highly cautious, ambivalent diplomat, less willing than Mr. Obama to take risks to open a dialogue with Iran and increasingly wary of Mr. Kerry’s freelance diplomacy. Her decision to send her own team, some officials said, was driven as much by her desire to corral Mr. Kerry as to engage the Iranians.
Now that the deal has been successfully concluded and is being implemented, Clinton wants to take some of the credit for one of the administration’s biggest successes, but at the time she was the one inside the administration with the greatest reluctance to engage with Iran. She wasn’t interested in engaging with Iran with the goal of resolving he dispute, but as a way of pinning blame on Iran in the event that engagement failed to produce results. Later on, in response to the opportunity afforded by Rouhani’s election, Clinton’s instinct was to resort to more punitive measures:
After she left the State Department, Mrs. Clinton diverged from Mr. Obama on a central tactical question: whether to impose harsh new sanctions on the Iranians after they elected Hassan Rouhani, who had run for president seeking better relations with the West to ease Iran’s economic isolation. Mrs. Clinton was swayed by many in Congress, as well as by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who argued Iran was so desperate for a deal that tightening the vise would have extracted better terms.
“She would have squeezed them again,” a person who has worked with her for several years said, “and the only debate is what they would have done.”
It was fairly obvious at the time, and it is even more clear in retrospect, that imposing additional sanctions would have derailed nuclear diplomacy with Iran and frittered away the chance to secure a deal. Fortunately, Clinton was no longer Secretary of State at the time when she took this position. The fact that she came down on the side of more sanctions at that critical juncture shows us that she tends to opt for punitive and coercive measures first and only then does she think about negotiating. This fits into the larger pattern of Clinton’s tenure at State, where she was often endorsing militarized options and neglecting diplomatic ones. If she did that as our chief diplomat, we should assume that she would do more of the same as president.
As discouraging as all this is, that is not the extent of the problems with Clinton on foreign policy. New conflicts and crises will emerge over the next four years, and once she is president we have every reason to believe that Clinton’s response will be to involve the U.S. in them more aggressively than her predecessor. The danger of a Clinton presidency is not just that she will probably escalate U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria, but that when she is faced with a choice between taking sides in a new conflict and staying out of it we can practically guarantee that she will choose the former. That is what Clinton has done in every other major debate over U.S. intervention abroad, and we should assume that is what she would do as president.
Miller concludes by saying that Clinton “may be as reluctant to use force as Barack Obama has been,” which is to say that she may only start two wars, escalate a third, lend support to a fourth, and carry out drone strikes in at least half a dozen countries. When we look at it this way, it is hardly reassuring to be told that Clinton may not be that much more aggressive than Obama, but we have every reason to expect that she will be much more aggressive than he has been. Indeed, one of the main reasons why so many foreign policy establishment figures are looking forward to a Clinton presidency is that they take for granted that she will be.