There are aspects of both Barack Obama‘s and Hillary Clinton‘s national security and foreign policy strategies that seriously concern me. I feel much more pull towards the kind of national security contours of a Chuck Hagel — but he has not announced and does not yet appear to be running.
That said, unless something earth-shattering happens, it is likely that either Obama or Clinton will be the next Democratic candidate for President, and very possibly the next President of the United States.
There are differences between them, and I have to admit that all candidates have a complex challenge appealing to voters in a primary race, then in a general election, and then dealing with citizens within the practical realities of Washington after victory. A candidate needs to be a chameleon to appeal to audiences whose core appetite is different in varying circumstances.
The Hillary we see today — running hard right (if that is what one can call Bush’s foreign policy) on a number of national security issues — may not be the same Hillary we see in the Oval office. She may be ready to launch a new effort that helps reorder America’s place in the world. Privately, I think she wants to do that. I have had at least one serious conversation with her — and some occasional side comment moments with her — that indicate to me that she really wants to push a 21st century foreign policy, not one sculpted in the last century.
That said, thus far in her campaign, she is demonstrating a disturbing trend towards incrementalism and continuity of Bush administration policies that she should cease.
This is a “discontinuous moment” in American history in which it’s highly dangerous to American interests to plot tomorrow’s course by what one did yesterday. There are no easy patterns or templates for the time we are in. America may be slipping from being a globally recognized, earth-sprawling hegemon to something that looks like just another great power — well, perhaps not just any great power, a big one with great assets — but that slippage has real costs.
Someone who recognizes the deteriorating state of America’s moral credibility in the world and the increasingly eroded national security portfolio of the county is Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Sending an important signal, Brzezinski has just endorsed Barack Obama’s candidacy over Hillary Clinton’s. Brzezinski is one of the greatest strategic minds alive today and does understand the need to make changes in policy today to generate different outcomes tomorrow.
Influential foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius anticipated the themes of Brzezinski’s statement in an important Washington Post piece, “The Pragmatic Obama,” earlier this week.
In an article just published by Bloomberg’s Janine Zacharia, Brzezinski is reported to have said that “Obama recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world.”
Brzezinski made the comments in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.” (Here is full transcript, courtesy of Bloomberg)
More from the Zacharia article:
“Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand,” Brzezinski, who was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said. “He has a sense of what is historically relevant, and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.”
Brzezinski, 79, dismissed the notion that Clinton, 59, a New York senator and the wife of former President Bill Clinton, is more seasoned than Obama, 46. “Being a former first lady doesn’t prepare you to be president,” Brzezinski said.
Clinton’s foreign-policy approach is “very conventional,” Brzezinski said. “I don’t think the country needs to go back to what we had eight years ago.”
“There is a need for a fundamental rethinking of how we conduct world affairs,” he added. “And Obama seems to me to have both the guts and the intelligence to address that issue and to change the nature of America’s relationship with the world.”
Yesterday, I reviewed some of the candidate’s views on US-Cuba policy in which I outlined that Senator Chris Dodd was perhaps the most visionary and saw a clear path to a policy that would be in the long term interests of the United States and Cuba — and break the bilateral relationship out of its freeze-dried state of many decades.
Barack Obama has a practical, near term policy approach on Cuba that clearly differs with the Bush administration and is in American interests, but Hillary Clinton said that she supports the Bush administration’s tough embargo policy and a travel ban that is more restrictive and punitive than when she and her husband occupied the White House.
Dodd outlined the mid to long-term future. Obama sketched what a near term future in US-Cuba relations could look like, and Hillary Clinton — regrettably, as I do recognize her many strengths — is staying in the past.
That is why Brzezinski has called for Obama. Hillary Clinton could still be our next President, but she should not get defensive about Brzezinski’s statement — and instead, should dig a bit here and ask herself why her advisors are pushing her into anachronistic, 20th century grooves — and not ones aimed at a clear-headed and consistent 21st century vision for the country.
— Steve Clemons