Fuzzy Foreign Policy

FUZZY FOREIGN POLICY….Matt Yglesias, after observing that voting records don’t really tell us that much anymore, unleashes some annoyance about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy rhetoric:

It does seem to me that at some point the Clinton camp needs to stop trying to blur the differences between her foreign policy views and Obama’s and, instead, defend her views as better superior to his.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? How do her views, in fact, differ from Obama’s? Or Edwards’s? Or Bill Richardson’s? Unlike in domestic policy, where candidates fight each other with dueling white papers, most of the time there just aren’t very many specific, detailed foreign policy issues on which candidates disagree. It’s very much a rhetorical battlespace, and one where it’s very difficult to draw sharp distinctions.

We’re seeing the same thing on the Republican side, by the way. When a party occupies the White House, it takes its foreign policy cues from the president, and thus benefits from an aura of having a united and coherent foreign policy. That’s because the party can simply coalesce around the actual actions of the president and be done with it. But now that campaign season is here, that fiction is harder to sustain. What’s the difference between McCain’s foreign policy and Romney’s? Or Giuliani’s? It’s hard to say, isn’t it?

So, yeah, I’d be interested in hearing Clinton, Obama, and Edwards explain how their foreign policy views differ, but I think that’s unlikely because, in fact, their foreign policy views probably don’t differ all that much in the first place. And to the extent they do, it’s in the area of judgment: how their overall worldview affects the way they’d be likely to react to unexpected future events. That’s a hard argument to have. In the meantime, judging them by rhetorical nuances and the kinds of advisors they hang out with is probably the best we can do.