Clinton's opportunity on foreign policy

Listening to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas Supreme Court rejects Alex Jones request to toss lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing Samantha Power's Herculean task: Turning a screw with a rubber screwdriver MORE's first big campaign rally on the trail this past Saturday, you wouldn't have known that she once served as President Obama's secretary of State. Indeed, it would be understandable if you assumed that Clinton's last job was in the U.S. Senate, where she represented the great state of New York for eight years (she held her campaign stump speech on Roosevelt Island, where thousands of fans and likely voters assembled to watch her speak with lower Manhattan in the background). That is because she spent only a few minutes on foreign policy and national security in a 4,687-word address that lasted for over 40 minutes (according to the transcript). Roughly 324 words were devoted to issues going on around the world — a whopping 6.9 percent of the speech's content.


If Henry Kissinger, George Schultz or Colin Powell were theoretically running for president, it would be a safe bet to assume that foreign policy would be a primary — if not the primary — part of their platform. Secretaries of State, to put it mildly, like to brag about their accomplishments and their time being the most powerful diplomat in the world. As secretary of State for four years, one would think that Clinton would follow in a similar vein. Surprisingly, that wasn't the case on Saturday. Instead, she talked about the world in broad generalities and used language tinged with the typical bit about American exceptionalism, the power of America in solving some of the world's most difficult problems and an America that is primed to continue unabashedly pursing its superpower status in the 21st century. "I believe the future holds far more opportunities than threats," Clinton said, "if we exercise creative and confident leadership that enables us to shape global events rather than be shaped by them."

Why Clinton avoided talking much about foreign policy during this specific speech is anyone's guess. The Clinton campaign may have believed it was a good idea to focus on the priority issues of economic equality, fairness, taking care of America's kids and grandkids, and providing opportunity for low-income families. These are the issues that Americans care about, at least according to the polls, and these are the domestic problems that Clinton's opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination — Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Next steps in the Trump impeachment Sanders selling sweatshirts with his famous inauguration pose for charity Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' MORE (I-Vt.), most vocally — have been harping on in their own campaigns. It would be ill-advised for Clinton to duck them: Her opponents would call her an "elitist" who is "out of touch" with what ordinary Americans are talking about. This is exactly the kind of perception that the #Hillary2016 campaign is trying to fight.

Yet at a time when there is so much destabilization and bloodshed going on around the globe, from Russia's continued military support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) expansion into Ramadi, Iraq, matters of national security need to be discussed in detail — not just by Clinton, but by all the candidates who want to become the next commander in chief. With the exception of debating whether the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a smart decision — and apart from complaints made by Republican candidates about the dearth of Obama's leadership — there hasn't been a full-fledged conversation on how the United States should tackle problems of international significance. As a former secretary of State, Clinton will be expected to explain concrete proposals for what she would do about Chinese incursions into the South China Sea, what requirements must be attached to global trade agreements, how the U.S. can best contain the Russia problem and how Washington can minimize or mitigate the damage that comes from Iran's support for regional terrorism. I suspect that Clinton knows this, but for one reason or another, her campaign chose not to use her first massive rally to bring it up.

As the campaign grinds on, Americans will hear more about the candidates' overarching view of the world. Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to put herself above the partisan sniping that has thus far dominated the discussion about national security by explaining how she would pursue statecraft in the Oval Office, why her opponents are getting it wrong and why she has the best resume to take on what will be a very challenging global environment when the calendar hits January 2017.

DePetris is a Middle East analyst for Wikistrat, Inc, a geopolitical risk consultancy, and an independent foreign policy consultant.