By Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Foreign policy is expected to be a major issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and that may spell trouble for Hillary Clinton, as critics will view the likely candidate as tainted by the White House's perceived foreign policy missteps.
As a former secretary of state under President Barack Obama, Clinton spurred controversy for what critics billed as not being forthcoming on the details surrounding the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador.
Moreover, with the administration now coming under fire for putting the threat of the Islamic State -- a radical terror group in Iraq and Syria -- on the backburner until the situation boiled over, Clinton could be viewed as lacking foresight on major foreign policy issues.
"Whoever the Democratic nominee is -- which is likely Hillary -- President Obama's ratings on all these issues (including foreign policy) will be an albatross around the neck of Democratic nominees and their chances of winning the presidency," Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.
The Islamic State has in recent weeks been on the move in Iraq, overrunning vast swaths of territory in northern Iraq as its militants go on a killing spree. While Kurdish fighters backed by U.S. air power have had some successes against the Islamic radicals,they remain unchecked in neighboring Syria.
That poses a major problem for the United States, which aims to keep terrorism in check a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The militants' territorial gains have Washington worried that its ultimate nightmare could come true -- that the group could carve out a haven in Iraq or Syria and use it as a staging ground for attacks against the U.S., much like al- Qaida did in Afghanistan.
The Islamic State's threat is unlikely to disappear overnight, and Clinton's opponents will argue that she, as secretary of state, might have helped stop the militants before they gained traction, had she and the administration kept their eyes on Iraq.
"Foreign policy is going to be one of the big three issues in the 2016 presidential election on both sides of the isle," as many Americans will fret over the resurgence of Middle East terror groups and their ability to target the U.S., O'Connell said.
"That's why we see Hillary taking a very hawkish stance," he added.
Indeed, in a move meant to widen the space between herself and a president increasingly billed by critics as having ignored Iraq, Clinton blasted Obama's foreign policy slogan of "Don't do stupid stuff."
"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff 'is not an organizing principle," she told The Atlantic monthly in an interview published earlier this month.
A Gallup poll published last week found that Obama's approval rating for handling foreign affairs stands at a mere 36 percent, and many Americans perceive the president as not being fully engaged on foreign policy.
"Obama's low poll numbers on foreign policy will lead Hillary Clinton to differentiate herself from the president," Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.
"She will stake out distinctive views on foreign policy and present a more hawkish approach to foreign policy. Based on the experiences of the Bill Clinton presidency, she is likely to be more interventionist and tougher abroad," he said.
While the GOP will go after Clinton on Benghazi, those efforts may fall flat, as most Americans have not been engaged on the issue and find it difficult to keep all the details straight.
"Republicans will continue to go after Mrs. Clinton on Benghazi although there is little new to say on that topic," West said. "It will be hard to blame her for Middle East terrorism since that has been going on for decades in both Republican and Democratic presidencies. She will seek to inoculate herself from criticisms of weakness by talking tough on foreign policy."
Additionally, experts say, foreign policy will not be the only factor determining the elections and the possibility of Clinton clinching the White House is strong.
Many voters under 40 years old will associate the former first lady with the massive 1990s economic expansion and with a time when the U.S. went unchallenged by any significant foreign threat. She will get the support of single woman voters and has in her corner former President Bill Clinton -- one of Washington's most talented campaign fundraisers.
"Foreign policy is important, but rarely decisive, in presidential elections," said Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College.
"Other than perhaps 2004, it's tough to think of a recent election where domestic concerns like jobs and the economy weren't more critical to the outcome than foreign policy was," he told Xinhua.