As the Democratic convention approaches and Hillary Clinton tries to win over, or finesse, the progressive anti-war component of her base, many writers are expressing misgivings about her foreign policy. Not that they are Trump supporters; but they worry about being left out in the cold in a Clinton administration studded with neoconservatives. Here are three new takes on the former secretary of state, two of which make the point that Clinton’s apology for voting for the Iraq war — it was a “mistake” — doesn’t really cut it.
At the National Interest, David Bromwich writes in “The roots of Hillary’s infatuation with war,” that Clinton extols a principle of “smart power” that turns out to idealize war. Clinton wasn’t very active against the Vietnam war, and the pattern holds:
She sympathized there with the burden of responsibility borne by President Johnson for “a war he’d inherited,” which turned out to be “a tragic mistake.” Johnson is her focus: the man of power who rode a tiger he could not dismount. On a second reading, “mistake” may seem too light a word to characterize a war that destroyed an agrarian culture forever and killed between one and three million Vietnamese. “Mistake” is also the word that Hillary Clinton has favored in answering questions about her vote for the Iraq War.
She has forgiven those mistakes in her own career.
The Western powers have a moral obligation to intervene, she believes, especially when that means guarding the rights of women and assuring the welfare of the neediest children. Her mistakes in the cause have been not tragic like President Johnson’s in Vietnam but, as she sees them, small, incidental and already too harshly judged. One ought to err on the side of action, of intervention. And military intervention in this regard bears a likeness to the “community intervention” that may save the life of a child in an abusive family.
Bromwich faults Clinton for “an incorrigible belief in the purity” of her own motives, which has made her appealing to those other militant idealists, the neoconservatives, who like what she says about Syria.
It would do no harm to her persuasiveness if Clinton admitted a degree of truth in the case made by her opponents, whether on the Libya war, the advisability of repeating that experiment in Syria, or the innocent design of propagating democracy that drove the expansion of NATO. An incorrigible belief in the purity of one’s motives is among the most dangerous endowments a politician can possess. Her sentences about NATO could have been written by Tony Blair; and this explains why at least three neoconservatives—Eliot A. Cohen, Max Boot and Robert Kagan, in ascending order of enthusiasm—have indicated that a Clinton presidency would be agreeable to them. She is a reliable option for them. Her comparison of Putin to Hitler in March 2014 and her likening of Crimean Russians to Sudeten Germans were reminiscent, too, of the specter of Munich evoked by an earlier secretary of state, Dean Rusk, to defend the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965—the kind of tragic mistake that Hillary Clinton seems prepared to repeat for the most laudable of humanitarian reasons.
At Lobelog, Eli Clifton has a post called, “Will Clinton follow the money on foreign policy?” that points to Haim Saban’s giant gifts to Clinton’s super pac and notes that Saban is opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and has Clinton’s compliance on that issue. Clifton also reminds us that Saban is a million-dollar-plus supporter of the Israel lobby group AIPAC, which backed the Iraq war and led opposition to the Iran deal.
Then Clifton suggests that Clinton may have a secret understanding with Saban:
Hillary Clinton supported the invasion of Iraq, a position she later said was a “mistake.” But her public backtracking on the vote hasn’t deterred Haim Saban’s support.
Two things are clear about Haim Saban and his financial contributions. First, he is a dedicated opponent of the White House’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal and unafraid to invest his money in groups that launched ad hominem attacks on Obama as part of their efforts to scuttle the deal and played a role in circulating the debunked justifications for the invasion of Iraq.
Second, his investment in Clinton’s candidacy indicates that he is far more comfortable in the foreign policy positions he believes she would pursue as president. Currently, her public pronouncements differ little from the White House, leaving an open question about what messages Saban has received in private.
Finally, let me pass along Donald Johnson’s take on a pro-Clinton piece by Yale law scholar Emily Bazelon in The New York Times Magazine two weeks ago supporting Hillary Clinton. “Is the Election Rigged?” slams Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump for suggesting there is something deeply flawed in our politics. Johnson:
Bazelon says it is wrong to say the economy and the election are rigged because that induces despair and therefore Clinton and Obama are right and Sanders is wrong. I skipped a few steps in the logic, but it doesn’t get much better if you fill them in. Another NY Times writer saying things aren’t that bad, supporting Clinton and implicitly bashing Sanders and the left.
On a hunch I googled to find out what, if anything, Bazelon might have said about the Israel-Palestine conflict and found this at Slate during the Gaza war of 2014. It’s very honest. And yeah, it’s what I expected. Around Israel defenders she is critical of Israel, but around critics she becomes a defender. She defends the Gaza War while expressing some reservations about excessive force, but she is clearly in her friend Jeffrey Goldberg’s camp. She exemplifies exactly what is wrong with many or most (not all) so-called supporters of a two state solution. It’s a mainly theoretical notion for this crowd, held to make them feel better about themselves, but in their inner conflict between liberalism and Zionism even at its most violent, Zionism wins.
There’s a broader connection here. Clintonism tends to be a status quo defense wrapped up in a liberal package. That’s not a universal truth, but there is something to it I think.
But yes, there is an overarching theme linking pseudo liberal Zionism (not to be confused with sincere people like Michael Lerner) with Clintonism on other topics. I don’t think Clinton sides with Israel on Gaza solely because of Haim Saban’s money. The person who said, “we came we saw he died,” and laughed is a power hungry person on the individual level, the kind who easily rationalizes killing 500 children; and on the broader level, Clinton Democrats are about power and identity politics in the bad sense of the word. Thomas Frank is right about the Clinton Democrats– it’s the party of the upper 10 or 20 percent. They are centrists at best and on foreign policy they are neocons.