Hillary Clinton’s latest gaffe about having empathy for enemies of the United States, has for some, signaled the end of any hopes she might have for winning the 2016 Presidential election. In a somewhat wide-ranging discussion on U.S. foreign Policy before a group of students and academics at Georgetown University, Clinton suggested a more appropriate use of what she called “smart power.” While for some this reference hallmarks the dawn of something new and without contemporary reference, it actually represents what bureaucrats in the State Department would simply refer to as diplomacy. In other words, instead of a declaration of her philosophy on the art of war, Hillary Clinton is simply emphasizing, perhaps in an in-artful manner, the philosophical roots of liberal, progressive thinking and the policy-making behind the art of peace. Her defenders at State might simply say, move along folks there is nothing to see here.
While taking a diplomacy-first approach is nothing new, Clinton, has again, in so many days, laid herself open to serious questions about her competence and political sensibility. It was not so many days ago that Clinton had to take back the suggestion that corporate and business enterprise were not the job-making machines that many thought they were. While her comments and overall approach were calculated to harden support among her base and generally offer up a picture of one who is both calculating yet compassionate, she inadvertently exposed herself to the venom of not only the conservative right, but the hard feelings of many moderates and independents who retain ill-feelings with respect to Obama and his foreign policy issues. These moderates and independents are, as it turns out, indispensable to any hope of electoral victory.
In the cold light of reason the highly charged responses of those on the right, including Fox News and Sean Hannity favorite Lt. Col. Oliver North, should be seen as predictable, not newsworthy. In seeking to both conciliate her liberal base and to somehow create distance between herself and the increasingly unpopular President Obama, Hillary Clinton is seen by many as setting the table for her own funeral as she defines the art of war in an unacceptably pacifistic manner.
While use of terms like smart and empathy would typically evoke religious-like sentiment among a scattering of Americans representing a melting pot of post-modern and traditional ethnicities, religions and world-views, all of whom, to one degree or another consider themselves both intellectually inclined and compassionate, perhaps Clinton simply misjudged her audience. While latest polls suggest that Americans see themselves as religious people, or at the very least, a nation built on Judeo-Christian principles, it might surprise Clinton to discover that the philosophical ground is shifting and many people no longer define those terms in positive ways. Smart has become overly calculating, and empathy has become compromise and concession.
While for Clinton smart power involves the use of any and every means necessary to bring about just resolution and outcomes, Lt. Col. Oliver North and many on the Right see it as irrational, dangerous and the stuff of capitulation. Clinton, despite not having declared her candidacy, has embarked on a speaking tour that is clearly calculated to jump-start interest in, and focus on, the Clinton for President express. And while that is a lofty goal, in getting the train started so early she is being forced to not only define exactly who she is relative to the current President, but to do so in a manner bespeaking the high calling of the Presidency of the United States. In so doing, she and her team are forced to make hard decisions about whether to advance a proposed foreign policy that is recognized by many as Obama-esque or to blaze new territory with an approach she can truly call her own. And if she does so, then perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton will have demonstrated that she is indeed gifted in the art of war after all.
By Matthew R. Fellows
Photo by cenz – Flickr License