Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Experience

Hillary Clinton’s constant touting of her vast foreign policy experience is finally starting to get examined. Suddenly, the scales are falling off the eyes of a willing press corps who are saying, Oh, that’s right, she actually doesn’t have any foreign policy experience. I’m reminded of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes although one would hope the parallels stopped short of Clinton parading around in public naked; nobody wants to see that.

At any rate, Clinton’s most recent statement on the matter is finally raising eyebrows:

You know, I was involved for 15 years in, you know, foreign policy and security policy. You know, I helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland. I negotiated open borders to let fleeing refugees into safety from Kosovo. I’ve been standing up against, you know, the Chinese government over women’s rights and standing up for human rights in many different places. I’ve served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I was the only senator of either party asked to be on an important task force put together by the Pentagon under this administration to figure out what to do with our military going forward.

Lord David Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Northern Ireland, calls these claims “silly.”

“I don’t know there was much she did apart from accompanying Bill [Clinton] going around,” he said. Her recent statements about being deeply involved were merely “the sort of thing people put in their canvassing leaflets” during elections. “She visited when things were happening, saw what was going on, she can certainly say it was part of her experience. I don’t want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player.”

Another source who should know, albeit one with an obvious agenda in downplaying Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments, piles on:

“She was never asked to do the heavy lifting” when meeting with foreign leaders, said Susan Rice, who was an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration and is now advising Obama. “She wasn’t asked to move the mountain or deliver a harsh message or a veiled threat. It was all gentle prodding or constructive reinforcement. And it would not have been appropriate for her to do the heavy lifting.”

Several other observers say much the same thing in that piece. An exception:

Former Sen. George Mitchell, who was the lead U.S. negotiator, said Clinton’s visits were “very helpful.” “She was especially involved in encouraging women to get involved in the peace process,” which was a “significant factor” in the agreement, Mitchell said in an interview.

Josh Marshall‘s post on the subject is entitled “Please.”

These are the sorts of puffed up claims that get other candidates held up to mockery and derision. But Clinton is using them as cudgels in her effort to portray Obama as a lightweight with no experience dealing with foreign policy crises. And basically she’s getting a pass. I guess it speaks to the advantages of staying on offense, which can never be gainsaid. But she’s still getting a big pass on this and a lot else.

Hilzoy compiles a blow-by-blow on Clinton’s claims and finds them, to say the least, strained. Bruce McQuain has some fun, too.

Ultimately, I more-or-less agree with Steve Benen on this.

Clinton, as far as I’m concerned, is qualified to be commander-in-chief. She’s been a senator for eight years; she’s a bright and creative thinker; she’s served on the Senate Armed Services Committee; and she’s seen various foreign policy failures and successes up close over the last 16 years. If she were president, she’d have my full confidence.

Which is all the more reason that I’m puzzled by the style and substance of her campaign pitch. Clinton simply isn’t a Joe Biden-like candidate. Why pretend that she is? And should she get the nomination, won’t this mistake be magnified by an opponent whose background is more extensive than her own?

At the very least, she’s making John McCain’s job easier in November, especially if Obama is the candidate. And, even Clinton pulls off the upset, she has bolstered McCain’s premise, that experience in matters of international security is the top voting issue by which a president should be judged, very nicely.

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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. yetanotherjohn says:

    Both democrats resumes are thin on experience. What they are doing is setting things up for people to recognize the McCain has a great deal more experience and accomplishments.

    Case in point, handling a foreign crisis call. As Obama’s aide said, neither of them is ready to take the 3AM call. When polled 42% would want McCain to take the call, 25% Obama and 25% Clinton. Independents favored McCain 39% to 27% for Obama and 18% for Clinton.

    The democrats better hope that the world is incredibly peaceful between now and November if they don’t want voters to be reminded of who the grown up is in the race.

  2. Bandit says:

    She did a pisser job witht he whole Iraq war thing – she supported Bush so she didn’t look like a chicken now she’s tried every lie humanly possible to pretend she didn’t. With that kind of experience what could possibly go wrong.

  3. Bithead says:

    Clinton, as far as I’m concerned, is qualified to be commander-in-chief. She’s been a senator for eight years; she’s a bright and creative thinker; she’s served on the Senate Armed Services Committee; and she’s seen various foreign policy failures and successes up close over the last 16 years. If she were president, she’d have my full confidence.

    The issue being avoided here would seem to me to be her ability at identifying which was a success and which was a failure. As an example, her claims about Iraq as a failure render her judgment as very suspect to say the very least.

    As it stands, neither one of the two Democrat contenders is ready for prime time, as one of the hired help in Obama’s camp allowed, the other day.

  4. DL says:

    Forget the Emperor’s New Clothes fairy tale -try this one -it’s more appropriate and less visually disgusting at 6 AM.

    Aw who wants a commander-in-chief whose nose grows every time she opens her mouth.

  5. Dr. Edward Patrick Hill says:


    (11 YEARS TOTAL Source: Library of Congress)
    *Eight (8) years total elected service to the Illinois Senate (1996 -2004)
    *Three (3) years total elected service to the U.S. Senate (2005 -2008)

    (7 YEARS TOTAL:Source Library of Congress)
    *Seven (7) years total elected legislative service to the U.S Senate (2001 -2008)
    *U.S. FIRST LADY DOES NOT COUNT as elected legislative service (1993 -2001)

    SPONSORED 823 BILLS in the ILLINOIS SENATE from 1996 to 2004(Source: New York Times)

    *Since Jan 4, 2005 SENATOR BARACK OBAMA has SPONSORED 129 BILLS over and has CO-SPONSORED 545 BILLS (Source: Washington Post)

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    Dr. Ed,

    You may want to look beyond the numbers on Obama in the Illinois senate.

    When asked about his legislative record, Obama rattles off several bills he sponsored as an Illinois lawmaker.

    He expanded children’s health insurance; made the state Earned Income Tax Credit refundable for low-income families; required public bodies to tape closed-door meetings to make government more transparent; and required police to videotape interrogations of homicide suspects.

    And the list goes on.

    It’s a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues. But what’s interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.

    Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama’s seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative ­achievements.

    Then, in 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government. For the first time in 26 years, Illinois Democrats controlled the governor’s office as well as both legislative chambers.

    The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James “Pate” Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.

    Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama’s. He became Obama’s ­kingmaker.

    Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city’s most popular black call-in radio ­program.

    I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

    “He said, ‘Cliff, I’m gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'”

    “Oh, you are? Who might that be?”

    “Barack Obama.”

    Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.

    “I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen,” State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. “Barack didn’t have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.

    It is also instructive to look at the number of bills passed and their impact. Of course with both candidates being relatively new to the scene the long term wisdom of any legislative accomplishments will be hard to establish.

    Further, if this is how you would judge experience, then

    (26 YEARS TOTAL: Source Library of Congress)
    *Four (4) years total elected service to the U.S. House of Representatives (1982 – 1986)
    *Twenty-two (22) years total elected service to the U.S. Senate (1986 – 2008)

    would seem to have both beat hollow.

    If you think four more years of legislative experience (with the majority of that in the ‘minors’ at the state level) should persuade people to support Obama over Clinton, then surely twice that, eight more years of legislative experience (all at the national level), for John McCain over Obama and Clinton combined should persuade you to support John McCain. Or is that not as convenient for your position.

  7. rodney dill says:

    This Link from Drudge says it best.