The next presidential election is more than two years away, so why is the former Secretary of State talking a big game about America imposing its will across the world?
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is ready for battle. Photo via Flickr user World Resources Institute
The Iraq War sank Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008. The former first lady and then-US Senator's refusal to call her vote authorizing the invasion a mistake made her seem just enough like a George W. Bush clone to alienate liberal Democrats and hand some guy named Barack Obama their party’s nomination. But she doesn't seem to have taken the rejection to heart, and may have actually become even more prone to saber-rattling since.
In a recent interview with the The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the former Secretary of State talked Syria, Israel, Iraq, and the Obama Doctrine—if that’s really what we’re calling it now. In addition to all but admitting she is ready to run for the most powerful office on planet Earth two years from now, Clinton sounded a nostalgic tone for the bellicose American rhetoric of the Cold War, defended Israel's latest brutal assault on Gaza, and knocked Obama for not meddling in foreign conflicts more often.
“Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don’t do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle,” Clinton said, offering her most aggressive criticism yet of Obama’s famously (some would say toxically) "pragmatic" approach to the world. “You know, we did a good job in containing the Soviet Union, but we made a lot of mistakes, we supported really nasty guys, we did some things that we are not particularly proud of, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, but we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism. That was our objective. We achieved it."
Maybe we should be grateful Clinton is not quite doubling down on the Eisenhower-era fondness for brutal Latin American dictators and corrupt anti-communist regimes. And she has a point that despite all the drone wars and NSA surveillance programs (and this brand new bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq), Obama has been leery of putting boots on the ground, so to speak. But it's not like this White House has been somehow reluctant to play abroad. On the contrary, the Obama administration has broadened the scope of its role in Afghanistan, massively expanded the use of drone assassinations across the Middle East and Africa, and intervened in Qaddafi's Libya, among other military adventures.
But the shadow candidate wants a more muscular approach to the scourge of Islamic radicalism, and thinks Obama dropped the ball on Syria's civil war.
"I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled," she said.
Whether arming fighters directly (as my colleague Charles Davis points out, the CIA did essentially arm Syrian rebels) or supplying firepower from the skies, Clinton wants to take action, man, and is sick of all the restraint. In fact, it seems like the main problem Clinton has with the Obama years is that they haven't been enough like Ronald Reagan's. You know, the 80s—when the president was an increasingly senile old man but still capable of delivering vaguely inspiring speeches in European capitals. Clinton promises more talk of American greatness, and to make sure the rest of the world knows how great we are, too. This is all kind of funny because Clinton actually attacked Obama back in 2008 for praising Reagan. And if the Obama era has been too cautious for her taste, one can only imagine the exotic military quests on the horizon if things go according to (her) plan.
Most of us can agree that Clinton's knowledge is plenty sophisticated when it comes to the nuances of international relations, and she has an easy command of all the key players and issues—it's not like she'd be asleep at the wheel. But the question she has to ask herself is whether running on a platform of purging the world of Jihad, backing Israel no matter how many innocent children are bombed on the beaches of Gaza, and taking it even easier on banks like Goldman Sachs (she has a domestic agenda, too!) is really going to be enough to close the deal with American voters.
Left-wing activist types hoping for a run by Elizabeth Warren (or someone else who isn't completely beholden to Wall Street) are probably kidding themselves, so it makes sense that Clinton feels safe to do her thing unfiltered. Still, she's playing with fire given the images of bloodshed streaming out of Gaza and the recent Pew poll that showed 55 percent of Americans are opposed to any kind of US role in containing the chaos in Iraq (though it's worth pointing out that survey was conducted before the Islamic State had begun to look this ferocious). The country is still fatigued in the wake of all these Middle East quagmires, and Clinton needs to be careful she doesn't end up on the wrong side of history once again.
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