In her first public appearance in more than a month, Hillary Clinton strongly backed President Obama on both domestic and foreign policy, while saying western democracies like the U.S. and Canada are in an epic “contest” with Islamic extremists and authoritarians.
Clinton spoke to more than 2,000 in Winnipeg, Canada, at a lecture series sponsored by a Canadian bank. She was not asked whether she plans to run for president in 2016, and dodged questions on the Keystone XL pipeline, a thorn in the side of U.S.-Canada relations.
“You won’t get me to talk about Keystone because I have steadily made clear that I will not express an opinion,” she said while being questioned by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CEO Victor Dodig during the Q&A portion of her appearance. The former secretary of state has said she will not weigh in on the controversial pipeline until the Obama administration’s review of the project is complete.
But the likely presidential candidate had plenty of other things to say on a range of other topics.
Iran: Clinton gave a full-throated endorsement of President Obama’s approach to Iran and its nuclear program, rebuffing Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are trying to impose new sanctions on the country. She said the new sanctions, pushed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers friendly to Israel, could lead to “a very serious strategic error.”
They would give Russia and China “an excuse” to drop out of multilateral negotiations or push for a weaker deal with Iran, she said. “Why do we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations?”
“I feel very strongly about this,” she continued. “If we get to the point where [the Iranians] cheat … all bets are off. But right now, the status quo that we’re in is, in my view, in our interests, so I don’t want to do anything that disrupts that status quo."
The sanctions are going to be major flashpoint for Obama with his own party this year, so the backing of the party's likely future leader could be a major asset. "This should help stiffen the backbone of Democrats who were already reluctant to support new sanctions. Hopefully, unified Democratic opposition to sanctions will convince its sponsors to stop their dangerous push," said Stephen Miles, the advocacy director of a group of 40 anti-war groups called the Win Without War Coalition.
Paris attacks: In her first public remarks on the matter, Clinton said recent terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere have “sharpened the true contours of this struggle” between Western democracy and Islamic extremists. “Islam itself is not the enemy,” she said, but rather a “vicious few” who promote an “ideology of hate.”
“Like previous ideological struggles, this is a generational challenge and it must be waged on many fronts,” she said, calling for an attack on extremist propaganda.
Clinton drew a wide rhetorical circle around democratic countries and presented them as at war with terrorists and dictators alike. "Extremism, authoritarianism, Putinism -- none of them can compete with democracy at our best,” she said.
Inequality: Clinton connected the fight against extremism abroad to the fight for justice at home. “Standing up for our own values in our communities is just as crucial as promoting them abroad,” she said. That includes "demagogues who pray on fears of immigrants” as well inequalities in the economy.
She continued her stepped-up embrace of economic populism, promoted perhaps most vocally in Democratic politics by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Citing a recent Oxfam report that warned the top 1% will control half of the world’s wealth by 2016, Clinton said that kind of inequality is a threat to “the core” of Democracy and must be dealt with to expand the “circle of opportunity” to everyone. "Here in Canada, for example, you've shown that the economic inequality that we see in the United States and in many countries is not inevitable,” Clinton said. “You've invested in your middle class and it's made a real difference.”
State of the Union: Clinton called President Obama’s State of the Union address “an important start for a critical debate” on expanding economic opportunity, and praised his economic record. “The president has been very successful,” she said. “I think the president doesn’t get the credit he and his team deserves for the way they navigated” the recession.”
She did add, however, “I would have differences, everyone would have differences, about what else could be done” in the early days of the administration.
Ukraine: One place where Clinton was willing to distance herself from the White House, if slightly, was in calling for great aid, both in training and equipment, to Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Compromise over ideology: Clinton praised transactional leadership and called for a return to dealmaking. “That’s what we need to get back to doing, the art of compromise in our politics, rather than people staking out ideological positions,” she said.
And no Clinton appearance would be complete without some praise for her new granddaughter, Charlotte. Clinton said the four-month-old does not yet have a nickname for her the former secretary of state a likely presidential candidate, suggesting the name is a point of contention in the family. “The negotiations are harder than my secretary of state job,” she joked. Clinton said she’ she’ll let the baby choose a name -- but "exercise a veto" if need be.