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James Snell

Kronstadt for Hillary Clinton

With the nomination process all but wrapped up, Clinton has begun hammering Trump on his inconsistent and often ignorant foreign policy pronouncements

Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a primary night event on June 7, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. (AFP/Justin Sullivan)

There we have it, then. AP reports, based on interviews with various super-delegates, that Hillary Clinton has the support of sufficient numbers of them (in addition to the delegates she has won during the primary process) to clinch the Democratic nomination. Excepting any major upset at the parties’ national conventions, the presidential campaign proper will be fought between Clinton and Donald Trump.

 

For many this binary decision is a deeply unpromising one. Many pollsters and commentators failed to predict Trump’s eventual victory, and for many within the Republican Party and without, this represents something like a nightmare made real. Senator Lindsay Graham recently argued that Republicans should withdraw their endorsements of Trump’s candidacy, and many other key figures are presently grappling with a serious dilemma in the same vein.

 

Perhaps surprisingly, given Trump’s remarkably low favorability ratings, Clinton is viewed with almost as much disdain by many within her own party. Though she is numerically in the clear, the campaign of Bernie Sanders trundles on, hoping to undermine her claim to the nomination through uncertain means.

 

For some in the weary American electorate, the choice now facing the nation could not be less appealing. And many around the world will agree. But recent events have demonstrated that the two candidates are not the same – they are not alike in indignity.

 

Last week, Clinton delivered a speech on foreign policy which came closer than any other attempt this election campaign to demonstrating that Trump’s candidacy is simply not serious in nature. Her attack was more effective than those of any of Trump’s opponents in the Republican primaries, and this form of electioneering could well be the way she will win the White House in November.

 

Her speech was effective because (regardless of the whooping from the captive audience) it seemed moderate, sensible and steeped in genuine expertise. She highlighted elements of Trump's genuine ignorance – for example confusing the Kurds for the IRGC Quds Force on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program – and presented herself as the only credible alternative. Meanwhile, Trump this week has said that he ‘made a lot of money with [Colonel] Gadhafi’ when the former Libyan dictator paid to camp on the lawn of one of his properties. Even though the colonel never stayed a night, this is simply not serious talk.

 

Despite Clinton not being terribly good at delivering speeches and having several controversial episodes in her foreign policy past to defend, she has managed to set up a binary choice between her and Trump; and with that comes a choice of characteristics.

 

Perhaps surprisingly, something that is often criticized about Clinton – namely, her slightly robotic delivery, which can be contrasted to Trump’s more compelling and bombastic style – works in her favor in this context. It seems stable, sensible and reassuring – dull perhaps, but certainly competent – here. And the deadpan style helps with dry humor: “I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain [Trump's] affection for tyrants,” she said. This is not an idle quip; and Trump’s record with regard to especially Middle Eastern despots is hardly an unblemished one.

 

This affection does not extend solely to property deals and land rental. Trump has previously said that ISIS and forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad should simply be left to fight it out among themselves (‘Why aren't we letting ISIS go and fight Assad and then we pick up the remnants?’); he has praised Saddam Hussein and said he was ‘very good’ at killing terrorists; he has trumpeted Vladimir Putin’s ‘strong’ leadership in addition to calling NATO ‘obsolete’; and he has repeatedly said – in fact he has traded off the idea – that he was opposed to interventions against Gadhafi and Hussein despite this not being true. (Trump’s promise to ‘cut the head off ISIS and take their oil’, and his suggestion that America adopt a policy of ‘going after [the] families’ of terrorists, which would constitute a war crime, add to this confused and dispiriting picture.)

 

Reading this hardly exhaustive list, it may seem strange that the upcoming election is forecast to be a close one. Clinton should walk it; she should win with ease.

 

It must be said, however, that though Clinton has been clinical in diagnosing Trump’s foreign policy errors and omissions, she is not free of negative associations in her own right. In both in deed and word, especially in relation to what she says about the Iran deal, Clinton has made misjudgments. It was on her watch that the much-criticized policy of ‘leading from behind’ on Libya was initiated; and her continued support for the administration’s handling of Iran is not satisfactory, especially after the way the administration knowingly sold a partially erroneous narrative was exposed in a recent profile of Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, for The New York Times Magazine.

 

In addition, the popular perception of many Americans that she acted poorly with regard to her emails – which, some commentators particularly enjoy pointing out, could still (though it is unlikely) result in an indictment – and Benghazi cannot yet be forgotten. Though it is highly unlike that either will send her to prison, the net negative effect on her campaign can only be guessed at vaguely. Rumors of incompetence or failure – especially when related to the military – can have a remarkable effect on the popular perception of politicians.

 

But in sum, I think this is something of a Kronstadt moment for people who are serious about foreign policy: either elect someone who wants to do a 'great deal' with Vladimir Putin, to build a ruinous wall across the US–Mexican border, to initiate trade war with China, and who has decided to resurrect the slogan 'America First', or choose someone who – regardless of her faults – actually knows what she's talking about.

 

Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate and this has been evidenced by her continuing legal travails and surprisingly difficult primary campaign. But America now faces a binary choice. Donald Trump is not the answer; let us hope the American electorate makes the right one.

Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a primary night event on June 7, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. (AFP/Justin Sullivan)

Though Clinton has been clinical in diagnosing Trump’s foreign policy errors and omissions, she is not free of negative associations in her own right.