A Clinton administration will be defined by ongoing friction between the aim to rebalance strategic objectives towards the Asia-Pacific region and the subsequent effect that intensifying conflict within the Middle East will have on constraining this ambition.
One can be assured, however, that it will use as its organising principle the belief that an active and engaged America is vital not only crucial in securing national interest, but in maintaining international order and peace. This may involve the subverting of ideology or moral legitimacy in favour of pragmatism and stability.
Asia-Pacific Strategic Interests
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was integral to the design and implementation of the proposed rebalancing of US strategic interests towards the Asia-Pacific region, presupposed by the recognition that the defining moments of the 21st century will be driven from within that geopolitical sphere. To capitalise on this, the US pursued a combination of strengthening existing economic and security ties, while creating and cultivating new ones.
One can assume that the major focus of a future Clinton administration would be on Sino-American co-operation and the assurance of a peaceful rise – both economically and militarily. It is within both US and Chinese interests to remain peacefully engaged and to continue dialogue across a range of issues. Rhetorically, in continuation from her time in the State Department, Aa Clinton administration may abhor various human rights violations or denounce internal political dynamics. However, peaceful co-operation is of paramount importance to US interests, and thus a moral and idealistic ambivalence may be quietly pursued behind closed doors.
Dealing With China
On saying this, a Clinton administration will seek to contain Chinese expansion and curtail strategic interests as much as possible – with a specific focus on territorial claims within the South China Sea. This area provides the platform for frequent and intensifying Sino-American conflict, both directly and indirectly, that must be managed by any new administration.
A significant altercation between Clinton and President Obama came with the failure to act when the Assad regime overstepped the ‘red-line’ of using chemical weapons in the Syrian context. Indeed, if such ultimatums are formulated within a Clinton administration, one can be assured of Clintons willingness to engage directly to protect US interests within this region.
Although not explicitly stated, the policy platforms that a Clinton administration is most likely to pursue within the Asia-Pacific looks – in some ways – to be influenced by the Cold War strategies of containment. Her reference that they remain on the wrong side of “history” suggests a belief in the eventual want for increased representative and democratic government within China. Thus US strategy will seek to contain Chinese expansion and hegemonic ambitions in the hope that its domestic structures will ultimately falter.
Balancing The Middle East
Curtailing a future Clinton administration’s ambitions of rebalancing US strategic focus towards is the Asia-Pacific are the ongoing and escalating conflicts within the Middle East. The Syrian Civil War presents perhaps the most serious and complex challenge to US strategy. A multi-level chessboard of alliances and interests creates a complex platform for violence and conflict, and a convoluted environment through which to navigate and secure US national interest and maintain some aspects of the international order.
Within Syrian national borders, there remains the continuing conflict between the Assad regime and the collection of rebel factions that are hardly unanimous in objectives and capabilities. However, Clinton remains committed to her original lobbying for the arming and training of moderate Syrian rebels.
Overcasting this are broader regional concerns over the intensification of the Sunni-Shia conflict and ramifications of the ongoing clash of Saudi Arabian and Iranian interests that are increasingly played out through the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Extending from this further is the relationship that critical state and regional players have with the great powers such as the US and Russia that – in much the same way as the South China Sea territorial dispute – have the potential to escalate dramatically.
Force Vs Diplomacy
Indeed, Clinton voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime and remains in favour of the full use of US power to pursue strategic objectives. With regards to the Syrian Civil War, however, Clinton is a shrewd enough diplomat to be aware of the risks of creating yet another political vacuum in the region. It is, therefore, unlikely to see a major ground invasion with the goal of regime change unless a credible and legitimate opposition appears.
Within the Middle East, there is no clear path to follow, and a Clinton administration will perhaps have to, again, subvert idealism and legitimacy in favour of pragmatism and stability. There is no clear victory here.
A Clinton Doctrine?
The pragmatism that will most likely be pursued within a Clinton led foreign policy is at odds with her ambition to promote and construct a total US grand strategy. The complexities of contemporary challenges and the sheer extent of differing objectives makes it almost impossible to maintain a grand strategy that remains global in scope.
Moreover, the lack of a singular and easily defined threat makes it harder to cultivate an overarching doctrine. However, one can be certain that a Clinton administration will not shirk the responsibilities the US has as global hegemon, and will be steadfast in the belief that an active and engaged US is integral to both national interest and world order.