- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

The campaign combat on national security issues between Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama has focused mostly on Iraq, with little public discussion about how each would reshape foreign policy if one of them becomes president.

While they have fought for months in open debate over their positions on whose withdrawal plan would remove U.S. troops from Iraq faster, their larger national security, defense and foreign-policy positions — with few exceptions — have been mostly consigned to policy position papers and a war of words between each other’s campaign advisers that rarely draws much public attention.

Some of their position papers on the war contain carefully crafted policy caveats that appear to contradict or undercut their promises of complete withdrawal from Iraq — caveats seldom, if ever, used in their stump speeches.

While they have sought to sharpen differences in their bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, questions have been raised about how deep those differences actually go, since many of their national security and foreign policy advisers are people from the Clinton administration.

Such questions raised “a common suspicion that despite all his talk about providing ‘change,’ the Obama campaign’s differences with Hillary Clinton on foreign policy may be more stylistic than substantive,” foreign policy analyst Ari Berman wrote last month in the leftist Nation magazine.

“I don’t think there are huge differences between them. The differences are generally modest,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a Democratic defense and foreign policy adviser at the Brookings Institution who describes himself as “a Clinton supporter.”

“Clinton has a lot more experience. I don”t think Obama”s claim about bringing a fresh approach is all that important to foreign policy. I think she has an advantage over Obama overseas,” said Mr. O”Hanlon who has been a leading Democratic supporter of the military surge in Iraq.

Both of them would immediately begin a phased pullout of troops from Iraq, regardless of the military situation on the ground. But Mrs. Clinton would leave some U.S. military forces there for an indeterminate period, while Mr. Obama would remove all U.S. combat forces from the country.

His plan calls for withdrawing “one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months,” according to a position paper on his campaign Web site. “I will end the war in Iraq,” he has said numerous times in debate with his chief rival.

But he qualifies this promise with one rarely mentioned proviso: “If al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.”

Mrs. Clinton’s position on Iraq has been changing ever since she voted for the Senate resolution to go to war to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Initially, she opposed setting a timetable for withdrawal, but abandoned that position as antiwar pressure mounted in her party and Mr. Obama began drawing increased support from Democrats as he compared her vote to invade Iraq with his unalterable opposition to the war.

Late last year, she pledged to begin withdrawing troops in the first 60 days of her presidency, but she resisted calls for a complete pullout. Then she further shifted her position in December when she said “we can bring nearly everybody home, you know, certainly within a year.”

But at the bottom of her campaign Web site’s position paper on “Ending The War In Iraq,” she has a qualifier that underscores “our very strategic interests in the region.”

“She would devote the resources we need to fight terrorism and will order specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region” including Iraq.

“I’m troubled about what they both say about Iraq. He’s the one who wants to get out very fast, unconditionally, and to some extent, he’s pulled her along,” Mr. O”Hanlon said.

“But if you read Hillary”s words carefully, she places a little more emphasis on getting out carefully, though I don”t think her words are careful enough,” he said.

“Still, if you add up all of their differences, they both fail on Iraq. They both would get out very fast. They both are advocating a policy that unless significantly modified would lead to a reversal of our military progress in 2007,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton’s team of defense and foreign policy advisers is made up almost entirely of her husband’s top foreign policy strategists, including former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger, who was caught stealing classified Clinton documents from the National Archives.

Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark and former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, whose wife was the central figure in the CIA-leak investigation, are also advising her.

Notably, Mr. Holbrooke has taken a hawkish position on Iran, calling it in 2004 “an enormous threat to the United States, the stability of the region and to the state of Israel.” He advised Mrs. Clinton to take a strong stand against its regime, according to Democratic foreign policy analysts.

Last year, though, Mrs. Clinton came under fire from antiwar activists when she voted for a bipartisan Senate resolution condemning the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization that was responsible for roadside bombings and other attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

Antiwar critics saw the vote as an attempt by the Bush administration to prepare to go to war against Iran unless it abandoned its ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama opposed the resolution but missed the vote because he was campaigning.

Many of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy advisers are also from the Clinton administration, including former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, Susan E. Rice, an assistant secretary of state during Mr. Clinton’s second term, and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.

Also on his team are Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brezezinski, and former National Security Agency counterterrorism specialist Richard Clarke.

A key foreign policy clash that developed during debates between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama arose when he called for a change in dealing with rogue nations, saying he would hold unconditional talks with leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

Mrs. Clinton called his proposal “irresponsible and, frankly, naive.”

Mr. Obama shot back, charging that her approach was outdated and represented a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies.

Mr. Obama’s foreign policy emphasizes personal diplomacy, economic development and humanitarian aid, and he rejects the pre-emptive policies of the Bush administration that led to the war in Iraq. “For most of our history, our crises have come from using force when we shouldn’t, not by failing to use force,” he told the New York Times.

“The United States is trapped by the Bush-Cheney approach to diplomacy that refuses to talk to leaders we don’t like. Not talking doesn’t make us look tough; it makes us look arrogant,” he says on his campaign Web site.

But Mr. O”Hanlon thinks Mr. Obama”s eagerness for one-on-one meetings with leaders of rogue nations “would cheapen the value of a presidential summits.”

“You don”t want a president using his time by being lied to by foreign leaders. Hillary would be much more pragmatic. She suggested midlevel talks with Iran. Obama would look weak, and Hillary would not look weak,” he said.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide