Josh Kraushaar surveys the likely field of 2016 candidates and finds that they are generally taking more hawkish positions on foreign policy than Obama. Here he talks about Clinton:
These aren’t the musings of a presidential candidate who believes that voters are satisfied with the president’s approach to foreign policy. She’s trying to create some space between her views and Obama’s, but she’s boxed in by being involved with his administration’s foreign policy for four years. Indeed, her hawkish turn is all the more notable, given that her support of the Iraq War in 2003 led to her political demise five years later. The fact that she’s once again positioning herself as a hawk is a sign she’s concerned that voters may be looking for a tougher commander in chief come 2016—in stark contrast to the political environment of 2008.
Clinton’s recent remarks haven’t been driven by concerns about what voters may want in two years, but rather by her reliable pattern of aligning herself with whatever she perceives the current foreign policy consensus to be. She has always taken relatively more hawkish positions than Obama, and as a member of the administration she could be relied on to take the more hawkish side of every debate. Clinton was one of the main supporters of intervention in Libya, she backed escalation in Afghanistan, and wanted a more aggressive Syria policy. Her reaction to the Ukraine crisis fits the pattern. Now that she is no longer part of the administration, she is doing the same thing, but now she can do so publicly. That is what she has consistently done, and that is what she thinks will appeal to foreign policy elites.
She is being treated as the overwhelming favorite for her party’s nomination, so she probably isn’t worried that her hawkish positions will provoke a serious challenge from the left. Even if there are voters and activists interested in supporting an antiwar candidate, they don’t really have any competitive candidates to get behind. In the absence of such a challenge, she presumably feels no need to placate progressives that find fault with Obama for being too hawkish. We should assume that she will try to push the Democrats in the direction of a more aggressive foreign policy, and so far there is not much reason to expect a lot of resistance to this inside the party. Most Democratic voters aren’t going to be pleased by the results, but it seems unlikely that enough voters are going to reject Clinton primarily on foreign policy grounds for this to matter. However, if foreign policy does matter much more in the next election than it did in 2012, it is possible that Clinton’s hawkish positioning could prove to be a significant liability once she gets to the general election. Then again, if Republicans nominate a knee-jerk interventionist it will be easier for Clinton to get away with being far more hawkish than most of her party.