On June 2, 2016 Hillary Clinton made a speech in San Diego that was billed as a major foreign policy address. But it wasn’t really a foreign policy address so much as an attack on Donald Trump. The attack is richly deserved. The pity is that Trump’s fellow Republicans failed to make the case when they had the chance. Their timidity is the proximate cause of Trump’s capture of the Republican presidential nomination, and the awful possibility (however unlikely) that he could actually win the White House.
The most damning words Secretary Clinton spoke were not her own. They were Donald Trump’s. All she had to do was quote him. Consider: Trump has essentially invited Saudi Arabia, Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons thus tossing 50 years of bi-partisan (and multi-national) nuclear non-proliferation policy right out the window. He threatens to abandon NATO; he said he would order the military to torture suspected terrorists and kill their relatives, and he said he would remain neutral with respect to Israel’s security.
If Trump didn’t exactly praise China for its massacre of its citizens at Tiananmen Square he didn’t find much fault with it either. And he seems to admire North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin for their “leadership abilities”. Trump, who says he knows more about the military situation in the Middle East than the U.S. military does because he “has a good brain”, has suggested that “maybe Syria should be a free zone for ISIS”, and has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against ISIS which would, at the very least, lead to massive civilian casualties.
So Secretary Clinton has successfully made the easy-to-make case that Donald Trump is (1) an ignoramus (2) whose mental stability is suspect and (3) who should not be trusted with America’s nuclear codes, the threshold question for any presidential candidate.
But Secretary Clinton has not made anything close to a convincing case for why she should be taken seriously as a strategic thinker when it comes to foreign policy. Let’s not forget that when President Obama took office with Clinton as his Secretary of State we had two wars going on, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Now we have three—the first two plus Libya. And the ongoing disaster in Libya is the direct result of Secretary Clinton’s successfully making the case for intervention under the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine that was so fashionable at the time. And then there was pushing the “Reset” button with Russia, which in retrospect does not seem to have turned out all that well.
Obama’s drawing and abandoning “red lines” in Syria has left U.S. credibility in tatters, and that has not gone unnoticed by friends or foes. As the U.S. continues its global retreat, China ratchets up its claims in the strategically important South China Sea. Kim Jong Un tests nukes and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented pace. And let’s not forget that in 2009 the Obama Administration, including Secretary of State Clinton, accommodated Putin by pulling anti-missile defense systems out of Poland and the Czech Republic. But in the wake of its Iran deal, the Obama Administration has placed an anti-missile defense system in Romania, with plans for more in Poland no less, to protect against—Iran.
It is glaringly obvious that the world is considerably more dangerous now than it was 8 years ago. The West is increasingly vulnerable to terrorism. America’s credibility has been badly damaged. Important strategic relationships around the globe are strained. When it comes right down to it, the foreign policy record of the Obama Administration—and Hillary Clinton—is abysmal. The best she can say is that she is not Donald Trump.
And that is probably enough.