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Clinton’s ‘infatuation with war’ and neoconservatism stirs misgivings on the left

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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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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15 Responses

  1. Ismail on June 30, 2016, 10:24 pm

    I’d like to read the Donald Johnson piece you referenced, Phil. Where can I find it? Thanks.

    • annie on June 30, 2016, 10:53 pm

      hi Ismail, although not on staff donald is a valued contributor here and friend of the site. i think, given phil’s phrasing (“pass along Donald Johnson’s take”), it’s likely they were in email conversation.

      • Donald on July 1, 2016, 7:58 am

        Yes. It was in emails. All of my pieces here start out as rants emailed to Phil. They start off along the lines of ” Can you believe this crap I just read? ” and then argue for why I think it sucks.

      • annie on July 1, 2016, 8:59 am

        i know what you mean donald ;)

  2. RoHa on July 1, 2016, 1:35 am

    On the left? In the US, that’s about twelve people, isn’t it?

    • Mooser on July 1, 2016, 2:18 am

      “On the left? In the US, that’s about twelve people, isn’t it?”

      Hey, there’s room, and plenty of it, for an American political party to the left of the Democrats now that the Last Trump is sounding for the Republicans.
      What is sad is that the new party could be made up of 50’s and early sixties Republicans, where there any around.

  3. David Doppler on July 1, 2016, 11:05 am

    Hillary’s anointment by the elite establishment is possibly further illustrated by the “chance” private meeting between Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch at the Phoenix airport yesterday, and the way it is reported by said establishment’s official news organ, complete with unnamed source granted anonymity to allow us all to see how things are about to play out:

    This establishment’s power is greatly enabled by the NYT’s willingness to grant its operatives anonymity. Note the tee up for what is about to happen, by the reference back to how “completely independent career prosecutors” declined to prosecute anybody for waterboarding, contrasted with how Eric Holder, a political appointee, reduced the recommended charges against Petraeus for similar charges Hillary could face, from felony to misdemeanor.

    For deep historical background on how the CIA used the NYT and other media during the 50s and 60s to shape public perception of events that were being manipulated, often illegally, by that era’s power elite, see David Talbot’s recent book, “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.”

    “Plausible deniability” has turned our democracy into a place deeply corrupted by secret power, whose primary goal is always its own survival.

    • lysias on July 1, 2016, 6:30 pm

      Media manipulated most crucially in the case of the JFK assassination.

      The American people were not to be allowed to know that a coup had taken place, and the national security state had taken power.

      It took another couple of steps — forcing Nixon to resign and engineering Carter’s defeat in 1980 — before that power became absolute. But since then, that is what it has been.

      • Boomer on July 2, 2016, 5:24 pm

        lysias, re media manipulation, secret coups, and the national security state

        Over the years since the events you mention, I think that I’ve developed a more nuanced understanding of them than I had at the time, but I hadn’t really drawn a line from one to the next in the way you seem to imply. On reflection, I guess I can imagine how you do so. If I understand correctly, I imagine the assassination is the most important of those events, sadly enough coming only a few years after Eisenhower’s warning.

        I had thought that it was under the junior George Bush that the national security state reached maturity in the U.S. — after 9/11 — with Obama, the “constitutional scholar,” confirming and perpetuating it. From your perspective, I guess the deep state was already old by 9/11: it merely used new events and technologies to its advantage.

    • Boomer on July 2, 2016, 5:06 pm

      David Doppler, re “The Devil’s Chessboard.”

      Thanks for the reference to the book, it sounds interesting, but probably depressing.

    • inbound39 on July 2, 2016, 6:33 pm

      With regard to the Clinton email controversy and enquiry I have heard and seen a lot of people stating what Clinton did was not that bad….or what is all the fuss about….it’s just a bunch of emails. People need to get a grip. Clinton was Secretary of State to the United States of America. An extremely high and important Government position requiring a high degree of responsibility and compliance with the US Government Security policies. Those policies are in place so absolutely no official secrets to do with Defence or any other important Government transactions are able to be viewed or known to enemies or potential enemies of the US. It is also a matter of confidentiality. When speaking to members of a Foreign Government confidentiality is an absolute necessity. That information should not be at risk of becoming public knowledge for good,sound, responsible reasons. Trust between Governments is extremely important. The security mechanisms included encrypted servers, scrambled voice communications, encoded messages etc. During the Second World War a common catch cry was careless talk costs lives. Not bad….not really bad….it’s no biggie….what’s all the fuss about……Hilary has done nothing wrong! The damned woman as Secretary of State,against policy and against warnings from other Government staff used an unsecured personal,public email service to conduct official government communications on. Classified and confidential information. Not once…….thousands of times. Her attitude and lack of responsibility could have and may have cost America a lot of lives. As a Government Official Hilary Clinton did not give a damn about security. Spoilt Hilary cares only about herself and does as she likes and places anyone she chooses at risk of harm whenever she likes and then has the barefaced cheek to state Trump is unfit for the position of President. She crossed herself off the list by her irresponsible actions. She is a loose cannon incapable of following protocol. That is how bad it is and how bad she is. If the FBI does not charge her then in the name of consistency the American Government needs to use everyday cell phones and email servers to conduct its business and not whinge when hundreds of people get killed by bomb blasts from terrorists. And Trump and Clinton after a lengthy process are America’s two best people for President? Come on America….get the Zionist lobby out of your Government. They are an existential threat and Hilary is employed and paid by them.

      • MHughes976 on July 2, 2016, 7:23 pm

        This email stuff does seem to me to be one of the very strangest to emerge around this extraordinary election. It seems fairly clear that Clinton had a private emsil system because she didn’t trust her colleagues, beginning with.Obama, just as Powell before her had not trusted Bush. The investigators seem to be spinning things out as if they just have no idea whether this activity is illegal, possibly because they just can’t bring themselves to take action which might seem like intervention in the electoral process. Surely they can just get some legal opinions and make up their minds. They are interfering in the electoral process by all this dithering. As for our concerns, it’s highly likely that differences over the ME problem are what caused the mistrust.

      • echinococcus on July 2, 2016, 9:43 pm


        No one would ever believe that the “powers that be”, whoever they are, would ever give a rat’s that “Her attitude and lack of responsibility could have and may have cost America a lot of lives”. Or that they would ever loose sleep about consistency, and giving 30+ years to a Manning, hounding Assange etc.

        What is surprising, however, with the exposed vulnerability is that it was exploited by whistle-blowing hackers and the ruling class has not reacted to this, most irresponsible and avoidable, lapse. Normally when a member of the ruling class cadre shows this degree of unreliability, the enforcers shoot, or in the best circumstances noiselessly retire the idiot. That this job was left to a committee of ineffective Repuke clowns was not normal. The fact that Clintonella was not eliminated from the running before candidacy filing time is not really in the predictable order of things.

        Are they trying to signal that their reign is so unshakable that crass, public illegality does not play any role anymore?

  4. lysias on July 1, 2016, 6:30 pm

    Turns out both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are tied up with billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein: Why the Donald Trump child rape lawsuit is credible and can’t be dismissed.

    They don’t allow anyone to advance to a position of power that they don’t have control over. That’s probably why they want to dismiss Corbyn.

  5. Citizen on July 3, 2016, 12:08 am

    Ugh, just can’t stand how weak we all are, can’t really ever top this despicable shadow government.

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