Trump Plays the Bernie Card on Foreign Policy

Bernie Sanders has hammered Hillary for having bad judgment on Iraq and Libya. Now Trump is using that as his favorite new weapon.

CARMEL, IN - MAY 02:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts on May 2, 2016 in Carmel, Indiana. Trump continues to campaign leading up to the Indiana primary on May 3.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CARMEL, IN - MAY 02: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts on May 2, 2016 in Carmel, Indiana. Trump continues to campaign leading up to the Indiana primary on May 3. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton put to bed many ghosts that have haunted her campaign when she claimed both the Democratic presidential nomination and a primary win in California early Wednesday. But an especially stubborn one staggers on: “judgment.”

Democratic Party leaders are outright pushing Clinton rival Bernie Sanders toward the exit now that the former secretary of state has blown past the necessary number of delegates for the nomination. But even as the Vermont senator’s impassioned campaign against economic inequality that surprised pundits and inspired voters comes to an inevitable end, one of his primary attack lines against Clinton — that she’s shown poor judgment on foreign policy — lives on in an unlikely host, Donald Trump.

On Tuesday night, Clinton marked her history-making moment in an emotional speech to a raucous crowd in New York, eight years to the day after she conceded the 2008 Democratic primary to then-Sen. Barack Obama. But she didn’t miss the opportunity to hit the general election strategy she launched last week against Trump in a sharp address focused on national security.

“Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander in chief,” Clinton said Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

As the presumptive GOP nominee for weeks, Trump already has honed a retort, questioning the former secretary of state’s judgment. He’s barraged her vote for the Iraq war and blamed her push for intervention in Libya with the current “mess,” as Obama himself put it last week.

In his own Tuesday night speech, reading off a teleprompter, Trump described his “America First” neo-isolationist foreign policy prescriptions as “the opposite of Hillary’s foreign policy, which invaded Libya, destabilized Iraq, unleashed ISIS, and threw Syria into chaos” — just to name a few.

Notwithstanding Trump’s spelling of the word “judgment,” his attacks sound all too familiar.

Realizing fears of some Democratic leaders who fretted that Sanders’s foreign policy attack could come back to haunt Clinton in the general, Trump has even explicitly cited the Vermont senator in parroting his rhetoric.

Ironically, he’s pulling from the same playbook that Sanders borrowed from an unlikely source: Obama.

In 2007, then-candidate Obama undermined Clinton’s far more extensive experience on foreign policy by seeking to highlight the unintended but disastrous consequences of some of her policy decisions, primarily her 2002 vote for the Iraq war as a New York senator.

“Even at the time, it was possible to make judgments that this would not work out well,” Obama said of her Iraq vote the day after he announced his candidacy.

Obama, conveniently not in Congress at the time of the overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in favor of invading Iraq, made it a linchpin of his campaign and an albatross for Clinton’s. She eventually said she regretted her “yea,” based on intelligence later proved to be false, but she struggled to shake it.

History repeated with Sanders. His constant invocation of Clinton’s vote, contrasted with his own “nay,” became his go-to response to foreign policy questions throughout the 2016 campaign, papering over his own lack of details for how his national security strategy would differ from hers, or Obama’s.

“The major foreign policy issue in the modern history of this country was the war in Iraq. I voted against the war in Iraq; she voted for the war in Iraq,” he told Foreign Policy in January. “So I’m not going to apologize to anybody about my judgment on foreign policy.”

In April, when Sanders and Clinton exchanged fire over foreign policy in a bitter debate before the key New York primary, Sanders explicitly outlined the strategy.

“Does Secretary Clinton have the experience and the intelligence to be a president? Of course she does,” he said. “But I do question her judgment.”

Democratic leaders fretted that Sanders’s argument could do lasting damage to the party’s likely nominee in the general election, and set up an easy play for Trump.

He’s happily obliged.

Of course, after the at-times acerbic 2008 Democratic primary, Obama asked Clinton to be his first secretary of state, a point that she has repeatedly made in answer to Sanders’s foreign policy attacks in 2016.

But against Trump, the same counterstrike may not be effective, as the real-estate magnate who’s never been elected to public office seeks to tie her to a spate of foreign policy crises that have dogged the second Obama administration.

Instead, Clinton is pulling from a grab bag of controversial statements that the infamously inconsistent Trump has made on foreign policy. It’s a preview of a general election in which her best attack lines against the presumptive GOP nominee may be his own.

Photo credit: Getty Images/Foreign Policy illustration

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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