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US POLITICS: ANALYSIS

Hillary Clinton distances herself from Obama foreign policy before 2016 poll

Ahead of possible 2016 presidential run, former secretary of state strikes a more hawkish tone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 10:38pm
 

Just over a year after leaving her job as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has offered views on foreign policy that analysts said seem part of an effort to distance herself from the Obama administration as she prepares a possible 2016 White House run.

In appearances this month, Clinton struck a hawkish tone on issues including Iran and Russia, even while expressing broad support for the work done by Obama and her successor as secretary of state, John Kerry. Clinton said in New York on Wednesday that she was "personally sceptical" of Iran's commitment to reaching a comprehensive agreement on its nuclear programme.

Just two weeks earlier, Clinton was forced to backtrack after she drew parallels between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler at a closed-door fundraiser. In comments leaked to the media by a reporter who attended the event, Clinton said Putin's justifications for his actions in the Crimean region were akin to moves Hitler made before the second world war.

Yet, as secretary of state, Clinton was a key player in a US effort to reset relations with Russia, a policy that critics say now appears to be a glaring failure.

Clinton's recent rhetoric on Iran and Russia is part of a renewed focus on foreign policy for the former first lady and New York senator, who is widely considered the Democratic presidential front runner in 2016 if she chooses to run.

She has been giving speeches across the country since leaving the State Department, but Wednesday's address was her first on-the-record event in recent months focused solely on international relations.

"Secretary Clinton is distancing herself a bit on foreign policy matters from the administration recently," said John Hudak, a Brookings Institution fellow and expert on presidential campaigns. "This is a pretty standard practice for anyone looking to succeed the sitting president, even within the same party.

"It's one of the first steps for her to say, 'We're not the same candidate'," he said.

Creating space between her position and Obama's is a "smart move", said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who worked for the 1996 presidential re-election campaign of Hillary Clinton's husband, Bill Clinton.

"The present administration is in a no-win situation with Russia, with Syria and in the Middle East," Sheinkopf said before Clinton's New York speech. "Making a distance from them can only help."

Republicans have promised to make Clinton's State Department record an issue if she runs for the White House, focusing on the 2012 attacks on a US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed.

Some analysts see her rhetoric as more than a campaign tactic, and fitting with her foreign policy statements before joining the Obama administration. They said that could broaden her appeal to voters if she chooses to run, a decision she has said will not come until the end of this year.

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