Small Wars Journal

An Analysis of the Candidates on National Security and Defense Issues: Hillary Clinton

Wed, 02/17/2016 - 6:35pm

An Analysis of the Candidates on National Security and Defense Issues: Hillary Clinton

Gary Anderson

This is the third in a series of analyses of the candidates’ national security positions based primarily on information gleaned from their web sites. Part 1, Bernie Sanders, can be found here and Part 2, Donald Trump, can be found here.

Overall Evaluation. Mrs. Clinton has more national security experience than any candidate from either party having been both a Senator and Secretary of State. Unfortunately for her, that experience may be one of her biggest vulnerabilities should she receive her party’s nomination. She will be dragging three lead balls behind her. She is tied to the dismal record of the Obama administration in both foreign affairs and national security. Second, is the lingering controversy regarding Benghazi. Finally, there is the email scandal regarding classified material. If elected, Mrs. Clinton may have to, as her first act, restore her security clearance which might well be lost as a result of the ongoing investigation. As president, she would be able to restore her clearance, but it would be a poor way to start her term.

The national security section of her web site lists gender equality and LGBT rights under Core Ideals as one of the four pillars of her strategy. This comes at a time when forty-nine percent of people recently sampled in a poll no longer think the United States is the world’s strongest military power. Republicans will undoubtedly use statistics like that against her and point out the Democrats have traditionally been viewed as weak on national defense; they will likely use Barak Obama and Jimmy Carter as poster children in the campaign in order to discredit Clinton’s party in the national security area.

Mrs. Clinton sees strengthening existing alliances and building new ones a key national security concern. This may be a subtle way of promising voters that she will repair some of the damage done to relationships with key allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia during the current administration.

Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding Iraq, Sanders may well pick at her support to go to war in 2003 as a contrast to his opposition, but this could backfire given the fact that the current situation in Iraq is a problem that can be tied to Obama and the Democrats. Both Clinton and Sanders would be well advised to avoid Iraq in the primaries.

Afghanistan is mentioned in passing on her web-site where she vows to continue efforts to strengthen democracy. This is probably because Mr. Obama has not yet made a decision on final troop levels; if he withdraws troop levels to the threatened 5,500 level on his watch, Mrs. Clinton will have to develop a position as Republican nominees would most likely criticize the decision.

Dealing with the Islamic State. Mrs. Clinton breaks with President Obama and his administration only in referring to the Jihadist group as ISIS rather than the administration’s preferred acronym (ISIL).  Mrs. Clinton will continue the Obama policy of attempting to strengthen Iraq and other allies rather than sending in American troops. The bottom line is that nothing will change in the war against ISIS in a Clinton administration except what we call the enemy.

Russia, China, Libya, and North Korea.  Even Mrs. Clinton’s harshest critics concede that she is a tough cookie. Her website notes the firm stands she took with Russian and China in negotiating during her time as Secretary of State. One gets the impression that she would like to appear tougher than Obama regarding both nations as well as North Korea, but she cannot do so without implicitly criticizing the president.

Mrs. Clinton’s website vows to restore Libya. Since the state we found Libya in before the West intervened was the Gaddafi dictatorship, we can only assume that this is a result of poor editing.

Iran. Here again, Mrs. Clinton echoes the White House line. She vows to hold Iran strictly to the nuclear agreement crafted by her successor, Mr. Kerry. She promises not to allow a nuclear Iran.

Counter-terrorism and Homeland Defense. Fortunately for Mrs. Clinton, there have not been any 9-11-like events on Mr. Obama’s watch, and she is on safe ground in her website’s promise to remain vigilant abroad and to discourage radicalization ay home. She and Senator Sanders have no basic disagreements there. However, she can expect Republicans to challenge her to use the term “radical Islamic terror” which Obama assiduously avoids.

Like Mr. Sanders, Clinton sees climate change as a national security threat, but goes further in also placing contagious diseases into the threat bucket.

Pentagon Reform and the Size of the Military. Mrs. Clinton promises to keep the U.S. military on the cutting edge of technology, particularly in cyber operations. Most of President Obama’s national security appointments were Clintonites before she lost her 2008 presidential bid. Many of Obama’s appointees who have jumped ship are back at the Center for a New American Security which was informally known as “Hillary’s Defense think tank” before 2008. There will likely be little sea change in a Clinton Pentagon.

Immigration. Probably because Mrs. Clinton is vying with Mr. Sanders for the minority votes, particularly Latinos, this is not a subject discussed on her site. During the general election, if nominated, she will likely have to respond to Republican charges that the Democrats have lost control of the borders, but she appears to be ready to cross that bridge when she comes to it.

The Democratic Primaries. National Security is the third rail for both Democratic candidates in the primary. Neither wants to have to defend the Obama record. Since Senator Sanders is not a national security expert, he is unlikely to want to take on Clinton in this area. Sanders may be regretting his October decision to take Mrs. Clinton’s email scandal off the table, and neither candidate is likely to want to bring up Benghazi.

The General Election Campaign. If Hillary Clinton becomes the Republican nominee, national security will be her greatest challenge. She will be defending the decidedly shaky Obama record on foreign affairs while fending off the ghosts of her email server and Benghazi.