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Clinton and Foreign Policy Competence

Noah Millman continues the discussion on Rand Paul and foreign policy, and considers how he would match up against Hillary Clinton:

She won’t run on the need to confront evil in Syria, or Ukraine, or wherever; she’ll run on competence, not ideology [bold mine-DL].

This jumped out at me because Clinton doesn’t have any particular claim to foreign policy competence. Her tenure at State during Obama’s first term was very busy in terms of traveling around the world, but one would be hard-pressed to identify any successful major policies that Clinton could take credit for. Obama centralized foreign policy decisions in the White House to a great degree while she was the Secretary of State, and many of the major policies that Clinton is known to have supported don’t help her to claim competence in this area. As an advocate for arming the Syrian opposition, pushing for regime change in Libya, and backing escalation in Afghanistan, Clinton routinely took the more hawkish side in every internal administration debate, and that put her on what proved to be the wrong side of some of the most important decisions of the first term. For that matter, the main reason that Clinton is ever credited with foreign policy competence is that she reliably takes the conventional and “consensus” position on every major issue. In other words, her claim to competence is that she sticks to a predictably hawkish line. She would have to emphasize ideology, since that is what her foreign policy reputation is based on in the first place. She could also try to use the experience argument, but that didn’t work very well for her the last time, and it is doubtful that it would work again in the future. When forced to choose between the very experienced politician with poor judgment and the relative newcomer with somewhat decent judgment, voters will choose the latter with remarkable frequency.

Update: Millman responds:

I just don’t think Clinton is going to run on a platform of “She’ll keep us at war.” Rather, she will claim that she has the experience to know how to negotiate effectively and get results without war, and the clout to build a broad coalition of international support when the use of force is necessary. Whereas, she’ll portray Paul as a naive ideologue who doesn’t understand how the world works. Her actual foreign policy preferences are quite close to Senator McCain’s, but she won’t make jokes about bombing Iran, and won’t present herself as the heir to “bear any burden, pay any price.”

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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