Clinton Vows A Tougher, More Active Foreign Policy

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

'I think we have not done enough’ on Syria, Russia, cybersecurity, and more, she says.

Hillary Clinton edged closer on Wednesday to unveiling a Clinton Doctrine 3.0: “Yes, and.”

Speaking at the Brookings Institution, the former secretary of state advocated not only for accepting the nuclear deal with Tehran, but implementing a broader, “whole-of-region” approach of which Iran is only a part.

“It’s not enough to just say yes to this deal; of course it is isn’t,” she said in a speech that her campaign officials had billed as an attempt to turn the electoral conversation toward foreign policy. “We have to say ‘yes, and.’ Yes, and we will enforce it with vigor and vigilance. Yes, and we will embed it in a broader strategy to confront Iran’s bad behavior in the region.”

In grim, steely tones, she described a tougher version of the “pressure and engagement” strategy that she pushed as a senator and then Secretary of State. It’s an evolution, she said, driven by years of being on the “diplomatic frontlines” of some of the most intractable global security challenges. And she offered a raft of specifics — but was vaguer about underlying principles.

Among the elements of her whole-of-region approach, she said, would be increased efforts to counter Iranian (or Russian) aggression “even if that takes the form of cyberattacks or other non-traditional threats.” She said she would reassure Gulf allies — and discourage them from seeking their own nuclear weapons — by increasing their military support, selling them more missile defenses, and sharing more intelligence. She said she’d “sustain a robust military presence in the region,” particularly Air Force and Navy assets, and “keep the strait of Hormuz open.” And she’d stiffen U.S. guarantees of Israel’s regional military superiority by increasing “support for Israeli rocket and missile defenses and for intelligence sharing,” by spending more to develop and implement better tunnel-detection technology, and by “selling them the most sophisticated aircraft ever developed — the F-35.”

She also said would boost support for robust civil society, from adversaries like Iran to friendly Gulf allies. “I think we were too constrained in our support of the protests in 2009 and in our condemnation of the government in the crackdown that followed,” Clinton said.

Her Wednesday speech was not the ringing endorsement of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal or his doctrine that one might expect from his former secretary of state. She named a wide variety of foreign-policy conundrums — from the annexation of Crimea, to Syria and the regime of Bashar al Assad, to Russia and the Arctic, to cybersecurity (all interconnected, she said) on which, “I think we have not done enough. I am in the category of people who wanted us to do more.”

She reiterated her willingness — greater than Obama’s, she implied — to wield the threat of force to back engagement, and, after exhausting other diplomatic avenues, make good on it. “I will take whatever actions are necessary to protect the U.S. and its allies and I will not hesitate to take military action,” she said. “And I will set up my successor to be able to credibly make the same pledge.”

On Syria, she said, “We have to do more against [Syrian President] Bashar Assad,” including “a meaningful increase in our efforts to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition — something I called for early in the conflict.” She also wants to do “much more to assist the millions of those displaced by the conflict,” and suggested an emergency “pledge conference” at the United Nations to get commitments from the global community to either take in more Syrian refugees or give more money for relief, noting she was involved in a similar effort following the earthquake in Haiti.

She also vowed a relentless effort on behalf of U.S. citizens imprisoned abroad. “I will not rest until every single American detained or missing in Iran is brought home,” she said.

Still, at times, Clinton seemed to offer more “been there, done that” than “do what, specifically.” She said, for example, that the U.S. currently lacks a cohesive, nonpartisan foreign policy guided by clear organizing principles.

“There are good stakes in the ground but we don’t have a strategy yet that is going to be consistent … I think one of our real problems right now is we don’t have a consistent foreign policy that is bipartisan, much less non partisan,” she said. “I don’t know how we rebuild a consistent foreign policy from administration to administration, regardless of Republican or Democratic.”

She added, “We can’t work at it if we don’t have a set of strategic pillars and organizing principles that we can present to our own people and present to the Congress and present to the world.”

She did not specify which pillars or principles she would build upon.

The Iran Challenge

The Iran deal represents an interesting challenge for the 2016 presidential candidates. This week, it is at the forefront of the Washington news cycle as Congress debates and votes on the agreement. Longer-term, it is not Obama but the next commander in chief will preside over much of its implementation and enforcement. No candidate feels this more acutely than Clinton, who has a particularly complicated relationship with the diplomatic twists and turns that led to the deal.

Clinton began her senatorial career as an Iran hawk; she says she “voted for every sanction that came down the pike” As a presidential candidate in 2008, she called Obama “reckless and naive” for saying he’d engage Iran without conditions. She also pledged to “totally obliterate” Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel, prompting Tehran to file a complaint at the U.N.

But when she joined the new Obama administration, she and her State Department fought hard against sanctions legislation — and then, once the sanctions regime was in place, kickstarted covert talks with Iran that eventually resulted in the multilateral nuclear negotiations.

During a call with reporters last week, campaign officials said the Brookings speech and a few other events would be part of an attempt to shift focus to Clinton’s foreign-policy credentials, which Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri described as “one of her strongest selling points.”

“Foreign policy hasn’t gotten as much attention on the campaign trail as we think is warranted,” Palmieri said.

In her speech, Clinton criticized her rivals’ lack of foreign policy experience. She once again alluded to the opposition of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to reopening relations with Cuba, and to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s support for sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.

On the Iran deal, she professed her respect for those who considered the deal seriously but reached a different conclusion, such as New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer. “I have a harder time with those approaching an issue as serious as this with unserious talk, especially anyone running to be the president of the U.S.” She dismissed rivals’ threats to throw out the deal: “That’s not leadership — that’s recklessness.”

“Is it perfect? Well, of course not; no agreement like this ever is. But is it a strong agreement? Yes, it is, and we absolutely should not turn it down,” she said. “It accomplished the major goals we set out to achieve: it blocks every pathway for Iran to get a bomb, and it gives us better tools.”

She noted the expiration of certain nuclear restrictions after 15 years — “we need to be vigilant about that” — and that some inspections could take 24 days to be conducted — “I’d be the first to say this part of a deal is not perfect,” she said, while noting the deal allows daily monitoring of the supply chain.

“If we walk away now,” she said. “We will be blamed, not the Iranians … great powers can’t just junk agreements and expect the rest of the world to go along with us.”

In a twist on Ronald Reagan’s chestnut about nuclear deals with the Soviet Union, Clinton said her starting position on the Iran deal would be “distrust, but verify”: “Those of us who have been out there on the diplomatic frontlines know that diplomacy is not the pursuit of perfection but the balancing of risk,” she said.`

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