“She was pragmatic, and wasn’t afraid to use the tools in our proverbial toolbox, as long as it was part of a larger strategy. Her approach was always that diplomacy, development and defense were only effective if used together.” – Nick Merrill, Clinton Press Secretary [TIME Magazine]

Hillary Clinton's foreign policy history and philosophy begins to be dissected.tate Dept Image by Daniel Wilkinson / Nov 18, 2009

Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy history and philosophy begins to be dissected.
[State Dept Image by Daniel Wilkinson]

IN THE Democratic primary for 2016, progressives want an alternative to Hillary Clinton, but Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer isn’t their idea of the perfect candidate. He’s making noise in Iowa, which is getting some headlines, even if the current squawking out of the first caucus state is more about Iowans than it is about Hillary. The focus of Michael Crowley’s piece about Clinton as secretary of state is more relevant.

Even as progressives look for a challenge to Clinton from the left, Tracy Sefl, (an advisor to Clinton’s 2008 campaign) an advisor for Ready for Hillary super PAC, pointed to Crowley’s piece today as something very positive about her tenure. This split is where any primary debate among Democratic voters will reside.

What progressives are all too eager to use against Clinton is represented in this quote from Crowley’s piece.

“The Democratic party has two wings””a pacifist wing and a Scoop Jackson wing. And I think she is clearly in the Scoop Jackson wing,” says former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, now director of the Wilson Center.

The huge challenge facing progressives is that Democratic voters don’t vote on foreign policy. They vote on the candidate they believe in and who they think can win. Finding someone that can best the stature of Clinton, if she runs, isn’t easy, as they’re already finding out.

No one reading here needs to be reminded about Clinton’s position on Iraq. The first chapter in my book, The Hillary Effect, deals with all the what ifs. The new memoir of Robert Gates is a reminder of just how strong her relationships with the Pentagon is, which should be seen as a plus, especially since multiple reports reveal President Obama’s is not. The quote below from Crowley’s piece is from James Jeffrey, who was once the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad:

“Hillary Clinton was a very strong supporter of a residual troop presence and effectively backed my and the military’s views several times with others in the administration,” says Jeffrey. “At times when I felt I was being pushed around at levels below the President and Biden, she was a good person to go fix it,” Jeffrey adds.

President Obama would have left a residual troop presence of around 3,000 troops, but there was no way to get an agreement from Iraq politicians that the U.S. could accept.

Secretary Hillary Clinton was always for a strong presence in Afghanistan. She backed General Stanley McChrystal’s request for an additional 40,000 troops in mid-2009.

“Clinton argued forcefully that withdrawing the surge [before the end of 2012] would signal we were abandoning Afghanistan.” – Robert Gates, in Duty

Not only did Hillary Clinton support intervention in Libya, but she was instrumental in making it happen, through her relationships and good standing with the Arab League. As Robert Gates writes in his book, “Hillary threw her considerable clout behind Rice, Rhodes and Power,” confirming the earlier accounts of the female “hawks” behind the bombing.

Together with C.I.A. director David Petraeus, Clinton devised a plan to arm the moderate Syrian rebels, which they presented to President Obama. The Administration rejected it, because no one in the White House wanted to get involved. The polling didn’t faze Clinton, or her husband, who disagreed with Obama, too, saying, “Some people say, “˜Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake.”

When it comes to Iran, Hillary Clinton will always be the Senator from New York. Her comment to “totally obliterate Iran” if they would attack Israel got a rise out of candidate Obama in 2008. But anyone who thinks the American president, whoever it is, wouldn’t rain hell down on Iran if they did attack Israel doesn’t understand national security or foreign policy, let alone presidential politics.

On the SEAL Team Six raid to kill Osama bin Laden, Robert Gates and Vice President Joe Biden were against it. Hillary was for it. Clinton has also showed her hand on drones. As Crowley points out in his TIME piece, Clinton’s State Department legal advisor, whom she personally hand-picked, gave a strong legal defense that supported Obama’s drone policy.

There are many progressives that will use Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials to oppose her in a Democratic primary. Brian Schweitzer has been doing that lately, with this just the beginning of period of assessment of Clinton’s record on foreign policy during her time as secretary of state.

Candidate Barack Obama bears little resemblance to the man whose leadership since becoming president has surprised his most loyal fans and supporters, who thought he would walk into Washington a ring change down on the system’s head.

The thing about Hillary Clinton is that she’ll use all avenues to progress, starting with public and private partnerships, diplomacy through economic means, including anything she can do to tilt the balance of countries to empower women, which is a way to get beyond conventional military action. Her prowess as a diplomat will go a long way in negotiations with countries during conflicts. Clinton won’t try to change the system, with her intent likely to be to work it instead.

The country won’t support what it once did under Bush-Cheney, with what’s been revealed on NSA spying in the Obama era, also leaving a new playing field for the next White House occupant.

The judgment Hillary Clinton has used is all in line with presidential leadership, including fighting for a larger budget for the State Department when she was in charge. A firm believer in diplomacy, she’s tough, unflinching, and at this point in her life knows her own mind and how she wants to lead.

What you see is what you’ll get from her as president, if she chooses to run. What you are unlikely to get are any surprises.

In August, the New Republic asked John McCain whom he would support in a matchup between Clinton and the Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a fulsome critic of American military interventions. “Tough choice,” McCain replied. [TIME magazine]