Hillary has clarified. She says that she really didn’t mean to attack President Obama’s foreign policies in that Atlantic interview last week. Maybe. But she did very clearly mean to stake out a position to the hawkish right of the president.
The Obama administration has moved ever so gradually and cautiously to modify the longstanding American foreign policy consensus that the United States has the right and the responsibility to forcefully maintain its preponderant power position in the world. That hypernationalist belief, usually dressed up in the language of liberal internationalism, has too often led us to do “stupid shit,” as Obama has put it. (I would add: stupid and morally abhorrent.) Hillary clearly thinks that the Obama worldview is too timid: “You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward.” Most telling, to my mind, was Clinton’s suggestion that if the US had waded earlier and more deeply into the morass of the Syrian civil war, we might have made a difference there: we might even not be facing a threat today from ISIL in Iraq. (Obama quickly and correctly dismissed that idea as a fantasy.)
I think it’s an overstatement to say, as Andrew Sullivan did, that “…there is no daylight between her and John McCain…. [S]he remains neoconservatism’s best bet to come back with bells on.” But, like the neo-conservatives, Clinton tends to inflate the threat of jihadism. She doesn’t use the phrase “global war on terror,” which the Obama administration has pointedly avoided, but she seems to endorse the idea in all but name, making the crusade against muslim radicalism the centerpiece of a renewed assertion of American global primacy. And, like the neo-conservatives, she would effectively contract out US Middle Eastern policy to Bibi Netanyahu: on the subject of Iran and on Israel’s demolition of Gaza, Hillary could as well have been interviewing for the position of foreign minister in Bibi’s cabinet.
Unsurprisingly, Hillary’s comments have earned praise from the right. David Brooks, for example, favorably compares Clinton’s aggressiveness to Obama’s caution: “[T]he Clinton approach strikes me as more sound, for the same reason that early intervention against cancer is safer than late-term surgery. “ Somehow, it still doesn’t occur to Brooks that US policy may itself be a cancer-causing agent. Did the invasion of Iraq, which Brooks enthusiastically supported, excise cancer, or did it spread it? Can we be confident that drone strikes eliminate more tumors than they plant?
Hillary is a fairly smart politician, but it’s not clear that she’s learned much from her unfortunate support of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. We are very likely stuck with her as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, but I continue to hope that she will be made to face a serious challenge in the primaries. It may or may not do any good, but it couldn’t hurt to shake her up a bit. She needs to be reminded that the country isn’t looking for more foreign misadventures.