So, the official announcement is here (well … sort of). Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her presidential bid, according to close advisers. As Christine wrote last September, the former New York Senator said she would make up her mind about mounting another national campaign for the White House by the first of next year; a date that has long passed by.
There were some disagreements within the Clinton camp regarding when to announce her probable 2016 bid. Some were arguing for a summer rollout, while others said the former First Lady should announce in the spring. As Politico noted, a spring launch would give Clinton an infrastructure to plant a defense against attacks from a growing Republican 2016 field. Whereas, the advisers who wanted a summer announcement said it gives Clinton more time to organize, fundraise, refine herself on policy, and keeps a target off her back. It seems the spring faction has won (via WSJ):
Hillary Clinton and her close advisers are telling Democratic donors that she will enter the presidential race sooner than expected, likely in April, a move that would allay uncertainties within her party and allow her to rev up fundraising.
Clinton aides have spoken of the earlier timetable in private meetings, according to people engaged in recent discussions about the presumed Democratic front-runner’s emerging 2016 campaign. Many within her camp have advocated her staying out of the fray until the summer.
Jumping in sooner would help the Democratic field take shape, reassuring party leaders and donors that the former first lady, senator and secretary of state is running. A super PAC loyal to Mrs. Clinton has faced hesitation from donors who don’t want to make big pledges until she is a candidate. Such concerns would evaporate after she announces.
But Mrs. Clinton would become an even larger target for Republicans when she enters the race. She also would be pressed to opine on a raft of thorny issues in the news, including how to combat the military advances of Islamic State militants in the Middle East.
Clinton is already being questioned by some in the media regarding the Middle East. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote that Hillary’s “hawkishness” could cost her the presidency. She voted for the Iraq War, an act that the anti-war left (who are growing in number) has pretty much viewed as unforgivable. As Friedersdorf noted, the Russia reset is almost laughable at this point–and the Libya intervention, that occurred during her tenure as Secretary of State, is devolving into a total disaster [bold text indicates NYT]:
In 2016, Hillary Clinton will be a formidable candidate, and experience is once again her biggest asset. Voters are warily eyeing ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Al Qaeda, and Iran. And she has added a stint as Secretary of State to her impressive resume.
But her claim to possess sound judgment for tough decision-making is once again vulnerable to attack.
I don't mean her Iraq vote, though it could certainly come up again (especially if she ultimately meets Rand Paul, the one Republican who could exploit it). When Obama showed that he didn't really believe the Iraq War to be a decisive judgment test by elevating Iraq hawks to numerous, prominent national-security positions throughout his administration, he all but guaranteed that Democratic Iraq hawks would be embraced rather than discredited going forward. (Even erstwhile anti-war candidate Howard Dean has
joined the bandwagon.)
On Libya, however, I strongly suspect that Clinton will be attacked by Democrats in the primary and most Republican opponents in a general election (if she makes it that far). Her rivals can hardly resist.
The country is coming undone.
Relentless factional fighting in Tripoli and in the eastern city of Benghazi has left dozens of people dead. Well-known political activists have been killed, diplomats have been kidnapped, and ordinary citizens fear bandits on the roads. Water and electricity shutdowns have become more frequent than at any time since the chaos after Colonel Qaddafi’s fall, and fuel has disappeared from Tripoli’s gas stations.
With all that in mind, the Libya intervention will be extremely hard to defend, especially given that the Obama Administration ordered it without Congressional permission and in violation of the War Powers Resolution. Clinton will have no good answer for a Democratic rival who says, "I'd forgive your Iraq vote if you'd learned your lesson. But with that debacle fresh in mind, you urged the overthrow another dictator without any idea what would happen afterward. Once again, that empowered Islamist terrorists who now thrive in that country."
Let’s see how she does once April is upon us. At the same time, I don't think "hawkishness" in itself is a disqualifying factor. Americans are wary about ISIS; it's one of the issues that turned the tide of some the elections in 2014, specifically in North Carolina's Senate race. I get a sense that Republicans want to tap back into the foreign policy realm and reengage with those national security bona fides that helped them steamroll Democrats during the mid-2000s. After all, Barack Obama's model for counterterrorism operations–Yemen–has collapsed. Along with ISIS controlling huge swaths of land, and the collapse of Libya, Jeffrey Goldberg aptly noted that by 2017, hundreds of thousands of square miles could potentially be in the control of terrorists. That's a huge problem. Then again, the GOP should keep in mind that nation-building probably isn't going to resonate well with the 2016 electorate. A self-awareness about the shortfalls in the occupation after the Iraq War is probably in order since, despite the revelation that Saddam did have WMDs, the post-war reconstruction wasn't necessarily the smoothest of operations.
A robust national security is a constitutional obligation, but both sides would do well to walk slowly when processing future interventionist policy on the stump regarding countries where there are deep tribal or sectarian ties. We've gone into three countries–Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq–which have such elements woven into their socioeconomic fabric–and we haven't been all that successful in eliminating the very terrorist elements due to that lack of understanding.