long brief national nightmare is over, I suppose, now that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama plan on “hugging it out” over the recent contretemps over the Obama administration’s foreign policy. How much of that short-lived rift was reality? “I don’t think anyone doubted,” Molly Ball says in this CNN segment with John King earlier today, “that they had authentic, honest disagreements on many aspects of foreign policy.”
Well, perhaps; there were rumors of that during Obama’s first term, so Ball’s correct that those differences had been presumed in the past. But if that was the case, why did her latest book Hard Choices not reveal them? As President Obama himself might say, the sudden appearance of those differences at the same time that Obama’s approval ratings are cratering might mean they’re, um, horse manure:
One explanation: Hard Choices was likely written for the most part before Obama began cratering in the polls, or at least when that may have seemed temporary. If the book had come out during an Obama rebound, the inclusion of harsh criticisms (or any at all) would have unnecessarily made her vulnerable rather than riding on Obama’s residual approval to the nomination. Claiming to have differences now, while Obama’s approval numbers sink to record lows, makes her memoir look even more calculated, disloyal, and dishonest.
CNN also asks a rather intriguing question in framing this rapprochement on foreign policy. Is the Obama Doctrine inarticulate or disengaged? To which many might answer — both:
It sounds like advice offered by parents to teenagers on prom night: Don’t do stupid stuff. But it also is an important guiding foreign policy principle of the President of the United States.
Ever since the President uttered the phrase during an off-the-record discussion with reporters earlier this year — the actual words were a bit saltier and later confirmed privately by administration officials — foreign policy critics have seized on “DDSS” as a crystallization of the Obama Doctrine.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is only the latest critic of the “DDSS” comment, describing the remark in an interview with The Atlantic magazine as too simplistic. …
The apparent struggle to neatly encapsulate the President’s strategy is not lost on his critics.
“I do think the administration is showing some signs of a little bit of fatigue,” Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon said in a recent interview with CNN.
“It’s time for a little more ambition frankly because the world senses that this President is too disengaged,” O’Hanlon added.
The Obama foreign policy is both inarticulate and disengaged. Disengagement is explicitly part of the approach, which became very clear in Iraq in the rise of ISIS, but also in Syria and Ukraine. In all three hot spots, the Obama administration had to get dragged into responses, although in Ukraine and now against ISIS Obama has ended up ahead of the curve in relation to America’s Western allies. Obama tosses out red lines without preparing for the consequences when they get violated, and shrugs off threats like ISIS with sophomoric sports analogies. His policy is to react only when forced by circumstances to do so.
Again, this doesn’t seem very different from what Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy approach has been. She ran Obama’s foreign policy apparatus for most of his presidency, so that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The anodyne recitation of those years Hard Choices makes it very difficult for Hillary to suddenly change course and claim a different doctrine for herself, especially without articulating it other than to say it exceeds the “don’t do stupid stuff” of the White House.
And when Hillary hit the retreat button after getting a rebuke from David Axelrod, she lost what little credibility and authenticity she had, Ron Fournier argued in an update to a column praising her independence:
Maybe I jumped the gun. After weathering some pushback from the White House, including a snarky tweet by Obama consultant David Axelrod, Clinton released this statement through a spokesman:
“Earlier today, the Secretary called President Obama to make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies or his leadership. Secretary Clinton has at every step of the way touted the significant achievements of his presidency, which she is honored to have been part of as his secretary of state. While they’ve had honest differences on some issues, including aspects of the wicked challenge Syria presents, she has explained those differences in her book and at many points since then. Some are now choosing to hype those differences but they do not eclipse their broad agreement on most issues. Like any two friends who have to deal with the public eye, she looks forward to hugging it out when she they see each other tomorrow night.”
There are several problems with this statement. First, it’s inaccurate. She certainly did criticize his policies, if not his leadership, most directly with the “stupid stuff” formulation. Second, it’s borderline demeaning, like a subordinate trying to get back in the boss’s good graces. Clinton is an accomplished person who has challenged glass ceilings. She shouldn’t have to come even close to apologizing for her opinions. Third, her interview wasn’t “hyped,” it was covered fairly, and now she’s trying to blame the messenger. Finally, it’s too cute by half, too Clintonian. It doesn’t seem, well, authentic. She’s trying to distinguish her policies from Obama’s without upsetting all the president’s men. She can’t have it all.
All she’s doing is proving that her doctrine is as inarticulate and disengaged as Obama’s — and even less authentic.