Last week, New York Times reporter Mark Landler compared the foreign policy statements of a candidate for president, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with those of the actual U.S. president, Barack Obama, in regard to the Orlando terrorist attack. His conclusion, which unsurprisingly matches that of his most recent book on the allegedly contrasting foreign policy perspectives of Clinton and Obama, is that Clinton has shown herself to be the more hawkish of the two. Clinton, he argues, is more solicitous of military force and harsher in characterizing the terrorist threat facing America.
It’s the kind of comparison that immediately raises red flags. First of all, campaign rhetoric simply does not compare to the rhetoric of governing. As the old line goes, one campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. To paraphrase for foreign policy, one campaigns in absolutes and governs in the gray areas.
Second, the differences between Clinton and Obama are most often and mainly differences of tone, rather than ones of actual policy substance.