Foreign Policy

FOREIGN POLICY….Ari Berman emails this morning to recommend his Nation article about the foreign policy teams assembled by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and what it says about their likely future policies. It’s a good piece, though the reality it captures doesn’t provide the firm distinctions most of us would like. Here’s what I think is the key passage:

Today, [Obama] advisers like Tony Lake point to a number of “significant differences” between Obama and Clinton. On Iraq, Obama not only opposed the war but has said he would withdraw all combat troops within sixteen months of taking office. On Iran, Obama rejected the Kyl-Lieberman resolution (though he missed the vote while campaigning) and has proposed a broader engagement strategy to lure Iran into the community of nations. On nuclear weapons, he has not only promised to reduce US nuclear stockpiles, as has Clinton, but advocates a world free of nuclear weapons. On Cuba, Obama went to Miami and said the ban on family travel and remittances to the island nation should be lifted, a policy Clinton opposes.

Yet on many issues the differences between Obama and Clinton are more stylistic than substantive….Indeed, in discussions with Hillary’s advisers these days, the message seems to be, We’re more like Obama than you think! Both candidates favor negotiating directly with Iran, leaving behind a residual force in Iraq (though Obama has said his missions would be more limited); enlarging the military by 92,000 troops; aggressively curbing global warming; and recommitting to working with multilateral institutions like the United Nations. It’s not hard to imagine Clark, Feinstein or even Holbrooke serving in an Obama administration. And many Obamaites would probably work in a Hillary Clinton administration.

Really, this isn’t very different from what we see on domestic policy: the differences between the two candidates simply aren’t that big. There are differences, but the heat of the campaign and the desire of the press corps and the blogosphere to have something to write about magnifies them well beyond what they deserve on the merits. I’m a little closer to Obama’s take on foreign affairs than I am to Hillary’s, but honestly, based on their statements to date, I doubt very much that their actual foreign policies would differ all that much.

(Conversely, I’m a little closer to Hillary’s take on domestic policy than I am to Obama’s, but again, the differences are fairly slight. They’d likely pursue very similar courses, and the big question is which one of them would be more likely to emerge from the congressional meatgrinder with their policies intact.)

Of course, there’s another difference as well: rhetoric. In domestic policy, public opinion is king, and one of the things Obama has going for him is the possibility that he could genuinely shift public opinion in a more liberal direction — something that Hillary would probably have a harder time doing. In foreign policy, though, a great speech doesn’t buy you nearly as much, and it’s not clear to me that his team would be as effective at the nuts and bolts of hardnosed diplomacy as Hillary’s.

That said, Ari’s article is worth a read. It doesn’t provide a firm conclusion, but it does a pretty good job of airing out all the differences, big and small, between the two. (There’s also a paragraph about John Edwards, but that’s about it. It’s mostly Hillary vs. Obama.)