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August 11, 2014 12:01 PM HRC & “DDSS”

By Ed Kilgore

It’s now beginning to harden into CW that Hillary Clinton is itching to “distance herself” from Barack Obama’s foreign policy—you know, the one she was in charge of directing until eighteen months ago—presumably in a more “hawkish” direction. But I suspect a lot of this talk is at a minimum premature.

The prime exhibit being cited at present is Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Clinton, published over the weekend, in which he postulated that “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” is Obama’s foreign policy “doctrine” and HRC allowed as how that wasn’t sufficient. If you read the actual (excerpted) transcript Goldberg provides, he mentioned “Don’t Do Stupid Sh*t” as an informal Obama “slogan,” and Clinton (changing the expletive to “stuff) said that was “an important lesson” from past missteps, but not an “organizing doctrine.”

If you look back at the legend of “DDSS,” it was promoted most notably by Politico’s Mike Allen, who said in a June 1 column that it “captured Obama’s resistance to a rigid catch-all doctrine, as well as his aversion to what he once called the ‘dumb war’ in Iraq.”

So in talking to Goldberg, HRC was not only right but on-message: DDSS is not a “doctrine,” but “a necessary brake on the actions you might take in order to promote a vision.” What remains, however, is Clinton’s argument that “great nations need organizing principles.”

I don’t find this especially clear as some sort of “break” with Obama. I’m sure as a candidate for president she will find it appropriate to articulate a foreign policy “doctrine,” insofar as that’s what candidates do, particularly if, like her, they are frequently criticized for inadequate specificity in what they stand for. Obama is in a somewhat different position. As we have learned again and again, when presidents articulate foreign policy “doctrines,” stupid “stuff” can often happen.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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