The Foreign Policy Freeze

Over the past week, we’ve seen a bunch of Hillary Clintons. At the debate in Austin on Thursday, we saw Comtemplative Hillary , who spun an anecdote about wounded soldiers into a reflection about the big picture of this campaign. Then on Saturday, we saw Defiant Hillary , who declared, “Shame on you, Barack Obama,” for a mailing she said mischaracterized her health-care plan. Today at George Washington University, we saw Serious, Trusted Leader Hillary, flanked by military endorsers including Wesley Clark, a throwback to the confident inevitability of her pre-Iowa days.

The Clinton campaign hyped it as a major foreign policy speech, but there was nothing new, policywise. She still wants to pull troops out of Iraq within her first year (though she stressed that “withdrawing troops is not easy” and will take time). She still wants to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and international lenders. She still says she won’t sit down with leaders of Cuba and Iran without preconditions.

But unlike pre-Iowa, Clinton peppers her speeches with Obama digs. “The American people don’t have to guess whether I know the issues,” she said, “or need a foreign policy instruction manual, or need to rely on advisers to guide me on global affairs.” Later: “I will not broadcast threats against Pakistan just to demonstrate I am tough enough for the job.” Also: “I will not be penciling leaders of [Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others] into the presidential calendar, until we have evaluated their motivations.”

Even at this late hour, “experience” is still the campaign’s main argument against Obama: We will arrive in the White House knowing what to do; he will not. The Barack Obama painted by Clinton is impulsive (willing to rattle sabers at Pakistan one moment) and naive (willing to break bread with dictators at the next).

But the contrast feels forced. Both candidates want to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within the first year or so of their presidency. Both decry military action as anything but a last resort. Both want to boost America’s energy independence and reduce reliance on foreign creditors. Perceptions of the surge have changed over the past year, but Clinton and Obama still agree that staying in Iraq isn’t worth the resources. The only real foreign policy contrast is whether they would talk to rogue leaders without preconditions—a decision that, while important, is hardly a fateful fork in the road. Given all that, Clinton’s argument still boils down to I’ve been around longer than he has. Meanwhile, Obama’s rebuttal is still If only that helped her make good decisions.

This campaign has seen its ups, downs, twists, turns, and stunning reversals . But in terms of foreign policy, we’re still where we were last year.