Analysis

Obama’s Bad Cop

Hillary Clinton sounds tough, but her let’s-make-a-deal approach to foreign policy isn’t so different from Barack Obama’s.

American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2, 2009
American secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, December 2, 2009 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Former rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may have gotten off to a rocky start when the former accepted the position of secretary of state, but, Michael Hirsch writes for Newsweek this week, Clinton has emerged as Obama’s bad cop.

“Clinton is now influencing policy more than she ever has,” according Hirsch, “especially in close partnership with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.”

The two were critical in persuading the president to add 30,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan while on Iran, both have long pushed for sanctions instead of Obama’s “all-carrots-and-no-sticks offer of engagement.”

Iran

After admitting in January that his overture to the Arab world has failed to deliver results, the president agreed to a new strategy that appears aimed at isolating Iran. Clinton has warned that the regime is moving toward military dictatorship.

Indeed, she is believed to be in favor of taking an ever tougher stance, but she hasn’t managed to get rising powers Brazil, China and India on board for further action.

The president is relying on Clinton to “hammer Iran,” reports Hirsch, and her “greater hawkishness is beginning to show up in policy.”

Israel and Russia

Besides opting for a more assertive policy toward Iran, Clinton has harangued Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his defiance of American demands for a settlement freeze in the West Bank.

While supportive of the administration’s effort to “restart” relations with Russia, she also hasn’t been afraid to criticize Moscow for supporting Iran in its quest for nuclear power.

Pragmatic

Clinton herself dismisses any suggestion that the president and she have adopted a formal good cop, bad cop routine:

With every tough message that I deliver, it is embedded in a much broader context. It’s not, “You’re with us or against us.” It is, “We have a lot of business to do.”

This might sounds like the transformational rhetoric of the early days of the Obama Administration, but the more pragmatic, “let’s-make-a-deal approach favored by Clinton has come to prevail.”

Relationships

Beyond forging an intimate working relationship with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Clinton also has a bond with Vice President Joe Biden and key senators.

Abroad she maintains close personal ties with government leaders and officials while working to repair America’s shattered prestige. Regular town hall meetings — or “townterviews,” as she likes to call them — involving local citizens and the media “have eased at least some of the anti-Americanism in Islamic countries.”

It’s too early to speak of a shared Clinton-Obama doctrine. The last year has been spent “rebuilding the brand” and rebuilding political capital. And blaming George W. Bush, of course.

Now that’s done, what will the new American strategy look like?