Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hedges, lies and pablum: Clinton to Goldberg

In a prior post, I may have overemphasized the hedge element in Hillary Clinton's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, published Sunday. Hedging her criticisms of current policy and her interventionist impulses was definitely a part of the performance. But that performance was equal parts hedges, bald-faced lies and pablum in support of an implied general propensity toward more aggressive action that itself may prove illusory.

For the lies, see Peter Beinart. Everything Clinton said about Netanyahu and his dealings with the Palestinians in his two spells as prime minister was untrue. He didn't "move toward a Palestinian state" in the mid-nineties, he didn't agree to a meaningful settlement freeze in 2009, he didn't engage with Assad in 2009-2010, he didn't offer the Palestinians "Barak-like options"--or any concrete proposals -- in the last round of negotiations that collapsed this spring, and he either never relinquished or has recently reaffirmed a determination never to give up security control of the West Bank. As for the assault on Gaza, Clinton simply parroted IDF talking points.

With regard to the hedging, as I argued in the prior post, Clinton did not suggest that jihadism is a threat on the scale of communism, only that containment was an overall strategy that might be adapted to any toxic ideology that poses a threat to global order. Containment-as-framework was further hedged by allusions to the many mistakes the U.S. made in the Cold War, to be improved by "smart power" and "after-action reviews." Clinton's invocations of "smart power" sound a lot like Obama's oft-stated preferences for deploying nonmilitary tools of U.S. influence, as does her acknowledgement of "the limits of our power to spread freedom and democracy."

Containment as a broad concept is anodyne. It means checking adversaries' power by means short of all-out war. It's usually a default position for American presidents, George W. Bush excepted, as is democracy promotion (GWB included). Hillary's big idea, such as it is, is to improve the tools and to execute better, as per Libya: " My passion is, let’s do some after-action reviews, let’s learn these lessons, let’s figure out how we’re going to have different and better responses going forward."  A passionate pragmatist, like a certain Chicago law professor.

Hedging segues to pablum in Clinton's big-picture happy talk: we don't tell our story very well these days, Great nations need organizing principles...Peace, progress, prosperity!  The "organizing principle" is to restore middle class prosperity at home while trying to ensure that the world doesn't blow up as we do so. That is precisely Obama's endlessly reiterated organizing principle -- delivered, in his case, with a lot more nuance and detail about inducing other nations to buy into international institutions. And he's not short either on fulsome praise for American ideals and leadership and indispensability.

Hedging carries Clinton into near-nonsense as she labors to oppose/support the negotiations with Iran. She denies that Iran has a right to enrich uranium, though she might support a deal that concedes a bit of that right:
JG: Would you be content with an Iran that is perpetually a year away from being able to reach nuclear-breakout capability?
HRC: I would like it to be more than a year. I think it should be more than a year. No enrichment at all would make everyone breathe easier. If, however, they want a little bit for the Tehran research reactor, or a little bit for this scientific researcher, but they’ll never go above 5 percent enrichment—
JG: So, a few thousand centrifuges?
HRC: We know what “no” means. If we’re talking a little, we’re talking about a discrete, constantly inspected number of centrifuges. “No” is my preference.
JG: Would you define what “a little” means?
HRC: No.
JG: So what the Gulf states want, and what the Israelis want, which is to say no enrichment at all, is not a militant, unrealistic position?
HRC: It’s not an unrealistic position. I think it’s important that they stake out that position.

I suppose this can be read as casting the maximalist position as "realistic" as a tactical role-play for Israel and the Gulf states but not "realistic" for the U.S., though it's one she all but shares: "The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out. So, little or no enrichment has always been my position."   Netanyahu is her lodestar, though she may induce him to let her tack a little.

I don't mind Clinton signaling a more activist foreign policy than Obama's, bearing in mind that the signals may be mainly noise.  She may have to, in order to win election and preserve his legacy, domestic and global, and protect us from the 100-proof neocons. What's disturbing is not the pablum about reaffirming American values nor the hedged allusions to containment of various threats, but rather the unhedged, full-bore pandering to Israel and AIPAC that shapes not only her stance re Israel and Palestine but her apparent approach to negotiation with Iran.

Perhaps that's all calculated to give her space to sell concessions that Obama could not.  But I personally found Beinart's point-by-point debunk of Clinton's alternate history of Netanyahu so devastating that all my prior doubts about her judgment and integrity came rushing out of the 2008 vault. 

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