Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin said Thursday morning that Hillary Clinton will have trouble defending her foreign policy record as secretary of state because the only countries the United States has better relations with since she and President Barack Obama took office are Cuba and Iran.
Both countries are authoritarian regimes noted for their human rights abuses and are historical adversaries of the U.S.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel, Halperin said if real estate mogul Donald Trump becomes the Republican presidential nominee, he will not shy away from attacking Clinton because her foreign policy history is potentially a major vulnerability.
“If [Trump] is the nominee, he will ask the question … which is, ‘Name countries in the world where the United States has better relationships now than before Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton took office?’” Halperin said. “And he’ll say the correct answers are Cuba and Iran. And that answer will not play particularly well in certain parts of the country.”
Halperin also noted Trump is not afraid to target an opponent's perceived strengths and will go after Clinton’s foreign policy as part of his political strategy.
“I believe Donald Trump looks at not just the factual record … on the [Obama] administration’s foreign policy,” Halperin said. “He looks at Hillary Clinton’s perceived strength on that and say[s], “I’m not going to yield that ground; I’m going to go right after her strength and demolish it by saying she’s not an effective leader.’”
Halperin added that George W. Bush effectively went after Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) during the 2000 GOP primary for corruption when his character was a perceived strength and also targeted then-Senator John Kerry’s war record during the 2004 general election when that was thought to be an advantage for him.
Halperin’s analysis of the Obama administration’s foreign policy echoes the concerns that many critics of Obama and Clinton have with the administration’s global strategy
Obama took the controversial step of moving to normalize relations with Cuba in late 2014 after the U.S. had a trade embargo on and no diplomatic relations with Cuba for half a century.
The president hoped the authoritarian Communist state would become more free and democratic with his diplomatic efforts, although Cuba still reportedly commits human rights abuses.
Critics argue U.S. outreach will give the Castro regime more money and grant it legitimacy without requiring any change in behavior or providing any gains for the United States.
Obama has also gone to great lengths to improve ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran, most notably with the nuclear deal struck last year, in an effort to bring Tehran into the international community as a stabilizing force in the Middle East.
Iran has aggressively moved forward with its ballistic missile development after the nuclear deal, however, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and has ramped up its efforts to support Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. Tehran notably captured 10 U.S. sailors earlier this year as well and publicized humiliating pictures of them during their detainment.
Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Iran for the subsequent release of the sailors the following day and said it appeared they were “well taken care of.”
While Obama has sought to improve relations with Cuba and Iran, some analysts have argued the president has damaged America’s relationships with its allies, pointing most recently to an article in The Atlantic in which Obama criticized U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe.
Clinton served as Obama’s secretary of state during his first term, setting much of the president’s foreign policy agenda going forward.