Hillary Clinton is never one to lead from the front. It was former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who got on a plane to show solidarity with the Israelis and debunk the need for a flight ban. It was a group of GOP senators who introduced a bill to preclude more extensions of the interim Iran agreement and require that a final deal be submitted to the Senate. It was a small group of Democratic senators including Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) who demanded that the president take action against Russia. But where has Hillary Clinton been? (Yes, we know — scrounging up every last buck in speaking fees and hawking her poorly selling book.)
Clinton now insists that Russian reset “worked” (seriously?!). Other than that, we have not heard much from her on the most important foreign policy issues of the moment. She is not one to stake out a position, worry about politics later and endure criticism from her base. (She tried that on the authorization for the Iraq war and look where it got her.) Before we get to the substance of the issues, then, it is fair to ask if Clinton won’t speak up for fear of annoying her base before she has even declared her candidacy, how fearless would she be once in office with reelection looming ahead? Not very, I suspect.
If a tough reporter gets a hold of her, he or she might start asking questions about specific issues. If she had been president, what would Hillary Clinton have done when:
The Green Revolution broke out?
Iran tried to knock off a Saudi official on U.S. soil?
The Iraqi prime minister gave his guarantee of immunity to allow troops to remain in Iraq? When the Islamic State started sweeping through Iraq?
The choice was whether to set a deadline on the Afghanistan surge and later whether to set a date for a final pullout of troops?
After the Libyan war reports started to surface that jihadis were pouring into the country?
Bashar al-Assad first started killing his own people? Used chemical weapons?
Russia invaded Crimea? When it continued to stoke war in Ukraine? Backed separatists who took down an airline?
The National Security Agency program became known and controversial?
Iran insisted on sanctions relief and a sunset provision in an interim deal without destroying a single centrifuge?
An American jihadist overseas could be killed by a drone?
It’s remarkable that we don’t know the answers to these questions. Clinton has managed the press to such a degree that she has never had to answer them. But if she runs, she will have to. And so will the GOP contenders.
For the senators who are contemplating a run, we know in many cases how they actually reacted when these issues arose. In some cases, their stance was indistinguishable from President Obama’s (or even less indicative of a leader who understands that we remain at war with jihadists). In other cases, they understood the stakes and recommended forceful action (assist Iraq in battling the Islamic State, move swiftly with sanctions against Russia when it first threatened Crimea). We know far less about the governors who are potential candidates, with Rick Perry being the most detailed and forceful. But every candidate who throws his or her hat into the ring better be able to spell out what they would have done in these instances and how they would act going forward. It’s not enough to affix a label to oneself (Reaganite! Liberal interventionist!).
At the most fundamental level, each candidate will have to say if Obama’s foreign policy was a success or failure. The president thinks everything is going swimmingly, but the vast majority of people not in his employ who are following events — including our allies — disagree.
The questions for voters in an election that appears to be focusing much more on foreign policy than any election in recent memory will be: Who did show good judgment, and who was bold and consistent regardless of the political consequences? Who has spent the time and effort to master the issues and prepare for the presidency, and whose instincts would you trust going forward? Given what a mess the world has become under the current president, the voters had better be extra careful that the next president has the skill, spine and judgment to clean it up.