It’s now beginning to harden into CW that Hillary Clinton is itching to “distance herself” from Barack Obama’s foreign policy–you know, the one she was in charge of directing until eighteen months ago–presumably in a more “hawkish” direction. But I suspect a lot of this talk is at a minimum premature.

The prime exhibit being cited at present is Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Clinton, published over the weekend, in which he postulated that “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” is Obama’s foreign policy “doctrine” and HRC allowed as how that wasn’t sufficient. If you read the actual (excerpted) transcript Goldberg provides, he mentioned “Don’t Do Stupid Sh*t” as an informal Obama “slogan,” and Clinton (changing the expletive to “stuff) said that was “an important lesson” from past missteps, but not an “organizing doctrine.”

If you look back at the legend of “DDSS,” it was promoted most notably by Politico‘s Mike Allen, who said in a June 1 column that it “captured Obama’s resistance to a rigid catch-all doctrine, as well as his aversion to what he once called the ‘dumb war’ in Iraq.”

So in talking to Goldberg, HRC was not only right but on-message: DDSS is not a “doctrine,” but “a necessary brake on the actions you might take in order to promote a vision.” What remains, however, is Clinton’s argument that “great nations need organizing principles.”

I don’t find this especially clear as some sort of “break” with Obama. I’m sure as a candidate for president she will find it appropriate to articulate a foreign policy “doctrine,” insofar as that’s what candidates do, particularly if, like her, they are frequently criticized for inadequate specificity in what they stand for. Obama is in a somewhat different position. As we have learned again and again, when presidents articulate foreign policy “doctrines,” stupid “stuff” can often happen.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.