Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Could Foreign Policy Unravel the Inevitability, Again?

Which Virginia senator is the more 
likely Veep candidate in 2016?
My photo (2004)

In 2016, although Virginia will not have a senatorial or gubernatorial contest making headlines, once again it will probably be considered a battleground state in the race for the White House. With no Republicans holding statewide offices it’s hard to say who will emerge as the leader of their effort to put the commonwealth back in the red column. Still, as far as headlines to do with the next presidential election go, it will be the maneuverings of prominent Virginia Democrats that will bear watching the most.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a longtime Clinton confidant and can be expected to be playing a high profile role in the campaign of the Democrats’ most likely nominee, Hillary Clinton. My guess is the announcement about her intentions will come in early 2015. Sen. Tim Kaine couldn’t wait, so he’s already endorsed Clinton.

As a former governor, Kaine will probably be high up on Clinton’s possible Veep list, which will keep his name in the news. Sen. Mark Warner, another former governor, will also be on that list.

However, Kaine’s predecessor in the Senate, Jim Webb, may turn out to be the Democrat who will play the most interesting role in this story, at least in the early going. Webb has been appearing on news talk shows promoting the possibility that he might seek the nomination, himself.

On Oct. 5, Webb appeared on Meet the Press to answer questions from Chuck Todd about war and peace, and -- of course -- whether he will challenge Clinton for the nomination. In responding, Webb pointed out that the USA hasn’t really had a clear foreign policy for the last 20 years. Regarding the conflicts of the Arab Spring, Webb cited the lack of a clear articulation of the mission as a factor in mistakes that were made in Libya, when Clinton was Secretary of State. 

Regarding Iraq and Syria, Webb said, “We now have a situation where we're asking these freedom fighters, or whatever you want to call them, who were going after Assad, to help us go after ISIS ... And the elements that are fighting there are very fluid in terms of the people who declare their alliances. I would be willing to bet that we had people at the top of ISIS who actually have been trained by Americans at some point.” 

When asked about running for president, Webb kept his cards close to his vest. For the time being, he appears happy to provoke questions about his aspirations, without feeling obliged to answer them. It's safe to say he wants to force the early discussion within the Democratic Party to include the possibility of a peace candidate. Webb decried America’s Cold War-footing of maintaining military bases in too many places. 

Too much of that sort of talk could a problem for Clinton. Her 2002 vote as a senator, supporting then-President George W. Bush’s plan to invade Iraq, came back to haunt her in 2008. It opened the door for President Barack Obama to wrest the nomination from her.

Then, by serving as Obama’s Secretary of State for four years, it put her in harm‘s way to take the fall for any foreign policy mishaps on her watch. That played out most obviously with the howling aftermath of the 2012 raid in Benghazi. In weighing what she should and shouldn’t say about the current troubles in Iraq and Syria, in particular, Clinton is in a bind. She wants to own as little of what’s most scary in that region as possible. She wants to project a muscularity about her approach to the region that plays as right of Obama. But she doesn’t want to remind voters of her 2002 vote that authorized war in Iraq.

Moreover, I suspect some Democrats who are imagining other candidates are also watching to see how the polling goes in reaction to Webb's points about how and how not to use America's armed forces. With the shape of foreign policy as a front burner issue in 2016, one of the possible alternative candidates could be Massachusetts' Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Yet another might be our own Sen. Warner.

Is Hillary Clinton’s "inevitability" starting to unravel again? Is the first pulling of the thread happening here in Virginia?

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