Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hillary Clinton was not so hawkish on Iraq

Jonathan Ladd sensibly questions the premise that  Hillary Clinton would act like a hawk as president, as opposed to talking a little like one now. As evidence that she would not, he cites the foreign policy continuity between the (Bill) Clinton and Obama administrations (of which she is of course a lynchpin), and the fact that the only hawkish action she's ever taken was her vote in October 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

I would complicate somewhat Ladd's contention that in her tenure as Obama's Secretary of State Clinton's "actions supported President Obama's less confrontational, less militaristic policies rather than the neoconservative policies advanced by the Bush administration." She supported the generals' plans for a surge in Afghanistan (the modifications were all Obama's own), urged the Libyan intervention, supported early intervention in support of "moderate" rebels in Syria, and claims that she always worked either to deny or reduce to a token Iran's "right to enrichment."  That doesn't mean that she wasn't a loyal administration member, but it does indicate that her relative hawkishness is more than talk. I find her stance with regard to Iran particularly disturbing, in that it bespeaks not just "hawkishness" per se but also near-complete deference to Netanyahu and AIPAC -- a deference to which her Goldberg interview pays really stunning and disturbing tribute.

To switch gears, though, I'd like to offer collateral support to Ladd's contention that Clinton's Senate vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq does not necessarily indicate a predisposition to use military force generally.  Ladd concentrates on the strong political incentives to support the resolution. I'd add that Clinton cast her vote as a vote for diplomacy and a chance to avoid war. On several occasions following, she urged Bush not to rush to war. She was hardly a profile in courage in this regard: those urgings devolved into meek peeps as war approached in March 2003. But they do indicate that if she held the reins, she may have been content to force invasive inspections -- arguably a tool of the kind of "smart power" she claims to advocate.

I'm going to mine a post I wrote in 2008 tracking Clinton's statements in the run-up to war (many of the links are unfortunately dead). In her October 2002 speech in support of the resolution to use force, she cast her vote as a means of giving diplomacy a chance:
Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.

Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go way with delay will oppose any UN resolution calling for unrestricted inspections.

So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him - use these powers wisely and as a last resort. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein - this is your last chance - disarm or be disarmed.
In the months following, Clinton spoke occasionally against a rush to war. On November 20, she told Chris Matthews, “"To talk all the time like you're inviting war , anxious to go to war, does a great disservice to the country" and warned that the Bush Administration “had some old scores to settle” in Iraq. She piped up in the same vein on February 7, 2003, when, according to the Irish Times, she told an Irish TV interviewer that “she is against precipitous action in a war on Iraq” and “would prefer to see more time given to the UN weapons inspectors before any action was considered.”

As war approached, though, she folded that tent. On March 17, in a statement in response to the President's address preparing the nation for war, Clinton rallied round:
Tonight, the President gave Saddam Hussein one last chance to avoid war, and the world hopes that Saddam Hussein will finally hear this ultimatum, understand the severity of those words, and act accordingly. While we wish there were more international support for the effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, at this critical juncture it is important for all of us to come together in support of our troops and pray that, if war does occur, this mission is accomplished swiftly and decisively with minimum loss of life and civilian casualties.
Finally,  the Daily News reported on March 20, 2003, the eve of war:
Sen. Hillary Clinton wishes President Bush had lined up more nations in his "coalition of the willing" against Iraq - but she won't second-guess him as war approaches.

Clinton, outspoken on major issues such as homeland security, defended her near-silence yesterday over Bush's failed diplomatic efforts to rally UN backing to disarm Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by force. "I think everybody wishes we had more international support for this action," Clinton said in an interview.
My worry about Clinton is not so much that she's hawkish per se but that she's excessively calculating, deferential, and sometimes beholden to powerful interests and institutions including the military.

Whatever one thinks of Obama's decisions and execution, I doubt anyone would contest that he trusts his own judgment. The current neocon rap on him with respect to refraining from strong support of "moderate" Syrian rebels in 2012 is that he disregarded the advice of his Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, CIA director, and top generals. That was also the rap when he negotiated Bowe Bergdahl's release. In acceding to the the Afghan surge, he reshaped the military plan to an extent that Petraeus found unprecedented in a president.  I don't like the degree of impunity with which Netanyahu has commanded U.S. support for actions opposed by the administration -- but that carte blanche would almost certainly be even more extreme under a Republican president -- or Hillary Clinton.

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