Is Hillary Clinton a 'war hawk,' as Rand Paul says?

Rand Paul accused Hillary Clinton of being a 'war hawk.' But the issue is charged for Senator Paul, too, as he's a relative dove in a party defined for decades by a muscular approach to overseas problems.

Charlie Neibergall/AP/File
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky is introduced to speak at a meeting with local Republicans in Hiawatha, Iowa, on Aug. 5, 2014. Trips to early-voting states, such as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, are widely viewed as a barometer for candidate interest in 2016 presidential primaries.

Is Hillary Clinton a “war hawk”? That’s what Rand Paul said over the weekend. The Kentucky senator made the reference while contrasting his less-interventionist approach to foreign policy to that of the former secretary of State.

During a segment on NBC's “Meet the Press,” Senator Paul accused Mrs. Clinton of fighting “her own war, Hillary’s war," though he didn’t specify which conflict that was, exactly. Afghanistan? Iraq? Then he said that if he were the GOP presidential nominee, he could attract a number of independents and even some Democrats worried that a gung-ho Clinton would involve the nation in another Middle Eastern conflict.

“If you wanna see a transformational election in our country, let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton, and you’ll see a transformation like you’ve never seen,” said Paul, interviewed while in Guatemala on a charity medical mission.

This comment reflects a number of the most interesting aspects of the developing 2016 presidential race, in our view. It’ s a nexus where political tactics and strategy for both parties intersect.

First, the GOP in general is likely to try and make Clinton the face of Obama foreign policy. Paul’s not the only possible Republican standard-bearer to bring the subject up. On Monday Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida slammed her on this, saying she was responsible for many of the nation’s current diplomatic problems.

“She was the secretary of State, the chief foreign policy officer of the Obama administration, at a time when it is now universally accepted that his policy is a fiasco,” said Senator Rubio at a fundraiser for GOP candidates in South Carolina.

The strategy here is obvious: Obama is unpopular, and the GOP wants to tie Clinton to him as tightly as possible. She will try to create space between herself and her old boss and present herself as her own person. That’s all Politics 101.

But the “war hawk” jab is a back flip, a flank attack, a way to try and accomplish this mission from an unusual direction.

Clinton surely would not describe herself thusly. But the fact is she has taken numerous positions on international questions that are more forceful than those of Rand Paul – or, in some instances, President Obama.

Washington Post political analyst Chris Cillizza runs through some of these in his “Fix” blog. As a senator, she voted to authorize the Iraq War. She supported the troop surge in Afghanistan in 2009. She’s argued for a more aggressive US stance in Libya than current policy.

Paul has lately tried to position himself as a more Reaganesque figure, talking about peace through strength. But the fact is, he is libertarian Ron Paul’s son and remains highly skeptical of the need for US interventions around the world.

“Given that record, if Clinton and Paul were their party’s respective nominees, it seems certain that she would be more hawkish in her approach to nearly every major international conflict than he would be,” writes Mr. Cillizza.

The “if” in that sentence is a big one, however. Not for Clinton – she’s maybe the most inevitable nonincumbent presidential nominee of the modern era. No, the most fascinating and unpredictable part of the early stages of campaign 2016 may be how Rand Paul’s foreign policy views play with GOP primary voters.

He’s a relative dove in a party defined for decades by a muscular approach to overseas problems. Some of Paul’s most prominent probable rivals, such as Rubio and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have begun promoting more hawkish views as they vie for the support of key establishment Republican figures.

In an attempt to blunt Paul’s progress, some right-leaning pundits now even compare him to (you guessed it!) President Obama.

“Both Obama and Paul believe that US action is the most dangerous option while which inaction is the safe course. Every international event in the past 5-1/2 years tells us otherwise. (Does Paul think the Obama foreign policy has been a success?),” writes Jennifer Rubin Tuesday on her “Right Turn” Washington Post blog.

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