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Hillary Clinton Needs to Go For "Nixon-Lite" not "Bush-Lite"

Hillary Clinton should be honest with Americans about her own direct knowledge that US policy towards Cuba has entirely and utterly failed.
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Senator Clinton's press office sent this note out today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- July 26, 2007

Clinton/CNN Interview to Air this Afternoon

Senator Clinton taped an interview with CNN's John King this afternoon where she was asked to react to Barack Obama referring to her as "Bush-Cheney Lite."

The following is what Senator Clinton said (the interview will air later this afternoon on CNN):

SEN. CLINTON: "Well, this is getting kind of silly. I've been called a lot of things in my life but I've never been called George Bush or Dick Cheney certainly.

We have to ask what's ever happened to the politics of hope?

I have been saying consistently for a number of years now, we have to end the Bush era of ignoring problems, ignoring enemies and adversaries. And I have been absolutely clear that we've got to return to robust and effective diplomacy.

But I don't want to see the power and prestige of the United States President put at risk by rushing into meetings with the likes of Chavez, and Castro, and Ahmadinejad."

With all due respect to the frontrunner in the Democratic primary race, Hillary Clinton is wrong on this issue.

America has overdosed on the kind of pugnacious leadership that rejects talking to rivals and, yes, even enemies. Both Clinton and her debate rival Barack Obama know that any serious benchmark of American status, prestige, and moral credibility in the world has fallen precipitously under this administration and needs to be addressed.

Talking to rivals is not acquiescing to them, or appeasing them. Talking to our rivals is in America's own self interest. I'm not talking about a global feel good session -- but rather getting our own portfolio of interests back in some kind of reasonable shape. To do that, we need to be 'engaged' with those trying to take advantage of our eroding and eroded global position.

The right answer to the question posed in the YouTube/CNN debates would have been that Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have become empowered by the high price of oil. They are trying to expand their interests regionally and need to be dealt with. Iran's growing pretensions were entirely predictable and were a natural consequence of the United States deposing Saddam Hussein and puncturing the mystique of American power with a "war of choice" in Iraq that is now a tragic morass.

Chavez also senses a void of American attentions in Latin America and is competing to fill that space as well as to inherit the mantle of lead revolutionary and American antagonizer from Fidel Castro.

But Castro, both brothers, are a different case. Whether one organized a meeting with Fidel or Raul Castro or not -- decades of a failed embargo policy against Cuba have not yielded any of the objectives of US foreign policy there. The travel restrictions on Cuban American families themselves essentially compel citizens to choose whether they want to attend their father's funeral or their mother's.

Republican House Member Jeff Flake has had the courage to state that if he is going to have his travel restricted anywhere in the world, he'd rather have a Communist government blocking him than his own government in the United States of America.

Hillary Clinton should be honest with Americans about her own direct knowledge that US policy towards Cuba has entirely and utterly failed -- and that the perpetuation of an anachronistic Cold War-fashioned policy towards an island nation just off our coast shows an "absence of strategy" and common sense.

Clinton herself has traveled to the land of 1.2 billion communists, the Peoples' Republic of China, and been an advocate of feminist exchanges and other people to people encounters as examples of the kind of liberalizing currents that can help empower citizens and promote a culture of self-determination. Cuba deserves no less.

IN FACT Senator Clinton, opening up the travel restrictions to Cuba and incrementally lifting the economic embargo may rob Cuba from Hugo Chavez's own Latin American delusions of grandeur. Chavez is trying to spread his influence in the region by providing much needed oil and cash transfer payments to Cuba and allying himself with the mystique of Castro. I believe that Cubans want to make their own way and not be particularly dependent on any great patron -- but ending key aspects of the embargo will enhance America's weight inside Cuba and diminish Chavez's.

The same exact logic applies to Syria and Iran. If one wanted to put a speed bump in the way of Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, then America should start creating a Libya-like track to get Syria back into fully normalized relations with the US and the West -- as well as with Israel.

There are clearly problems and hurdles with what I am suggesting -- but that kind of maneuvering between the US president and foreign bad guys is called "strategy". And we need a new strategy of constructive, self-interested, tough-minded engagement with world leaders who are consequential to our well-being and interests.

So, yes -- Obama is right that Hillary Clinton articulated a Bush-lite strategy.

Even the surprising, burgeoning realists Katrina vanden Heuvel and Ari Berman at The Nation agree with this view and have knocked back their own Hillary-leaning David Corn.

Let's hope that we may be able to nudge Senator Clinton and her foreign policy team away from a policy that seems laced with elements of a John Bolton-style, Jesse Helmsian pugnacious nationalism and towards a more Nixon-lite approach -- which in my book would demonstrate real 21st century style leadership.

Nixon went to China and negotiated arms deals with the Soviets. Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev ended the Cold War.

Will it be Hillary that changes the world and goes to Cuba? to Iran? to Syria?

Or will it be Obama?

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note