Her Foreign Policy Speech Reveals Another Ill-Advised Facet of Her Ill-Advised Strategy Against Trump
[ Note: To anyone who doubts Hillary’s central role in the run-up to both Iraq and Libya, or who doubt her hawkishness, her penchant for looking tough and taking action when faced with “hard choices”, I highly suggest reading these two articles. I highly suggest reading them anyways. They are the best accounting I’ve seen of the role she played in the decisions to intervene, and offer great insight into her worldview and her role in the Democratic party. For all its faults, including its demonstrated bias, NYT does good work sometimes. (If you hit a paywall you can copy the link address and paste into the wayback machine)
– On Iraq, “Hillary’s War”: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/magazine/03Hillary-t.html
– On Libya pt 1, “Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall”: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/us/politics/hillary-clinton-libya.html
– On Libya pt 2, “A New Libya, ‘With Very Little Time Left'”: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/us/politics/libya-isis-hillary-clinton.html ]
Amid flagging poll numbers, a damning State Department IG report on her private email server, and the ensuing doubts about her general election viability, Hillary Clinton stepped out of her week-long lull from the public eye and sought to shift the narrative back in her favor. On that account, her highly publicized speech on foreign policy may have worked to a degree—we all have an interest in knowing what a president Hillary Clinton would mean for us and the world, and given that foreign policy is supposedly one of her strengths in this election, the media conversation was bound to focus on the speech, and shift away from the topics that gnaw at her image just days before the crucial California primary.
So, what did we learn about Clinton’s vision for America’s role in the world? Did she inspire confidence in that vision?
Not much, and not really. By most accounts it was a well-written speech. It took some well-aimed shots at Trump, appealed to our national pride, and sought to reassure us that we are great and will never not be great.
In other words, she played it safe. She did not present a vision for the future beyond anything we’ve heard before; America is defender of the free world, Iran can’t get nukes, and we must remain steadfast with our allies, especially Israel. In fact, she did not give us much information at all as to what her strategy or approach would be for any single issue; as many have noted, she spent 90% of the time either blasting Donald Trump or contrasting him with common sense positions, like diplomacy is good, and alliances are great.
For many, this hardly inspires confidence. Trump is an easy target, and anyone who’s watched him closely will have a litany of his bombastic statements to criticize. What is really concerning is what was left unaddressed. For those who fear her presidency would mean repetition of her past mistakes—and thus more of the aggression, regime change, and arms buildup that has invariably led to deadly civil wars, refugee crises, and the fueling of global terror—she did nothing to ease their concerns.
In fact, most of her emphatic criticisms of Trump apply directly to her and her record (whereas Trump doesn’t yet have one):
- Trigger happiness:
- The charge: “…it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.” “…Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?”
- Her record:
- A penchant for looking tough and decisive. When making a “hard choice”, she would rather take action than be seen as weak.
- “Anne-Marie Slaughter, her director of policy planning at the State Department, notes that in conversation and in her memoir, Mrs. Clinton repeatedly speaks of wanting to be ‘caught trying.’ In other words, she would rather be criticized for what she has done than for having done nothing at all.” (source)
- Did not do the minimum due diligence before vocally advocating for, and voting for, authorization of force in Iraq. The 90 page intelligence estimate—a few hours of reading at most—was available to all members of Congress, and she didn’t read it (only six senators did). It proved false the Bush administration’s lies (that she repeated) about Saddam’s weapons programs and his alleged links to al-Qaeda.
- Convinced Obama to intervene in Libya, against the warnings of the Secretary of Defense, the Vice President, and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency that the consequences would be far ranging and that they did not have an adequate plan for post-intervention.
- Support for dictators and oppressive regimes
- The charge: “I have to say, I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America.”
- Her record:
- She didn’t seem to have a problem with dictators when the Clinton Foundation accepted money from Saudi Arabia and a handful of other despots, or when she turned around and approved the sale of hundreds of billions of dollars of weaponry to them as Secretary of State.
- Her foreign policy mentor, Henry Kissinger, supported dictators and coups to install them anywhere U.S. business interests were threatened.
- A closed mind
- The charge: “…if you’re convinced you’re always right, you’ll never ask yourself the hard questions.”
- Her record:
- Surrounds her self with yes men and instills a culture of loyalty and obedience. Just look at what happened with the private email server: any underlings who raised legitimate concerns with the department were told to never speak of it again. From the Inspector General’s report:
- “Two staff in S/ES-IRM reported to OIG that, in late 2010, they each discussed their concerns about Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email account in separate meetings with the then-Director of S/ES-IRM. In one meeting, one staff member raised concerns that information sent and received on Secretary Clinton’s account could contain Federal records that needed to be preserved in order to satisfy Federal recordkeeping requirements. According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further. As previously noted, OIG found no evidence that staff in the Office of the Legal Adviser reviewed or approved Secretary Clinton’s personal system. According to the other S/ES-IRM staff member who raised concerns about the server, the Director stated that the mission of S/ES-IRM is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.”
- Eschewing diplomacy
- Her record:
- Voted against the Levin amendment that would have required U.N. diplomacy and approval before authorizing war in Iraq, or a return to Congress if such efforts failed.
- Blocked the 2012 Syrian ceasefire effort by Kofi Annan, because war on Assad was her priority.
- Empowering terrorists and extremists
- The charge: “We need to…dismantle the global network that supplies money, arms, propaganda and fighters to the terrorists.”
- Her record:
- Regime change in Iraq, Libya, and Syria that creates power vacuums and chaos, empowering militant extremists and aids their recruitment.
- Arming and supporting rebels in Syria, which has directly empowered al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate who has established footholds there.
- Support for and continued arming of Saudi Arabia, the biggest exporter of radical Islam and terror since 9/11 and earlier.
- Abandoning allies who cooperate in fighting terror
- Her charge: “This is someone who has threatened to abandon our allies in NATO – the countries that work with us to root out terrorists abroad”
- Her record:
- For all her talk of realism and pragmatism, she abandoned it when it counted: it would have been pragmatic to not overthrow Qaddafi, who had been providing us intelligence and assistance against al-Qaeda, and was acting as a bulwark against extremism. Senior intelligence officials warned that taking him out would lead to an expansion of extremism and terror, and that’s precisely what happened.
- Making enemies unnecessarily
- The charge: “Why would he want to make one of them an enemy?”
- Her record:
- Unthinking intransigence against Syria, Iran, Russia
- Wants to stick her thumb in Russia’s eye at every turn—instilling a no-fly zone in Syria, toppling Assad, funneling weapons to Ukrainian troops.
- Syrian no fly-zone could put us in direct military conflict with them, yet she still pushes for it.
- Increasing the debt
- The charge: “His economic plans would add more than $30 trillion – that’s trillion with a ‘t’ – $30 trillion to our national debt over the next 20 years.”
- Her record:
- The $6 trillion dollar war in Iraq; the war in Libya; proposes expanding the effort to overthrow Assad.
- Supported finance sector deregulation that led to the 2008 crash (cost estimated at up to $12 trillion). Profits from and is friendly with the big banks, who are now even bigger than they were in 2008; how much will it cost if/when they once again collapse and once again require bailouts?
- Not standing up for women’s rights
- The charge: “America stands up to countries that treat women like animals”
- Her record:
- Propping up and continually arming Saudia Arabia, one of the most oppressive regimes in the world when it comes to women’s rights.
- On Syria
- “We need to keep pursuing diplomacy to end Syria’s civil war.”
- This is the opposite of what she’s done. Her goal is to remove Assad from power, not broker peace.
- “He said we should send tens of thousands of American ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS.”
- This is exactly what her no-fly zone would require, as top military officials have repeatedly warned.
When she referenced her record she glossed over any ugliness, acknowledged no lessons learned from Iraq or Libya, and took no responsibility for those mistakes.
It’s a disheartening prospect, the idea of having to sit through four years of her doublespeak. This is the person who said, “I’ve been the most transparent public official in modern times, as far as I know,” when discussing the private email server she set up in her house specifically to skirt FOIA laws and hide her official communications away from the public eye.
I loathe the idea of four years of outright lies, four years of a sycophantic media and party covering for her and marginalizing her opponents, four years of pretending that warmongering, arms buildup and coups are for the good of the American people and the good of the world, without the faintest acknowledgement of the utter destruction, death, and danger they cause. It’s appalling, the moral bankruptcy of it all, covered in a facade of righteousness and pride, a veneer of can-do-no-wrong exceptionalism that obfuscates harsh realities, and ignores responsibilities we should be facing. It feels like the second coming of George W. Bush, and the parallels are striking—beyond what I already stated, their penchants for secrecy and unaccountability, the crony capitalism, and the expensive, belligerent, counterproductive method of projecting American power that has led to our greatest blunders. This speech only confirmed that her approach has not shifted, and that she will continue to obfuscate.
What would a better foreign policy speech look like?
A better speech would explore the moral issues we face in our world, rather than just assure us our endeavors are always righteous. It would highlight the long term trajectory for our nation we should aim for, and how we can achieve it. It would be revelatory for many, illuminating the crux of our conflicts and how we might deal with them—for example, how we can begin to ease the conflict in Israel and Palestine, or how we will deal with China as an emerging superpower, how we will deal with the wars in the Middle East, and change the course that has led to failed states, extremism and terror, or how we will deal with an ongoing Mexican Drug War that has killed over 100,000 and displaced over a million, yet is barely a blip in our national conversation.
A better speech would give us real hope that our leader has the judgement and vision to lead us forward, that they have the humility and the courage to acknowledge past mistakes so that we may begin to correct them, and avoid repeating them.
A better speech would challenge us to fight for what’s right alongside our president, rather than just pad our egos and stoke apathy. It would inspire confidence that if we work together and truly stand up for the values of humanity, liberty, and justice, then a more peaceful, prosperous world really is possible, and we can begin moving toward it this very day.
She gave us none of that. Instead, we got the typical patriotic trappings and a whole lot of ridicule of her opponent. This was more politics than policy, more fearmongering than a cogent, thoughtful, or forward-facing vision for American foreign policy in the coming years. It was devoid of any insight or courage, it was vapid; designed to appeal to our nationalist tendencies, rather than challenge us to think critically about the world and our role in it.
It’s interesting, because this is also Trump’s strategy, to a T. And the scary part is he seems to be better at it—not that his ideas are better, but that he’s better at politicking the idea of jingoism; he seems more authentic and straight-forward, and he has just as much, if not more ammo against Clinton, given that she has a PROVEN record of poor judgment and trigger happiness. Trump’s supporters have heard the criticisms she puts forth, and they will not be swayed by hearing them from her. She has neither the credibility nor rapport with the American people to pull voters away from Trump in this manner.
What would a winning strategy for her look like? That’s a good question, and is difficult to answer. She’s spent twenty years painting herself into this corner. I imagine it would involve doing her damnedest to convince skeptics that she would not repeat her past mistakes, and that would mean owning up to them and acknowledging why they were mistakes, or at the very least it would mean laying out a future approach that is unmistakably different from that of her past–a substantive, credible vision for peace and prosperity, to contrast with the bluster and attack-focused politics of Trump.
The winning strategy for Democrats would have been to not nominate her in the first place.
If she does somehow manage to pull off a win in November despite her poor strategy (assuming she gets the Democratic nomination, which is not a foregone conclusion), she has shown us that we will still have an impulsive, irresponsible, dangerous person at the helm, an insecure trigger-finger resting on the button.
She is fighting fire with fire, and in doing so, increasing the chances that the flames of ignorance and war will engulf us all.