Foreign Policy Brain Trusts: Clinton Advisers
from Campaign 2008

Foreign Policy Brain Trusts: Clinton Advisers

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy team included veteran Clinton administration officials seeking to revive U.S. leadership through a balance of soft and hard power.

Last updated June 20, 2008 8:00 am (EST)

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Editor’s Note: Sen. Clinton suspended her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on June 7, 2008.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) projects a tough but pragmatic approach to national security issues and an eagerness to revive what she sees as sagging U.S. credibility in the world. On the campaign trail she has said she’s unwilling to hold unconditional direct personal talks with Iran’s president and wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Though Clinton initially supported the Iraq war, she has since criticized the effort, blamed prewar intelligence failures for misleading Congress, and pledged to withdraw troops. Clinton touts a foreign policy team of nearly three hundred people, but she has emphasized her own readiness for the White House based on experience as a senator and First Lady. Many of her top advisers are familiar foreign policy figures and include former Clinton administration officials, top former military officials, top officials from other Democratic administrations, and veteran lawmakers. The list of advisers below, confirmed with the campaign, represents a cross section of the most active members of the foreign policy team.

Foreign Policy Advisers

In a February 2008 speech Clinton said, “Over the past seven years, we’ve seen what happens when the president presents the American people with a series of false choices and then is indifferent about the consequences: force versus diplomacy, unilateralism versus multilateralism, hard power versus soft.” Among the inner circle of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy team, experts say, are seasoned former Clinton administration officials whose priorities are bolstering U.S. diplomacy, improving conditions in the Middle East, better managing the Iraq conflict, and preventing a nuclear Iran. James M. Lindsay, head of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin, says Clinton has gathered a “brain trust” of internationalists “confident in the use of American power” but also “cognizant of its limits.” These advisers include:

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Bill Clinton. In the unprecedented position of former president with a spouse contending for the White House, Clinton occupies a special place as a foreign policy adviser. Counted among his most successful foreign policy achievements is the nonproliferation initiative that removed Soviet nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus after those states had become independent of Moscow. After initial hesitation, his administration led Western efforts to end the Bosnian war, as well as NATO’s bombing campaign to push Serbian forces out of Kosovo. He presided over an expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and championed free trade efforts, including the formation of the World Trade Organization and the signing of the North America Free Trade Agreement. Clinton pursued a containment policy against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, emphasizing UN weapons inspections and sanctions punctuated by punitive air strikes.

Clinton has lamented his administration’s lack of response to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which was later seen as impetus for a growing movement for humanitarian intervention. Many experts assume Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy will be simply an extension of her husband’s, due in part to the large number of top foreign policy officials from his administration in her camp. However, some policy disagreements have emerged on the campaign trail, most notably on trade. The former president supported NAFTA, while Hillary Clinton has called for its renegotiation.

Madeleine K. Albright served as President Clinton’s UN ambassador and then as secretary of state. Among the most notable foreign policy challenges during Albright’s tenure were Kosovo, the containment of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea, and efforts to broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. The case of Kosovo typified her support of a kind of muscular diplomacy to advance U.S. and humanitarian interests. In a 2003 Foreign Affairs article, Albright called the Bush administration’s stated claims for going to war with Iraq “poorly supported.” However, she noted she “personally felt the war was justified” because of Iraq’s decade-long refusal to comply with UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. Overall, she believes the United States has lost its moral authority (Reuters) under the Bush administration and the challenge of the next president is in part to “restore the goodness of American power.”

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Clinton’s team focuses on addressing Islamic fundamentalism, making Afghanistan and Pakistan the major front with al-Qaeda, and preventing nuclear proliferation.

Albright has been a strong backer of democracy promotion, helping to found the Community of Democracies, an organization of like-minded states, in her final years in office. She has been cochair for CFR Independent Task Forces on threats to democracy and supporting Arab democracy. On democracy in the Arab world, she wrote in a 2005 op-ed: “The difference between democracy and the status quo is that decisions will flow from the many, not just the few. This does not guarantee that we will agree with those decisions or that they will be the right ones, only that they will be legitimate.”

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Editor’s Note: After Clinton suspended her campaign, Albright joined Sen. Barack Obama’s national security advisory team.

Richard C. Holbrooke was President Clinton’s UN ambassador and, before that, chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords that ended Bosnia’s war. In 2001, he was cochair of a CFR Independent Task Force Report on improving U.S. public diplomacy on terrorism. In a 2003 interview with shortly after the beginning of the Iraq war, he predicted that regardless of the quick military victory over Saddam’s conventional forces and the possibility of achieving democracy in Iraq, the United States needed to be prepared “for a long, protracted, and potentially difficult presence.” In a 2006 interview with, he proposed a regional conference for Iraq similar to one that helped end the war in Bosnia. Such a conference would need to include Syria and Iran for it to have any value, he said.

In an interview with Spiegel Online in 2007, Holbrooke called Iraq a greater foreign policy problem for the United States than the Vietnam War. Rather than calling for outright withdrawal from Iraq, he instead calls for disengagement. He explains: “Disengagement means you pull back from Baghdad and around it. You might keep troops in the West and you might keep them on big bases in certain areas in order to attack terrorists.”

Holbrooke has repeatedly cited the need for U.S. engagement in UN reforms, calling the world body deeply flawed but indispensable to U.S. national security. He told the House International Relations Committee in 2005 “if we continue to underfund, under support, and undermine the United Nations’ system, it will become progressively weaker and at the same time, it will become increasingly a center for hostility to the [United States]” (PDF).

Lee Feinstein, a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, heads Clinton’s national security and foreign policy team. He worked in the Defense and State departments in the Clinton administration. He has written on a wide scope of issues including the role of UN peacekeeping, the challenges in Sudan, nuclear weapons proliferation, and the war in Iraq.

Feinstein believes strongly in a role for the United Nations for international security and peacekeeping, but is quick to point out the organization’s limitations. In a 2007 Council Special Report, he wrote that Darfur illustrated that the UN’s adoption of a principle to protect against mass atrocities meant little without the political will to back it up. In 2003, he argued the United Nations should play a significant role in Iraq’s reconstruction but later noted that the organization had missed the opportunity created by the debate surrounding Iraq to reform itself.

While at the Council, Feinstein was executive director for independent task forces, and directed the task force on enhancing U.S. leadership at the United Nations. He also served as an expert on a congressionally mandated panel on UN reform cochaired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator George Mitchell.

Shortly after 9/11, Feinstein wrote the United States should shift its nonproliferation policies toward South Asia, particularly Pakistan and India, to help prevent terrorists from getting nuclear weapons.

Martin S. Indyk, former ambassador to Israel and assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs in the Clinton Administration, heads the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He has criticized the Bush administration’s Middle East policies, in particular calling the administration’s 2003 peace plan “a road map to nowhere” (Foreign Affairs). In 2007, he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the outcome of a terrorist-led Gaza “is an embarrassment” for the Bush administration.

In a 2007 article Indyk coauthored, he argued that the problem with the Bush administration’s “good-versus-evil approach to Middle Eastern conflicts is that it does not describe the struggle as the regional players themselves understand it” (PDF). He wrote that U.S. policy should focus on containing the Iraq conflict, preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, strengthening moderate Arabs, and “pursuing an agenda of patient and sustainable political and economic liberalization to reduce the appeal of radicalism.”

In April 2008 testimony before a House foreign affairs subcommittee, Indyk said that “an Israeli-Syrian peace holds considerable advantage for U.S. interests in the Middle East,” especially as a way of frustrating Iran.

In an interview with’s Bernard Gwertzman in May 2008, Indyk sought to clarify Clinton’s comments that she would “obliterate Iran” in the event of a nuclear attack on Israel. He said she wanted to “make it crystal clear to the Iranians that they should think twice about going down this road, because to have nuclear weapons is to take on an awesome responsibility.” He said she would “engage in vigorous diplomacy, first of all with our allies to get a united position, and then to engage directly with the Iranians at the appropriate moment.”

National Security Advisers

In Clinton’s 2007 Foreign Affairs essay, she lays out what she sees as some of the greatest challenges facing the nation. “The next president will be the first to inherit two wars, a long-term campaign against global terrorist networks, and growing tension with Iran as it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons,” she writes. Derek Chollet, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security who is not affiliated with Clinton’s campaign, says her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee has given her a considerable breadth of knowledge on issues facing the armed services. Her team collectively focuses on addressing Islamic fundamentalism and security vacuums in the Middle East, making Afghanistan and Pakistan the major front in the conflict with al-Qaeda, and preventing nuclear proliferation.

The problem with the Bush administration’s “good-versus-evil approach to Middle Eastern conflicts is that it does not describe the struggle as the regional players themselves understand it.” — Martin Indyk

Kurt M. Campbell, a former Pentagon official from the Clinton administration, is chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank. Overall, Campbell sees foreign policy as a blend of hard and soft power that he argues Democrats seem to have lost credibility on. In a 2005 op-ed, he chided Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean for arguing Iraq was inevitably doomed (PDF). “Democrats are on solid ground when they critique many aspects of the prosecution of the Iraq war by the Bush administration,” he said. “But when advocates of retreat (or redeployment, or whatever politically correct term for withdrawal is currently in vogue) argue defeat is inevitable, Democrats are sure to raise profound concerns among the American people.”

Campbell sees two major U.S. foreign policy challenges, the rise of China and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism (PDF). In 2005 House testimony he notes, “Together, these two international challenges comprise a sharp departure from previous foreign policy challenges–such as the nearly half-century struggle to confront and contain Soviet expansionism–for which the United States is as yet largely unprepared, militarily, psychologically, or politically.” He coauthored a 2007 report on climate change that found an “ominous set of challenges” (PDF) for U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Mara Rudman is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress focusing on national security issues and the Middle East. She also heads an international consulting firm. She was deputy national security adviser to President Clinton from 1997 to 2001 and played a role in Mideast peace efforts. Since then, she has written on the region’s continued strife, emphasizing a more active diplomatic role for the United States.

On violence in Lebanon in recent years, Rudman said extremists were exploiting “security vacuums” cropping up all over the region. “The United States needs to role up its sleeves and get more engaged in international efforts to resolve conflicts in the Middle East,” she said in May 2007. Responding to violence in Gaza, Rudman said the United States should work “closely with our European allies, to bring all the countries with a direct stake in ensuring that the Palestinian people have a future considerably better than their recent past.” She argues for continuing dismantlement of Israeli settlements and against isolating Hamas-controlled Gaza. In a July 2007 online interview with Haaretz, Rudman advocated greater U.S. diplomacy with Syria and for a high-level envoy for the entire region.

Rudman contributed to a 2006 report that decried the lack of investigation (PDF) on the “misuse” of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. The report concluded that vigorous congressional oversight of the intelligence community is necessary to prevent further failures.

Rudy deLeon, former deputy defense secretary in the Clinton administration, is senior vice president of national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. From 2001 to 2006, deLeon was senior vice president in Boeing’s Washington office. In a March 2008 piece he coauthored, deLeon called for a war tax to fund efforts in Iraq. He said sacrifices are being asked of the military and their families, “all of whom are carrying a disproportionate burden of waging a war with deficit spending.” He added: it “is time for the rest of America to stand up, recognize the sacrifices our troops have made, and share the burden of this costly war.”

In 1999, deLeon argued the Foreign Military Sales program was crucial to security cooperation internationally. “We encourage such sales and cooperation because they directly support our ability to protect our forces, ensure readiness, shape the world, and secure our interests.” He argued NATO’s viability and the viability of all international security cooperation rested in part on interoperability. In 2000, he argued before Congress for increasing access to anthrax vaccinations for Armed Forces personnel to protect against biological warfare.

Robert J. Einhorn was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation in the Clinton administration and is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has written considerably about ways to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, and argues strongly for negotiation with countries such as Iran and North Korea. On the possibility of isolating North Korea (PDF), he said in 2003 that “before resigning ourselves to such a worrisome course, we should first find out, at the negotiating table, whether a much better outcome is possible.” In 2006, Einhorn argued the best way to improve U.S.-Iran relations on nuclear issues is through direct engagement (PDF). He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that most experts believe that “engagement will magnify the fissures that have begun to appear within the Iranian leadership and perhaps produce significant changes in policy, including on the nuclear issue.”

In 2004, he wrote that to combat weapons of mass destruction (Arms Control Today) in the Middle East the United States should try to revive “a region-wide multilateral forum on arms control and regional security.” In 2005, Einhorn expressed concerns about the Bush administration’s nuclear deal with India (YaleGlobal) calling it “a radical departure from longstanding legal obligations and policies that precluded nuclear cooperation with states not party to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).”

Economic Advisers

Though Clinton’s economic advisers champion globalization, the Center for New American Security’s Chollet says that making the value of trade compelling to the American public is a challenge on the campaign trail. In early 2008, Clinton said “Americans need a president who will fight for fair, pro-American trade policies that will not trap them in a race to the bottom.” Lindsay says trade and globalization may highlight the most notable difference among the candidate and her advisers. Clinton has spent the later part of her campaign vowing to slow down the free trade process, while Lindsay says some of her top economic advisers have been “much more enthusiastic about what trade can do for America.”

Robert E. Rubin, former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, was recently named Citigroup’s board chairman. He is also cochairman of CFR’s board of directors. As part of the Clinton economic team in the 1990s, Rubin helped develop “an economic policy based on vigorous deficit reduction, global open markets, and investments in education, training, and the environment.” In 2001, he cochaired a CFR Independent Task Force on building support for more open trade.

“Trade and globalization policy may highlight the most notable difference among Clinton and her advisers.” — James M. Lindsay, University of Texas

In 2005, Rubin argued the United States was at a critical economic juncture and advocated for continuing trade liberalization despite the challenges. In a speech the following year, he outlined what he sees as major economic challenges (PDF), from reestablishing sound fiscal conditions to addressing “critical shortfalls” in everything from education infrastructure and energy policy to healthcare.

In 2008 at a roundtable on economic growth during a time of global uncertainty (PDF), Rubin said the next president must “face the question of whether the whole architecture of this global economy that we have doesn’t need to be changed.” He pointed to trade imbalances, high oil and food prices, and large accumulations of capital as evidence that the current system is flawed.

Gene B. Sperling, former chief economic adviser in the Clinton administration, is a fellow at the Center for American Progress as well as head of CFR’s Center for Universal Education. He has argued that globalization must be redefined to prevent a protectionist backlash and improve competitiveness for the U.S. worker.

Sperling wrote in fall 2007 that advocating labor standards in trade deals was less about protecting U.S. workers than “ensuring that low-wage competition is not based on extreme exploitation offensive to basic human rights.” In 2004, Sperling criticized both parties for wrong-headedness on trade. “Too many on the left give the false impression that a better economic future is possible simply by inhibiting global competition,” he wrote. “Too many politicians on the right are so stuck in a ‘less government is always better’ mode that they refuse to consider how smart government policies can ensure that trade expansion raises the tide that lifts all boats—both in the United States and among U.S. trading partners.”

A 2007 policy paper cowritten by Sperling lays out the chief economic issues facing the United States, including foreign-financed budget deficits, a weak job market, and depressed income growth. Sperling sees universal education in developing countries, especially for girls, as a means to achieve a variety of economic and social goals. In 2007, he said that “conventional answers” as to why education matters in the developing world neglect “the impact of education on population, the fertility of people, their health and the child survival, and on the environment: the capacity to cope with change.”

Selected Readings

Hillary Clinton, “Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007.

Hillary Clinton. “Remarks on Foreign Policy,” George Washington University, February 25, 2008.

Richard C. Holbrooke, “ Three Choices, Mr. President,” Washington Post, October 24, 2006.

Madeleine K. Albright, “A Realistic Idealism,” Washington Post, May 8, 2006.

Madeleine K. Albright and Vin Weber, cochairs. “In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How,” CFR Independent Task Force Report 2005.

Lee Feinstein, “Darfur and Beyond: What is Needed to Prevent Mass Atrocities,” Council Special Report, January 2007.

Kurt Campbell, “Foreign Policy and National Security Just Became Twice as Hard” (PDF), testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services, September 25, 2007.

Gene Sperling, “ Five Economic Challenges That Need More Policy Attention,” Center for American Progress, January 22, 2005.


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