If Clinton runs for president in 2016, she’s likely to emphasize the more dovish aspects of her record—including her public diplomacy to repair America’s international image, her focus on building ties in Asia, and her attention to women’s rights and development issues.
But at a time when fewer Americans support an active U.S. role in foreign affairs, Clinton’s comfort with the harder side of American power could be a vulnerability. A liberal primary challenger might well reprise Barack Obama’s 2007 line that Hillary’s record amounts to “Bush-Cheney lite.” One potential contender, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, has already been zinging her over her 2002 Iraq vote. “When George Bush got a bunch of [Democrats] to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said recently. Whether such attacks will hold even a fraction of the valence they did at the Iraq war’s peak remains to be seen.
And in a scenario that would have seemed absurd in 2008, Clinton might even wind up defending her left flank against a Republican general election opponent. At a moment of rising isolationism in both parties, a GOP nominee could bash Clinton for defying public opinion on Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. Even a relative GOP centrist like Marco Rubio opposed Obama’s planned air strikes against Syria.
Such a dynamic could scramble American politics in surprising ways. In August, the New Republic asked John McCain whom he would support in a matchup between Clinton and the Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a fulsome critic of American military interventions. “Tough choice,” McCain replied.