Mathew Preston – Canada’s Foreign Policy and Hillaryism

Last week I wrote about what Canada would have to do, for lack of a better word, to survive a Trump presidency. The much more likely outcome is a Hillary Clinton presidency. But what would her presidency mean for Canada? What are the risks, if any, of a Clinton (II) administration?

As she has been Secretary of State, there should be a relatively clear picture regarding Clinton’s foreign policy. We can, very broadly, assume that she would have supported the following:

  1. Militarily hawkish – Hillary was reportedly the loudest voice in cabinet for air strikes on Assad following the first gas attacks
  2. Strong on human rights (remember the blind Chinese dissident incident or her attention on Burma);
  3. Pro-trade (she once called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the “gold standard” of trade agreements)
  4. Pro-Keystone XL;
  5. Supportive of continued US engagement with NATO; and
  6. Voted for the war in Iraq as senator.

On the campaign trail, however, she has taken a different turn:

  1. She is now more sceptical of free trade, has repudiated TPP and has called for a “Trade Prosecutor” to guarantee trade agreement provisions are being upheld;
  2. Opposes the Keystone XL pipeline;
  3. Sees climate change as a national security and global threat; and
  4. She stated in 2008, and has reiterated, that she would like to renegotiate NAFTA.

(Her foreign policy has a lot more to it, but for the purposes of Canada and in the interest of brevity, this list will have to suffice)

And that’s really the only major flip-flopping she has done, despite a perception on the campaign trail that she’s done a 180 turn  on most policy issues, domestic or foreign. Even her disavowal of TPP has been hedged by saying she opposes it “in its current form.”

Clinton’s largest knock from a political perspective is that she’ll say anything to get elected. This presents a challenge when trying to assign associated risk – will she do what she says, or was it a political play? In the former Senator and Secretary of State’s case, at least, there’s a long record of votes and actions that illuminate her true intent.

On trade, it is pretty clear she is a free trader. Not only did she negotiate TPP as an important strategic element of Obama’s pivot to Asia, her husband signed NAFTA, and at the time she publicly supported it (although she has said during this campaign that she privately opposed it). Clinton voted against the Central America Free Trade Agreement, but voted yes on free trade deals with Peru, Singapore, Chile, Morocco, and Oman. As Secretary of State (despite opposing them during the 2008 campaign), she supported free trade with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. While she may have opposed some deals, in general she is largely a friend of free trade agreements.

So, Ms. Clinton’s voting record and her actions as Secretary of State generally indicate that she will remain a free trader, if more cautious towards it because of a political base that is quickly becoming opposed to trade and globalization writ-large. There remains some risk that in an effort to prevent a major split within the Democratic Party she will become more sceptical of trade (this could be achieved by picking a Vice President like Elizabeth Warren who is ardently opposed to free trade. The chances of a Clinton-Warren ticket are slim, however, as it is unlikely her strategists would advise an all-woman ticket, but her political base remains in New York and Wall Street, where the liberal economic order is essential to continued prosperity.

So, a Clinton presidency would likely jive well with a Trudeau Government:

  1. Both have plans to act relatively aggressively on climate change
  2. Both are in favour of free trade, with caveats
  3. Both are more inclined towards multilateral forums than their opponents

The only risk to the Canada-US relationship under a Hillary Clinton administration is that as an experienced actor in politics who has done it all (except be president, of course), she may be heavily inclined to look down on Trudeau as a young whippersnapper with no experience. This can lead either to an inclination to push him around and accept little negotiation over certain issues or to having Canadian issues be ignored. But, with everything they have in common, it is more likely, due to Trudeau’s popularity amongst the left/centre-left in America, that the possibility of a close working relationship, especially on climate and UN initiatives, will exist between the two. They may not sing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling together, but a SophieBill jazz album may be on the table.

Mathew Preston is a strategic consultant for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He recently finished his Masters at the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. He tweets @prestonm2 

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