How Would a President Hillary Clinton Handle _____? 

We thought we'd ask the experts.

click to enlarge GAGE SKIDMORE / CCO 2.0

Hillary Clinton has been involved in US foreign policy for years. Her role, in fact, has often been a point of contention.

Her fans say she evolves, rejecting and embracing logical foreign policy intitiatives based on the context at the time. Her critics say she shifts her positions based on political convenience.

Regardless, First Lady Hillary Clinton is different from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and neither are the same as candidate Hillary Clinton. And a President Hillary Clinton? That remains to be seen.

And so we thought we'd ask the experts: How would a President Clinton handle some of the top challenges facing the US abroad?


“In general, Hillary Clinton is going to be tougher on foreign policy than President Barack Obama,” says Demetri Sevastopulo, who writes about Moscow-Washington relations for the Financial Times.

As an example, he points to elections in 2011 in Russia’s State Duma (its parliament). “Hillary Clinton was very tough, basically suggesting that there had been electoral fraud in Russia, and that really angered the Russians. So the Russians are going to be very wary of her, and a lot will depend on what’s happening in Russia when the new American president takes office.”

Think of it this way: Fans of the television show "House of Cards" might remember a plotline in which First Lady and UN Ambassador Claire Underwood has to confront the fictional Russian president, Victor Petrov. He proceeds to bully her.

“There could be an element of that" in real life, Sevastopulo says. "Putin is a strong man. I think he'll try out strong-arm tactics in the beginning if it is Hillary Clinton in the White House. But she's not a pushover, and I suspect Hillary will push back very hard. She’s not going to be a pushover for Vladimir Putin, I think everyone will agree on that.”

Still, Sevastopulo says the list of challenges in US-Russia relations is long.

“Top of the list is probably Ukraine, where there’s a very shaky ceasefire at the moment that continues to be violated on a daily basis," he says. "You have the question of whether America provides arms to the Ukrainian rebels. That’s something that Hillary Clinton was more in favor of doing whereas President Obama was resistant. Syria is always going to be a huge issue. How the Americans deal with the Russians in trying to deal with Assad in Syria is going to be right at the top of the list.”


Clinton has promised to ease some of the heavy-handed immigration policies the Obama White House enforces. She has pledged to make it easier for women and children fleeing violence in Central America to find refuge in the United States.

"President Obama has really thrown the book at these asylum seekers coming here, and enforced a very aggressive practice of detaining families, putting them into very rapid deportation policies and practices to get them out of the country," says Greg Chen, director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). "Candidate Clinton has said as president she's not going to do that."

Clinton has also promised to stand for a humane, targeted enforcement practice that would focus on deporting only those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety. She could make good on that pledge by closing two large family detention centers on the Texas-Mexico border.

"It wasn't the previous practice, so it wouldn't be that difficult for President Clinton to change that and to stop using these kinds of jail-like facilities for families," Chen says.

Clinton says she’ll discontinue the practice of SWAT-style raids in immigrant neighborhoods.

"She has said publicly that waking up mothers and children in their homes, in the early hours of pre-dawn and taking them out of their houses with handcuffs is not a humane practice, and she has said she would stop that," Chen says. "It would not be difficult for her to halt that."

But with the US House of Representatives in Republican hands, little comprehensive reform is likely in the short term.


“I believe she will be very consistent on following the Obama administration’s Asia policy,” says Jia Jie Tang, Washington Bureau Chief for Sina News, a private Chinese media company.

In particular, she says she expects Clinton to continue Obama’s so-called "pivot to Asia," in which Washington has tried to shift policy attention from the Middle East to East Asia, and confront China’s expansionism in the South China Sea. Clinton is seen in China as having been the architect of the "pivot" strategy while she was secretary of state.

In addition, Tang says Clinton is expected to continue the policy of advocating for human rights in China, and also to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed multi-national trade agreement among Pacific Rim countries that excludes China.

There's another complication. Tang says Clinton isn't well-liked in China. It started with her speech as first lady in 1995 at a global women’s conference in Beijing, where she spoke out in favor of human rights. Tang says Chinese people don’t enjoy foreign leaders pointing fingers at domestic issues.


Back when she was Secretary of State, Clinton praised the TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed pact among 12 Pacific Rim nations including the US, Canada and Mexico. She even once called it the “gold standard in trade agreements.”

Very early in her campaign last October, however, Clinton distanced herself. She said she supported the trade agreement in principle, but felt the final negotiation didn't live up to her high standards.

Is this a flip-flop? Or have her positions truly evolved? It depends whom you ask. You can be certain that Donald Trump will use Clinton's shifting positions on trade deals to attack her trustworthiness.

But bottom line: If Clinton is elected president, will she sign the TPP?

First, it’s possible that Congress will pass it and President Obama will sign it before the end of his term, so all this might be a moot point.

But if Hillary Clinton is elected president? Well, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, a long-time Clinton family friend, posited to Politico this week that a President Clinton would pass the TPP and make some fixes.

A Clinton aide pounced on that comment and said, “Hillary opposes TPP BEFORE and AFTER the election. Period. Full Stop.” No ambiguity there.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

Both times Barack Obama ran for president, he campaigned to shut down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. But it's still open.

And so, if Clinton becomes president, it will be her responsibility to decide the camp's fate. She hasn't mentioned it much on the campaign trail so far.

"She is on record saying that she does want to close the detention facility," says WGBH's Arun Rath, reporting from the 9/11 War Court in Cuba. "And it's also worth noting that her record as secretary of state does back that up. We saw that apparently, the secretary worked hard on prisoner transfers."

Rath says Clinton tried to convince Germany to take some of the prisoners.

"And as secretary of state she heard from plenty of foreign leaders about the damage that the prison was doing for US moral standing in the world. And on her way out of office she sent a memo to the president appealing to him, again, to finish the job of closing the prison. So not only does she say she wants to close the prison, she's got a pretty good [record], so far, of actually trying to get it done."

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