If she becomes president, the Democratic candidate will arrive in office during a climate of tension that has never been so pronounced. One of the priorities will be China, our commentator, François Nordmann, expects.
Before the end of the year, the new president of the United States must choose the main members of her team, particularly in the fields of foreign policy, security and defense.
Former diplomats, such as William Burns or Nicholas Burns or even Wendy Sherman, teachers or think tank collaborators are champing at the bit; the new president will recruit a secretary of state, a director of the National Security Council, or an experienced secretary of defense whom she trusts. Will she want a former colleague in the Senate or a moderate Republican? Will she keep one of the current officials in order to provide continuity? There’s real suspense.
China, Lead Issue
It’s rare that passing the baton has taken place in such a pronounced atmosphere of tension. The relationship with Russia – particularly concerning Syria and Ukraine – and with China, starting from the South and East China Sea, and North Korea’s provocations are such hot topics that they will require immediate attention, from the moment she takes the oath of office next Jan. 20.
Robert Gates, former secretary of defense, said in The Wall Street Journal last month that he puts China at the top of the foreign policy issues he would take on. Businessmen in China, he said, are susceptible to growing hostility, not to mention electronic spying and intellectual property theft. The unilateral claims of sovereignty on neighboring waters and reefs increase the risk of a military confrontation.
Diplomatic Talent and Very Sharp Politics
The president must quickly develop a clear strategy and show diplomatic talent as well as very sharp politics in order to establish a position without making things worse. Avoiding a major conflict with China, now or in 30 years, is a major preoccupation of President Obama. When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was one of the architects of the rebalancing of U.S policy toward Asia. The announcement of a reversal of the alliance made in Beijing by President Duterte of the Philippines is a step back for the U.S., even if this cannot be the last word on the matter given his erratic character.
Iran and North Korea are declared enemies of the United States. Clinton, who is in favor of the nuclear deal, must doubtlessly react quickly to the subversive plotting of Iran, which will try to embarrass her—at the cost of a maritime confrontation in the Persian Gulf where the Iranian navy has doubled its operations since last year.
North Korea will not be left behind when it comes to testing the determination of the new administration with its nuclear blackmail.
Complicated Relations with Russia from the Start
With Russia, relations will be more complicated from the start because of a personal factor. Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has never hidden the fact that he has little respect for his former American counterpart, an opinion shared by President Putin.
How can she put an end to the aggressive machinations of the Russian heads of state, all while pursuing, despite everything else, fruitful cooperation with them in taking on the great global challenges: climate change, war against terrorism, arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and the war in Syria?
A Truly Incorrigible Adversary
Gates thinks that Clinton has, just like her adversary, a credibility problem with respect to foreign policy. She was completely mistaken about Libya where she supported the regime change by force without anticipating the ensuing chaos, creating a situation comparable to that in Iraq in 2003. However, she did not spare criticism of President Bush on this topic, while she herself voted for intervention.
Today, she is against trade agreements that she approved in the beginning. She should clarify her positions because she has the ability to learn from mistakes, in contrast to her adversary, who is truly incorrigible.