Hillary’s Foreign Policy Tightrope Walk

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The New York Times is once again highlighting one of the central themes of the Democratic presidential primary: can Hillary Clinton find a way to appease the virulent ant-war base of her party while still holding on to the centrist hawk reputation she has built up over the years?

The article, Is U.S. Safer Since 9/11? Clinton and Rivals Spar, highlights the jockeying of the D’s to be seen as the most anti-war anti-Bush candidate. Clinton, however, has worked hard to build a reputation as a centrist who isn’t afraid of using military force and who isn’t beholden to the loony left that makes up the base of her party. This reputation give her important credibility with the media and with the intellectuals and policy wonks that support her.

But this is not an easy balance to strike:

In a televised debate on Sunday night, Mrs. Clinton, who has tried to minimize her differences with her rivals on commander-in-chief issues, bluntly disagreed with a main rival, former Senator John Edwards, who had just said that the administration’s so-called war on terror was little more than a slogan.

“I believe we are safer than we were,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We are not yet safe enough, and I have proposed over the last year a number of policies that I think we should be following.”

Nice moderate statement, right? Exactly, so the other candidates pounce:

The campaign of her other chief rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, sent supporters and reporters a memorandum on Monday titled “America Is Not Safer Since 9/11,” which cited research from the State Department and other groups that described terrorism as an accelerating threat. Advisers to other candidates, meanwhile, argued yesterday that Mrs. Clinton might be misjudging Democratic primary voters, who are loath to credit the Bush administration with much of anything.

[. . .]

A spokesman for Mr. Edwards, Mark Kornblau, said yesterday: “George Bush’s disastrous foreign policy has made America less safe in the world, according to his own State Department. His long list of failures, topped by the war in Iraq, has left us with more terrorists and fewer allies.”

The article goes on to note that Hillary’s campaign believes that “the vast majority of Democratic primary voters, and Americans, would agree with Senator Clinton.” I am not so sure about that. I would agree that a majority of American’s would probably agree, but I wouldn’t wager that the “vast majority” Democratic primary voters think that way. To them Bush is a greater danger than terrorism; to them the country is well on its way to a theocracy built on the blood of innocents. Somehow I don’t think sensible moderate statements like this are going to go very far.

And there lies Hillary’s problem. How can she compete with Edwards for the anti-war base and yet continue her statesmen like pose? The answer could very well determine the outcome of the primary.

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