Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy

David Adesnik offers a trenchant analysis of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy beginning with the observation that, “The challenge with Hillary (as with so many politicians) is to separate the tactical opinions from the heartfelt principles.”

Aside from “an interest in women’s issues in the developing world, especially micro-lending programs,” he finds little evidence for any consistent, strongly held principles. After reading her autobiography, he “feel[s] pretty comfortable saying that Hillary has nothing much to say about foreign policy or national security at all.”

In my review, I pointed out some of the vague comments she made about Vietnam, as well as other foreign policy issues, in order to illustrate just how unformed Hillary’s approach to foreign affairs seems to be.


By the same token, Hillary’s refusal to renounce her initial support for the war in Iraq has antagonized much of the Democratic base. I find it very interesting to watch Hillary on this issue, since my working hypothesis is that she saw exactly how John Kerry was raked over the coals for being inconsistent, and believes that it is more important now to play to independent voters by being consistent than to play to her base by breathing fire.

In other words, I think that tactical considerations are the decisive factor for Hillary, but her timeline has always extended out to 2008, so she doesn’t rush about taking all sorts of inconsistent positions like your average legislator.

Being largely non-ideological on foreign policy issues and taking positions on that that are calculated for maximum electoral advantage is hardly unusual for American politicians, even those running for president. Aside from some vague sentiments about Haitian immigration that he later regretted expressing once elected, Bill Clinton got elected without a foreign policy agenda. With the notable and consistent exception of free trade, he left office without obviously having developed a coherent view of foreign relations.

During the Cold War, foreign policy was a bedrock issue for presidential campaigns. That was not the case in 1992, 1996, or 2000. There has been some resurgence in the post-9/11 era, although whether that’s permanent is unclear. If our involvement in Iraq has wound down by the 2008 campaign, it’s entirely possible that the race will be decided chiefly on domestic issues.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Most presidents, including the current officeholder, come to the presidency without much interest in foreign policy. That’s a shame since it’s one of the president’s relatively few constitutional areas of influence. We don’t really need a governor-at-large.

    But foreign policy has a way of intruding itself into the presidency and willy-nilly occupies an ever-greater part of the president’s attention however little he (or she) may be interested in it.

  2. Ratoe says:

    If our involvement in Iraq has wound down by the 2008 campaign, it�s entirely possible that the race will be decided chiefly on domestic issues.

    Remember Bush’s foreign policy campaign platform in 2000 was largely against nation-building! We see how long that lasted! According to the Boston Post, Bush’s courageous foreign policy ideas including keeping sanctions on Cuba and moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem!

    The guy basically campaigned on wanting to be the nation’s School Board Superintendant. Given his paltry interest in and knowledge about foreign policy, the utter failure of his administration in this regard–and the enduring damage that it has done to the country’s security–makes it clear that the next president ought to have some competence and understanding about the world outside of the United States.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Ratoe: Yes, as noted in the post, the 2000 campaign was decided on domestic issues. The public is generally not all that interested in foreign policy and few presidents come to office with any real FP experience.

  4. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘on that that are ‘

    ‘on that which are’

  5. lily says:

    It is unfortunate that foreign affairs is thought of primarily as war and matters immediately related to war.
    I’d like to see leadership on global warming, population control, the changing global economy, stopping the illegal trafficking in weapons material, reducing tensions between Isreal and Palestine…well that one is clearly war-related. Anyway the point is affairs with foriegners is a much broader matter than who we might fight in the near future. But Americans don’t seem to think about foreign affairs much until the shooting starts.

  6. DaveD says:

    Maybe foreign policy becomes attractive once in office because, being Commander-In-Chief and having the State Department under the executive branch, changes in foreign policy on a day-to-day basis are less stifled by Congessional oversight than changes in domestic policy. Just a thought.

  7. Bithead says:

    The public is generally not all that interested in foreign policy

    After 9/11 I’m not convinced that’s going to be the case any longer.

    few presidents come to office with any real FP experience.

    Bill Clinton for example, run on not knowing a damned thing about FP… you may notice where that got us. Again, I’m not convicned the public is going to deal with the FP of the past.

    Which, I note with some irony, means they’re not going to be overly happy about someone with a great deal of FP experience, given that such people will tend to push us into the failed FP of the past.