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What a Clinton White House Means for Australia

The roller coaster that is U.S. politics continued last week with the New York Democratic Primary. With a resounding win for Secretary Clinton, it is likely that she will be the next occupant of the Oval Office. She has 1,930 delegates to Sanders’ 1,189, just 453 delegates short of the required total. She is polling 50% - 39% against Trump, and the gap is increasing. As such, it’s worth noting what she is saying, and not saying, in regards to our Indo-Pacific region.

Strangely absent from the debate, and of most relevance to Australia, was Asia. With three of our top four trading partners to our north, and our greatest security ally across the Pacific to the east, it’s something we care about deeply. So far the common term from Clinton has been “make China accountable.” What this amounts to, no one really knows.

As the author of the 2010 ‘Pivot’, Clinton has been strangely quiet on the topic throughout the campaign trail. But we know Clinton has strong interests in the Indo-Pacific region, visiting the area twice as much as her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice. With Clinton in the Oval Office, we can expect to see an increased U.S. presence in region. This will alleviate worries in countries like the Philippines who doubted Obama’s credibility.

Under a Clinton Presidency it seems the requirements for the deployment of force overseas will be less stringent than under Obama. Unlike the Obama Doctrine, Clinton is far more likely to take a traditional approach to the world. Where Obama rejected the ‘playbook’ of international relations, to Clinton it is her bible. With Clinton we are likely to see ‘red lines’ more clearly elucidated, and more promptly acted upon. For Australians, this means paying close attention to the rise of China.

Her hawkish tendencies were seen under her tenure as Secretary of State, disagreeing with Obama on several issues. In Afghanistan she wanted a surge, in Iraq she wanted larger forces to remain, in Libya and Syria she pushed for arming rebel groups and with North Korea she wanted to send an aircraft carrier. With the shackles released, we can expect a far more aggressive approach, and liberal use of force, as Commander in Chief.

But is Clinton a cold-hearted realist or idealist? She thinks both ways, in what she termed the “Goldilocks approach”. Not only showing hawkish tendencies as Secretary of State, in 2015 Clinton demonstrated her idealist acumen when she took a strong stance on women’s rights. It’s likely that Clinton is correct, and it is a combination of realism and idealism in what she terms “ideal based” foreign policy. This approach favours the asymmetric threats in the world, where we can expect to see Clinton use her ‘smart power’. Smart power is a new term for ‘carrot and stick’. For Clinton the ‘stick’ is the military, taking a conservative view of American power abroad. Clinton, however, is no neo-con from the days of Bush, as her interventionism is reliant upon international coalitions for action.

Relations between Washington and Asia are unlikely to change significantly, regardless of who wins the presidential election. If it is Clinton, we can expect a slight shift towards interventionism, but not a drastic change. For Beijing this means more credibility to what is being said in Washington. Asia is a complex region with significant issue linkage and strange alliance webs. It is a region of friction and it is this friction that Clinton will have to navigate with an international approach. Due to its beneficial geography, Australia will be able to play a small role here as a regional leader.

We are likely to see a more coherent foreign policy approach once the primaries end and Clinton can take on a republican foe. Here we can expect to see Asia dominate alongside the staples of Iran, Russia and North Korea. Bizarrely, it is likely that Clinton, the democratic candidate, will be the greatest proponent of using force overseas. Clinton already has a foreign policy team of several hundred, including former Secretaries Albright and Panetta. It is likely one of the best-qualified teams in history - though this does not necessarily imply good performance.

Australia is the strongest, and oldest, U.S. ally in the Asian region. Whilst we are not the ‘deputy’ of the U.S. that we were once described as, we remain an ally with myriad overlapping strategic interests. With a Clinton presidency, we are not likely to see major changes, but a return to strong American involvement around the world in maintaining the international system. For a relatively small country like ours, this is good news.

George Threadgold is an undergraduate BA student at the University of Melbourne, majoring in International Relations. He is currently on exchange at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email for more information.

Image credit: White House (Wikimedia Commons: Creative Commons)

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