Only with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as her primary opponent and Donald Trump waiting in the wings could Hillary Clinton, carrying the baggage of nearly eight years of President Obama’s foreign policy failures, go on offense successfully. That is exactly what she is doing in advance of tonight’s Democratic debate.
Instead of ideology, Clinton’s foreign policy backers are taking on Sanders for what we have spotted — a total lack of interest and complete ignorance on an array of subjects. Her campaign released a letter signed by a flock of center-left foreign policy gurus slamming Sanders:
Senator Sanders was asked specific – but not unexpected or unusual – questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He couldn’t answer, but said that if he ‘had some paper’ in front of him, he might be able to. He was asked his opinion on key parts of the Obama Administration’s counter-terrorism strategy. Again, he couldn’t answer. That’s concerning, especially just a few weeks after the attack in Brussels. The same goes for what he said about how he’d go about interrogating captured terrorists if he were President. ‘Actually, I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,’ he said. That’s surprising, to say the least – particularly given the dangerous proposals we’re hearing from Republicans on using torture and keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open.
These were not ‘gotcha’ questions. As people who have advised presidents on critical issues like these, we know how important it is to have a Commander-in-Chief who has a deep grasp of them – or who, at the very least, takes them seriously enough to reach beyond the basics. We respect Senator Sanders’s passion for building a better America, but we are troubled by his continued inability to articulate a vision of our nation’s role in the world.
They have a strong case, as does Clinton in an op-ed going after Trump’s foreign policy buffoonery. “So when Donald Trump says ‘we need unpredictability’ when it comes to nuclear weapons, when he talks casually about actually using these weapons, and when he says he sees no problem in letting more countries develop nuclear weapons, he’s not just wrong,” she writes. “This kind of loose talk is dangerous.” She goes on to list her own nonproliferation ideas, which are humdrum, but her diagnosis of Trump, a dangerous ignoramus, will resonate with many voters.
Because her current and potential opponents are so bad, one could also miss the irony in her prescriptions: “We’ll seek to reduce the amount of nuclear material worldwide. This should include negotiating a global ban on producing additional materials for nuclear weapons, and working with other countries to minimize the use of weapons-grade material for civil nuclear programs.” It was under her former boss, of course, that North Korea continued its nuclear program and Iran got a glide path to nuclear breakout. It was under Obama that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime was diluted so that Iran could self-inspect its own military sites and avoid fessing up about past military dimensions of its program.
A competent and informed Democrat or Republican could raise these points and force her to either distance herself from or embrace Obama’s rotten record on nukes. Instead, voters may go racing into her arms for fear someone like Sanders or Trump might get his finger on the button. This, Republicans, is how you blow a winnable presidential race.