Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- There has been little debate about national-security and foreign-policy issues between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama beyond who would pull our troops out faster from Iraq.

This may be mostly by design because both have been pandering to their party's left-wing, antiwar base that opposes a tougher defense posture or a more muscular foreign policy in a still very dangerous world.

Clinton has been pulled, pushed and dragged from her earlier position in opposition to a troop-withdrawal timetable to her latest position that all combat troops will be out of Iraq within a year. This undoubtedly elicited cheers from Al Qaeda in Iraq and their friends in Pakistan and Iran.

Obama harbors even more dovish national-security views, and he seems to cringe at the use of force in the pursuit of U.S. foreign-policy objectives. For him, it is all about personal, hands-on diplomacy, economic development, foreign aid and sitting down with adversaries and enemies to work out our differences together.

"For most of our history, our crises have come from using force when we shouldn't, not by failing to use force," he told The New York Times.

"The United States is trapped by the Bush-Cheney approach to diplomacy that refuses to talk to leaders we don't like. Not talking doesn't make us look tough; it makes us look arrogant," Obama said on his campaign Web site.

And in one of few foreign-policy exchanges in the Democratic debates, Obama said he would personally engage in unconditional negotiations with the dangerous despots who rule North Korea and Iran.

Clinton appropriately called his foreign-policy approach "naive and irresponsible." She would deal with leaders of rogue nations through midlevel envoys to see if high-level meetings should be considered, but she wasn't going to let them use us for "propaganda purposes."

Michael O'Hanlon, a Democratic defense and national-security adviser at the Brookings Institution, also finds Obama's approach dangerous and sophomoric.

The freshman senator's eagerness for one-on-one talks with tin-pot dictators "would cheapen the value of presidential summits," O'Hanlon told me.

"You don't want a president using his time being lied to by foreign leaders. Hillary would be much more pragmatic. She has suggested midlevel talks with Iran, for example," he said. "Obama would look weak, and Hillary would not look weak."

Elsewhere, however, it is hard to find many areas where they disagree on their approach to foreign policy or national security. The reason could be that their advisers are largely made up of people from the Clinton administration.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.