Principled Engagement: Charting a Course for a Clinton Presidency

Kudos to Secretary Hillary Clinton for her foreign policy speech in San Diego this week. She affirmed her credentials as a visionary leader on the world stage and made a strong and convincing case for why a Donald Trump presidency would be catastrophic for our nation. Judging by his reaction, she clearly hit some nerves beneath his thin skin. Our next Commander in Chief is committed and qualified, and offers a compelling plan to protect our security and growth which, as she highlighted, includes “strong alliances, clarity in dealing with our rivals and a rock-solid commitment to the values that have made America great. We lead with purpose,” she said, “and we prevail.”

At this critical moment in our history, however, it is how we lead that will determine the success of our foreign policy today and far into the future. The manner in which we engage citizens around the world and demonstrate American leadership will be one of the most important tasks for our next President as she puts forth a plan that not only embraces our exceptionalism but also demonstrates an awareness of and sensitivity to our place in the world.

We must collectively pause and take stock of our successes as well as our errors. I vehemently disagree with Trump’s outlandish statement that “the world is laughing at us.” The world is not laughing at us, nor has it ever done so. Having said that, we must reckon with a new reality: our credibility has greatly diminished. Our intentions are doubted and our priorities questioned. Citizens at home and around the world are perplexed by our lack of consistency as they observe our billion-dollar military aid to Egypt, a country crushing all political dissent, or our alliance with Saudi Arabia, a government violating the basic rights of its own citizens.

The current engagement paradigm is falling short. At the same time, Isolationism in the face of growing fundamentalism around the world is not an option.  Our increasingly myopic foreign policy of countering terrorism puts our nation in a precarious position and must be reevaluated. Secretary Clinton rightly pointed out that “we are not a nation that cowers behind walls.” However, we are digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a morass.

It is time for a return to a stronger value-based foreign policy – a policy that does not forsake our belief in liberty and democracy and keeps the United States safe. Secretary Clinton should be applauded for emphasizing “the need to embrace all the tools of American power, especially diplomacy and development.” This, coupled with a commitment to stay true to American core values will no doubt strengthen our mission abroad. We must strike a balance between promoting our values internationally and protecting our national security interests. While our security will no doubt always be at the heart of our actions, we must develop a more principled approach in our engagement with private and public actors. A robust doctrine that allows the United States to reinvigorate its democratic and moral leadership while fighting extremism both at home and abroad.

In the coming months, we must carefully examine and assess our relationship with allies and rivals and formulate a more deliberate, innovative and consistent approach: a new framework for principled engagement. “We need to be firm but wise with our rivals,” as Clinton stressed, and earn back the respect of the community of nations by demonstrating that the priorities of other countries are also relevant to our long-term strategic thinking. Only then can we seed relations based on mutual trust and respect, as well as the principles and values that define us as a nation.
As Secretary Clinton concluded, the United States of America “represents something special, not just to us, to the world. It represents freedom and hope and opportunity.” Citizens around the world must trust once more that our leaders can inspire and that we stand in defense of their freedoms, hopes and opportunities as well. This is principled engagement.

The task before us is tremendous. The next president will have to navigate an exceedingly complicated obstacle course in statecraft, both domestically and internationally. As Secretary Clinton so rightfully outlined “it takes a real plan, real experience and real leadership.” There is but one candidate who personifies those three elements.

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