As a former senator and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has a long foreign policy track record. That record suggests she’d be more hawkish than President Obama — and many of her fellow Democrats. But don’t expect her to go overboard. She knows all too well the political price that can come with military intervention.
Here are four things to know about Clinton’s approach to foreign policy:
1. She’s experienced
If Clinton is elected, she’ll have more foreign policy experience than any president since George H.W. Bush. She traveled extensively as first lady and as a senator and logged nearly a million miles visiting 112 countries as secretary of state. “Hillary Clinton is really the rare candidate with a long track record,” said Elizabeth Saunders, a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The former secretary will try to make that background an asset in the campaign, arguing the country can ill afford a president who needs on-the-job training. “Our new commander in chief will walk into the Oval Office and find a world of hard choices and tough problems,” Clinton told an audience at Stanford this spring. “So the stakes could not be higher.”
2. She’s more hawkish than President Obama
Clinton is less reticent when it comes to deploying military force than President Obama. While she hasn’t advocated large-scale ground operations, she has pushed for the creation of “safe zones” in Syria, and she was a strong advocate for the U.S. military intervention in Libya. “Her default preference seems to be for action,” Saunders said. “People have described her as having a preference for being ‘caught trying.’ She’d rather do something and be criticized for it than be criticized for doing nothing at all.” That distinguishes Clinton’s foreign policy approach from Obama’s, whose instinctive caution has been summed up by the phrase, “Don’t Do Stupid [Stuff].”
3. She might not be that hawkish
If Obama’s caution is, in part, a reaction to the excesses of the George W. Bush era, Clinton’s more aggressive posture might reflect a reversion to the mean. But don’t expect her to go overboard. After all, she paid a political price for backing Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as the Libyan intervention in 2011, which left a violent vacuum in which four Americans were later killed in Benghazi.
“Given the fact that many of her decisions to use military force have come back to haunt the United States generally and Hillary Clinton specifically, she may well have to temper some of those hawkish instincts in the service of prudence. And the reality is that we have very bad options,” said veteran Middle East diplomat Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center. Clinton has criticized some of the more hawkish proposals from Republican candidates for indiscriminate bombing of ISIS. “Proposing that doesn’t make you sound tough. It makes you sound like you’re in over your head,” Clinton said at Stanford. “Slogans aren’t a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.”
4. She’s concerned about alliances
Compared to her remaining presidential rivals Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Clinton is a committed internationalist. “For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have understood that America’s alliances make us stronger,” Clinton told the Stanford audience in March. “Turning our back on our alliances or turning our alliance into a protection racket would reverse decades of bipartisan American leadership and send a dangerous signal to friend and foe alike.”
Erstwhile Republican White House hopeful Carly Fiorina complained that all of Clinton’s globetrotting as secretary of state produced little in the way of concrete agreements. But the Council on Foreign Relations’ Saunders says that’s too simplistic. “Diplomacy is important but it’s not always dramatic,” Saunders said. “Most high-level diplomatic travel by the president or secretary of state is really about tending to relationships.”