ELECTION 2016: Breaking Down Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy

By Ayat Mujais  (@Ayat_Mujais)

October 31, 2016

Numerous individuals, and much of the media, call Hillary Clinton a foreign policy “hawk.”  In general, Clinton often supports the use force along with using diplomacy and negotiation tactics, often called “shillary-clinton-secretary-of-state-portraitmart power.”  She has a record of endorsing new wars, and can be seen as confrontational or an interventionist when it comes to foreign policy issues.  She has a wealth of knowledge from her background as a Senator and as Secretary of State, which many say may assist the US in being more successful in global conflicts.  But what are the specifics of her foreign policy? How will her policies affect international relations?  These are important questions that this post will address.

China

Clinton’s policy on China is split – she is tough in most her policy stances, yet still wants to increase cooperation with the Chinese. In terms of positive policies, Clinton is poised to continue President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia.  Clinton wants to reinforce US allies in Asia-Pacific and increase cooperation in common interest areas.  However, Clinton has a long record of rhetoric against China that has caused tensions with Chinese officials.  She has a strong and critical stance against China’s human rights record, which she has often spoke openly about, to the frustration of Chinese officials.  Moreover, she is against China’s push into the South China Sea, and has called for increased deterrence against Chinese cyber-attacks.

Secretary Clinton’s policy on China will certainly affect US-Chinese international relations.  Some experts have said that Clinton needs to be “cautious and pragmatic” in her approach, since China is critical for the economy and world order in general.  Her policy on speaking out against China’s human right’s record and push into the South China Sea have already raised tensions among Chinese officials.  The Chinese view Clinton as an interference in their goals towards the South China Sea and other geopolitical aspirations.  Clinton has stated that although dynamics between the US and China are challenging, she believes they are positive.  It is yet to be seen if her foreign policy will continue that positive relationship, or create problems down the road, although many think that relations will become turbulent.

The Middle East

            Islamic State in the Levant

Secretary Clinton has a three-part strategy to combating terrorism, particularly against ISIL.  First, she wants to defeat ISIL in the Middle East, specifically in Syria and Iraq.  Second, she wants to dismantle the infrastructure that provides and facilitates a flow of fighters, arms, and propaganda to terrorist groups.  Finally, she wants to increase US and US Allies’ defenses against external and homegrown terrorist threats.

In regards to ISIL, Clinton plans to fight them with the aid of a coalition of other Western and Arab states, establish a no fly zone and refugee exclusion zone over parts of Syria, and strengthen Arab fighters on the ground.  In tandem with conducting more US air strikes and the limited use of armed drone strikes, Clinton thinks it is critical to support and arm Sunni and Kurdish fighters already in Syria to build local capacity.  Her policy also includes strengthening intelligence through close regional partnerships to stop the flow of foreign fighters.  Finally, Clinton believes the US needs to play a bigger role in resolving the humanitarian crisis.

Many believe that if Hillary Clinton becomes President, she will have a more active role in the Middle East and increase the potential for interventions.  This seems apparent from Clinton’s push to Congress to update the Authorization to Use Military Force. What can be called her “militaristic” positions are concerning for other states.  Her policy may also heighten tensions between the US and Russia and the US and Iran, particularly her position on establishing a no fly zone in Syria.  Some experts have stated that her decision making is “flawed,” mainly because of her commitment to intervention and to changing regimes or political processes in the Middle East.

            Iran

Hillary Clinton has a strict policy towards Iran.  Her policy includes imposing sanctions on Iran for failure to comply, as Iran continues violating UN Security Council resolutions through their testing of ballistic missiles.  Clinton wants Iran to abide by the multinational nuclear deal that was established, which she supported.  She also wants to increase the costs on Iran for its “destabilizing behaviors” throughout the Middle East.  Particularly, Clinton wants to counter Iran’s influence over groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.

Although US-Iranian relations have been normalizing as of late, there are still many issues between the two nations, not only ideologically but with policies regarding Syria and Yemen.  Many hope that the recent dialogues and engagement between the two nations will continue, which seems most likely under a Clinton administration, although perhaps not as much as some would like.  Clinton has stated that she is willing to take military action if Iran breaks from the nuclear deal, which certainly does not sit well with Iranian officials.  US-Iranian relations will depend on how much cooperation and dialogue Clinton will pursue as president.

            Israel  

Similar to most US Presidents, Secretary Clinton has been friendly with Israel throughout her political career.  Clinton’s foreign policy towards Israel is to maintain Israel’s military superiority in the region.  She wants to remain a partner with Israel in terms of joint efforts in the region, including intelligence.  In general, Clinton wants to reaffirm her bond with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should she become president.

This policy will likely strengthen international relations between the US and Israel.  A poll shows that 68% of Israelis view Clinton favorably, compared to 43% for Trump.  However, only 32% of Israelis think that Clinton will get along better with Netanyahu as compared to Trump. Some critics believe that international relations may falter between the two states due to Clinton’s record of “unconditional support” to Israel, and that her previous lack of criticism could create tensions if she is forced to criticize in her role as President.

Russia

Considering current events, relations between the US and Russia are tense. Obama has notably been tough on Russia in his policy stances, and Clinton seems poised to continue down that path as well.  Clinton seeks to increase sanctions against Russia due to its intervention in Ukraine.  Secretary Clinton will raise the cost of Russian aggression, both financially and politically.  Clinton’s Russian policy includes countering Russian aggression by strengthening the European Reassurance Initiative, permanently placing more allied troops and weapons throughout Eastern Europe.  Clinton will further expand US missile defenses in Eastern Europe, adding to the political and military consequences of Russia’s recent actions.

Clinton’s policy is unlikely to better US-Russian relations should she become President.  Clinton has called Putin a “bully” in the past, so personal relations between the two are already tense.  It is clear that Putin prefers Trump over Clinton.  Therefore, Clinton’s foreign policy will likely have a negative effect on international relations with Russia.

National Security

Clinton’s foreign policy regarding national security both increases and decreases national security mechanisms.  On one hand, Clinton’s policy includes maintaining current restrictions on NSA surveillance, closing Guantanamo Bay, and prohibiting the use of harsh interrogation techniques.  On the other hand, Clinton’s policy will increase screening of individuals traveling to states that have issues with terrorism, strengthen US military alliances, and build a global counterterrorism infrastructure.

Clinton’s policy also leaves the US within NATO.  Clinton has praised existing alliances within NATO, and thinks that the US should continue to strengthen our allies as it supports US interests, both with our European allies and opposition to Russian expansion.  In Clinton’s view, NATO partnerships makes the US stronger globally, and may assist with US regional tactics, such as the potential no fly zone in Syria.  This policy will certainly strengthen US-EU ties.

Regarding US international relations, Clinton’s foreign policy on national security will likely strengthen many of our relationships, particularly with our European allies.  Most of the EU favors Clinton, although there have been some doubts. Clinton’s national security, for the most part, may assuage these doubts. Clinton would further encourage EU allies to be responsible for their own security by exchanging US commitments for EU commitments, which will probably have strong effect one way or the other. However, Clinton’s policies, particularly regarding NATO, will likely further increase tensions with Russia, as US participation in NATO prevents increase in Russian empowerment and expansion in Eastern Europe.

Trade, Climate, and Energy

In line with most politicians, Clinton wants to ensure that the US in engaged in free trade agreements that create more jobs in the US.  This is one of the reasons she is opposed to the TPP, and supports the export-import bank.  Additionally, Clinton will likely follow Obama’s climate policies; now that the US has signed the Paris Agreement, Clinton wants to ensure that the US abides by this agreement through limiting global carbon emissions.  Moreover, Clinton wants to expand US investment in renewable energy and ban drilling for oil in the US arctic region. Finally, Clinton’s policy includes the continued blocking of attempts by TransCanada to construct the Keystone XL pipeline.

Clinton’s foreign policy on trade and climate will likely have both positive and negative effects on international relations. On a positive note, continuing to adhere to the Paris Agreement and serve as a leader for combating climate change will sit favorably with other nations who have ratified the agreement. However, her policy to prevent the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline may cause slight tensions with Canada, although nothing that can’t be overcome. Further, her opposition to the TPP blindsided states in the region, particularly US allies, and has undoubtedly raised concerns among them on the impact of this opposition.

(Ayat Mujais is an Associate Executive Editor on Volume 32 of the American University International Law Review.)

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