Hillary Clinton and her phalanx of aides and spinners appear to have worked out a strategy for dealing with the growing incompetency and unpopularity of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. It goes like this: I support the administration on X, but I would have done X better. So under me, X would be a success.
That is how she framed her position on Iran negotiations, on the Taliban terrorist swap and any other nettlesome issue in which she fears backlash from the liberal base of the Democratic Party. She dares not say, “The Iran negotiations are foolish and only provide Iran with space to develop its nuclear weapons.” So instead she says, “I would be a tougher negotiator.”
The gambit at first glance is clever and effective. For one thing, it is hard to gauge Clinton’s ability to execute President Obama’s flawed policies more effectively, and second, it plays into the public’s conviction that he is weak and she is tough-minded. But ultimately, like most everything Clinton says, the positioning is a dodge.
In making the “But I will do it better” argument, she avoids analyzing whether the policy itself, not simply its implementation, is flawed. Secretary of State John F. Kerry was, admittedly, a buffoonish negotiator in the “peace process,” and Obama was incapable of getting along with Israel’s elected government. But the “peace process” itself is inherently flawed since the Palestinians have no desire to give up the right of return and recognize the Jewish state. Clinton, like her ex-boss and successor, got this wrong.
As with so many other aspects of Hillary Clinton, this sort of evasion is unlikely to be ended by tough media grilling. There is no inclination evident to take down the scaffolding Clinton is erecting around her fragile record. It therefore demands a verbally adept and knowledgeable opponent. The GOP nominee will need to spot the dodge, find the flaw in the underlying policy and press Clinton to either embrace or reject it. It is not easy, but a foreign policy novice with only surface understanding of the issues is going to be bested. Clinton may not have been an effective secretary of state. She may have been a rotten manager. But she is a world-class evader, capable of deflecting inquiry and running out the clock. Republicans underestimate at their own risk the talent they will need to upend her rhetorical shiftiness.