Over the next 20 months, how many enemies of the United States can President Obama outright lose to or accommodate? He has embraced Cuba, acquiesced to Iran and gone silent on Syria and continues to be ignored by Russia; he has done much to embolden our adversaries. Meanwhile, our allies — from Britain and Canada to Japan, Egypt and Israel — are at best bewildered and at worst disgusted with how this administration has conducted foreign policy over the past six years.
And the disillusionment doesn’t end there. The current RealClearPolitics average of the president’s foreign policy job approval is dismal, with 53 percent of Americans expressing disapproval of Obama’s handling of foreign policy and only 37 percent approving of the job he is doing. It doesn’t appear there is anything about a “more of the same” message on foreign policy that will sell during the 2016 campaign. In fact, things are so bad that foreign policy has broken through the American consciousness in a way that it seldom does. In the annual Pew Research survey on the public’s policy priorities, “For the first time in five years, as many Americans cite defending the U.S. against terrorism (76%) as a top policy priority as say that about strengthening the nation’s economy (75%).” Voters are worried and they want a wholesale change and a new direction.
To make matters worse, the rolling train wreck of Obama’s foreign policy could be the gift that keeps on giving. Our adversaries know they only have about 20 months left under Obama before they potentially face a more formidable opponent. The pace of their challenges to the United States might be quickening. Just in the past week, we saw Russian President Vladimir Putin approve the sale of missiles to Iran and Iran’s supreme leader publicly lecture Obama on what is and is not in the Iran nuclear framework agreement, while eager-to-please Obama gave a wet kiss to Cuba even as Raúl Castro looked bored sitting next to him.
To state the obvious, given Hillary Clinton’s role as secretary of state during the first term of the Obama administration, she can’t make a clean break from or offer herself as a contrast to Obama, so she is stuck with either:
1) A lame message of, “Our foreign policy is good but could be better” or;
2) Picking a few of the worst debacles that occurred after her departure, declaring that, “mistakes were made and I would do things differently” and hoping that will suffice.
With either tactic, she will have to rely on a compliant media and a liberal commentariat who will make excuses for her and blame Republicans.
But the Clinton campaign knows things are bad. Its messaging so far comprises some ill-fitting, vague references to the middle class and being on the side of the American worker. In her announcement video Sunday, Clinton said things any candidate could say. Clinton declared, “The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.” What candidate doesn’t want to be that champion? What makes her credible in this role?
Clinton knows she will have a lot of explaining to do. Most of her foreign policy advisers either have worked or are currently working in the Obama administration and she won’t be taken seriously if she suddenly expresses dissatisfaction with the major tenets of Obama’s foreign policy. Anyway, it’s no wonder Clinton has decided to take it slow in the first phase of her campaign. Hmm, she’s running for president and the last thing she wants right now is big crowds and plentiful encounters with the media. Maybe it will be a different kind of campaign.