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Join the discussion: Is Hillary Clinton distancing herself from Obama's foreign policy?

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 3:27 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 3:27 p.m. MDT

In a recent interview with Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton explained exactly how her foreign policy stance differs from President Obama’s, leading some to speculate that she is trying to distance herself from the president.

Jason DeCrow, Associated Press

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In a recent interview with Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton explained exactly how her foreign policy stance differs from President Obama’s, leading some to speculate that she is trying to distance herself from the president’s currently unpopular foreign policy stance before her own presidential campaign in 2016.

Clinton primarily argued that the U.S. should have been more involved in world affairs, taking a more interventionist approach to the international community. She said that more should have been done to prevent ISIS, the world has turned on Israel too quickly, and that the U.S. needs to take more definitive stances overall. In reference to President Obama’s now well-known one-liner on foreign policy “don’t do stupid (stuff),” Clinton told Goldberg that “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

She also told Goldberg that she believes America can, and should be, a force for good in the world — which means being assertive.

“You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward,” she said. “One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.”

Pundits are interpreting her interview in several different ways, including several who believe she carefully calculated her responses to distance herself just enough from Obama.

“The question is whether she can belittle Barack Obama as much as she must in order to win, but not so much that it plays as an act of sheer betrayal,” according to Frank Bruni of the New York Times. “She needs the voters who elected him, twice, and who maintain affection for him. She also needs the voters in the throes of buyer’s remorse.”

Others argue that Clinton was simply giving an interview, not trying to play politics.

“(Her foreign policy stances aren’t) because of some cynical calculation, or because she wants to ‘distance’ herself from a president whose popularity is currently mediocre at best,” wrote Paul Waldman of the Washington Post. “It’s because that’s what she sincerely believes.”

People are quick to suspect Clinton’s intentions, Waldman wrote, but the former secretary of state has always been consistent.

“If people didn’t have such short memories, they wouldn’t be surprised,” he wrote. “Hillary Clinton has always been a liberal on social and economic issues, but much more of a moderate (or even a conservative) when it comes to foreign policy.”

Others disagree, stating that Clinton was perfectly happy with Obama’s foreign policy while she was his secretary of state.

“(in the interview,) Mrs. Clinton lined up solidly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — a starkly different position from the first term, when she often had to play the heavy during peace negotiations, chiding Mr. Netanyahu for refusing to curb settlement construction,” Mark Landler of the New York Times gave as an example.

“Even on the Gaza conflict, about which the State Department harshly criticized Israel recently for the number of civilian deaths, (in the interview) she said, ‘I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame’ because of the ‘fog of war.’ ”

Regardless of other factors, Waldman said, Clinton’s current lack of political competition gives her the power to portray herself in whatever way she wants.

“Over the next two years there will probably be more situations in which Clinton winds up to the right of the median Democratic voter,” he wrote. “That would be more of a political problem if she had a strong primary opponent positioned to her left who could provide a vehicle for whatever dissatisfaction the Democratic base might be feeling. … Her dominance of the field may give her more latitude on foreign affairs — not to move to the right, but to be where she always was.”

Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2

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