Hillary Clinton Tacks Right of Obama on Foreign Policy
Hillary Clinton receives the American Jewish Congress's lifetime achievement award this week in New York. Associated Press
has begun laying out foreign-policy positions that sound a more hard-line note on Iran, Russia and other global trouble spots than is coming from President Barack Obama, underscoring how she might differentiate herself from the administration she served, should she run for president.
The former secretary of state this week voiced doubts that Iran would make good on an agreement that Mr. Obama hopes will curb that country's nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Mrs. Clinton, speaking to the American Jewish Congress in New York, said that she was "personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver" on the nuclear deal reached last year.
She added that the deal was a "development worth testing," though she hinted that military action should remain a consideration if the agreement collapses. "Let's be clear. Every option does remain on the table," she said.
In previous appearances recently, Mrs. Clinton drew parallels between the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and Adolf Hitler before the Second World War.
Mrs. Clinton's remarks, coupled with a memoir she is writing, give her a chance to shape impressions of her four years as the nation's top diplomat and to blunt Republican claims that she was a partner in an ineffectual Obama foreign-policy operation.
When it comes to foreign policy, Mrs. Clinton faces a delicate balancing act in the run-up to the 2016 presidential race.
Overtly criticizing Mr. Obama's foreign moves would make her appear disloyal. But at the same time, as secretary of state, she was not in lock step with the president on all issues, and she might want to draw distinctions about her own stances.
In internal discussions about the Syrian civil war, for example, she had pushed unsuccessfully for lethal support to opposition forces, in addition to diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, a former colleague of hers said. The arming proposal was later backed by Mr. Obama.
One image from 2009 could prove embarrassing for Mrs. Cilnton, now that U.S.-Russian tensions are escalating. A widely distributed photo from that year shows a broadly smiling Mrs. Clinton pushing a red "reset" button with her Russian counterpart—a suggestion that relations between the two countries were on the mend.
Speaking in California earlier this month, Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Putin's claim that his moves in Ukraine were meant to protect ethnic Russians echoed Hitler's argument in the 1930s that he wanted to protect Germans living outside of the country.
Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said Mrs. Clinton and her husband are much admired in Israel. However, he said, "Israelis don't like world leaders being compared to Hitler. Whatever else Putin has done, he's not putting six million people in an oven."
Rosa Brooks, who worked in the Pentagon during Mr. Obama's first term and now teaches law at Georgetown University, said that Mrs. Clinton's remarks on Russia and Iran seem aimed at "positioning" herself for a possible presidential bid. She said the comments are at variance with the "sober-minded" views Mrs. Clinton expressed when she served in the administration.
"She was in fact someone who really seemed willing to be the honest person and to ask hard questions and listen and challenge conventional wisdom as secretary of state," Ms. Brooks said. "The bad news is that she is positioning herself for a presidential run, and her views are dictated by what she regards as politically expedient," she added
She said Mrs. Clinton's comments on Russia were not helpful to Mr. Obama, who is "under intense pressure to do something," amid concerns that Mr. Putin may seize more territory in Ukraine.
"I don't think she did Barack Obama any favors by saying those things," she said.
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton referred questions to two of her former colleagues. One, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, said that Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state was privately skeptical that cooperation with Russia would improve. She believed that Dmitry Medvedev, who was president of Russia then and who would be succeeded by Mr. Putin, was "weak," Mr. McFaul said.
"Within the administration, it's fair to say that she was more skeptical about cooperation with the Russians than others," Mr. McFaul said. "She didn't think it would last, and part of her concern was that Medvedev was a weak president."