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The Military-Industrial Candidate

Analysts were right to say that the Republican takeover of Congress bodes well for the war machine: already we see the levers of power slowly shifting in reverse, eager to get back to salad days of post-9/11 wartime spending.

But waiting in the wings, Hillary Clinton just may prove to be what the defense establishment has been waiting for, and more. Superior to all in money, name recognition, and influence, she is poised to compete aggressively for the Democratic nomination for president. She might just win the Oval Office. And by most measures she would be the most formidable hawk this country has seen in a generation.

“It is clear that she is behind the use of force in anything that has gone on in this cabinet. She is a Democratic hawk and that is her track record. That’s the flag she’s planted,” said Gordon Adams, a national security budget expert who was an associate director in President Bill Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget.

Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has spent her post-service days protesting the war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, is more blunt. “Interventionism is a business and it has a constituency and she is tapping into it,” she tells TAC. “She is for the military industrial complex, and she is for the neoconservatives.”

Hillary, Inc.

The former secretary of state, senator, and first lady appeared to fire the first salvo (at least in her national security arsenal) in her next presidential bid last summer, when she gave an interview [1] to Jeffrey Goldberg mostly on the launch of her new autobiography, Hard Choices. In the much-ballyhooed Atlantic piece, Clinton defends Israel from charges of disproportionate attacks in Gaza, takes a hard line on Iran in the nuclear talks, and suggests President Obama could have avoided the rise of ISIS by listening to her proposals for arming the anti-Assad rebels in Syria last year.

Not long after, Leon Panetta—who served as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff before he was Obama’s CIA director, then secretary of defense in 2011—released his own tell-all, Worthy Fights. While the book itself might be more nuanced in its criticism of Obama’s foreign policy choices, the promotional tour, which came at the height of the current Islamic State crisis and right before the midterm elections, had Panetta blaming Obama for not keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq, then, and not having “the will to fight” [2] in Iraq and Syria, now.

Panetta’s flurry of press interviews, all of which make Obama look like a rube, feed the belief that all of Clinton’s actions are politically motivated. “The criticisms that (Panetta) is leveling at President Obama do not seem to be his own,” charged liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, in October [3]. She pointed out how, at the time, then-defense secretary Panetta “staunchly defended” [4] Obama’s decision to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq in 2011. She continued:

“Now that he’s out and working for a global strategy firm that’s essentially the Hillary Clinton campaign in exile, now he’s flying the same exact anti-Obama flag that the hawkish Clinton wing of the party has been flying all year trying to position themselves for the next stage in their own political careers by stepping on President Obama’s neck.”

Maddow was describing Beacon Strategies—a firm launched by a collection of former Hillary Clintonistas, including longtime spokesman Phillipe Reines. When it opened shop in 2013, Defense News [5] noted that it looked like these former aides were keeping their powder dry for another government run; in the meantime Beacon was “built on providing advice to companies, primarily defense contractors, focused on international defense business as well as cyber, although their first client was Bash’s former boss, Panetta.” Panetta has since joined the firm [6].

If Hillary Inc.’s first order of business was to define her worldview away from her former boss, it also seemed to take on some of that old Clinton triangulation magic—anticipating the usual trope that Democrats are too squishy on defense. And it seemed to work, for now. Panetta’s attacks on Obama were so welcomed by the right wing that Karl Rove called him a “patriot” on Fox News.

True Believer

Hillary’s prevailing record in Washington is as ideological as it is political. In the purest sense she endeavors at what writer Peter Beinart refers to [7] as muscular liberalism, in the vein of Presidents Truman and Kennedy. Her intellectual coterie includes elite purveyors of “humanitarian interventionism” like former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Anne Marie Slaughter [8].

In a September review [9] of her friend Henry Kissinger’s latest book, aptly entitled, World Order, Clinton describes her own perception of America’s “global leadership.”

“America, at its best, is a problem-solving nation. And our continued commitment to renovating and defending the global order will determine whether we build a future of peace, progress and prosperity in which people everywhere have the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential,” she writes.

Her bond with the former Nixon national security advisor, who she boasts, “checked in with me regularly” during her time as President Obama’s secretary of state, reflects the paradoxes inherent in both their tenures. She says they both share “a belief in the indispensability of continued leadership in service of a just and liberal order,” yet Kissinger is best known for expanding the war in Vietnam. In the interest of global order he pushed for continued air strikes on Laos and helped initiate a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia without congressional approval, ultimately strengthening the genocidal trajectory of the Khmer Rouge.

All told, millions of civilians died as a result of the war in Indochina. Kissinger was feted for “ending” the conflict in Vietnam with the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, for an agreement that in no way inhibited the North Vietnamese from overrunning the south as the last Americans scrambled to leave Saigon in 1975. Kissinger also supported the war in Iraq, and was a regular counselor/visitor [10] at the Bush White House, too. Now, like his protégé [11] Clinton, he says [12], “If I had known everything then that I know now, I probably would not have supported it.”

Hillary may have been protesting the Vietnam War while Kissinger was escalating it, but she has long since seen force as a way to promote democratic goals, beginning with the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1994 (when, of course, it politically suited, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out [13] in 2008).

Networking to the Right

So when she became a New York senator in 2001, she chose to consult with the brass, including Gen. Jack Keane [14], who helped to draft the so-called surge in Iraq. She bonded with fellow Armed Services Committee member and chairman Sen. John McCain, who critics joke never saw a conflict he didn’t want to bomb his way out of. It was in the Senate that Clinton cemented her ties with the military, knowing full well that it helped her politically, too, given the lessons learned from her husband’s cool relationship with the Armed Forces more than a decade before.

Her new friends did her no good in 2008, however, when she faced Barack Obama in the Democratic primary for president. The mood in the country was decidedly antiwar, and her vote for Iraq came back to haunt her. As secretary of state, however, she did little to distance Foggy Bottom from the subordinate role it had been playing to the Pentagon in world affairs after 9/11, said Adams.

“She wanted to make sure she was never in a fight with [then-Defense Secretary] Bob Gates … One got the feeling from her she felt safest when the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense were at the hip,” he said.

Clinton talks a lot about non-kinetic “soft power,” but Gordon said he “watched very closely as the State Department tried to align itself with the DoD,” under Clinton.

“It concerned me because it leaned toward the hawkish side of her policy views,” said Adams, a firm believer that “there should be creative tension between both departments.”  Meanwhile, the Clintonites who had come to inhabit the Obama administration, like Slaughter, began coalescing behind “responsibility to protect” or “R2P,” [15] in hopes of saving the future of humanitarian intervention from the clutches of American war fatigue.

On the surface it would appear that Clinton is expert at fusing her touchy-feely side with a seemingly instinctual desire to use the military to sustain and wield American “global leadership” to whatever ends. This approach can yield political paydirt, drawing in hawks from both sides of the spectrum. But to critics it smacks of “soft empire” and in that way, it’s no different than say, Robert Kagan’s neoconservatism [16]—it’s all a matter of branding.

Military-Industrial Fundraising Machine

Which brings us back to the politics, which has been in Hillary’s blood since she was a high school “Goldwater Girl.” [17]  She knows, ultimately, that her status in the national security establishment and credibility with the Pentagon brass is essential.

“You don’t get to be a serious person in Washington until you are considered pro-intervention,” said Mike Lofgren, who spent 30 years as a budget analyst and aide on Capitol Hill, specializing in defense. Plus, the “Clintons, they really like to hang out with rich people and there is a lot of money in the military industrial complex.”

Money, of course, is high on the list for a credible presidential run, and Clinton has been raising lots of it. Hollywood [18], which appears to hate war only when Republicans are waging it, is forming the left flank in her PAC operations. Meanwhile, Israeli billionaire friend Haim Saban (yes, that [19] Saban) told the Washington Post that he will spend “whatever it takes” [20] to get her elected.

So what does this all mean in a practical sense? First, if Saban and other hardliners get their way, Clinton will come down on Iran like a ton of bricks in the nuclear negotiations and light as a feather on Israel in respect to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, especially given her comments to Goldberg over the summer.

Furthermore, if the dynamics in North Africa and the Middle East remain the same, electing Clinton could lead to an even greater military footprint overseas. The Armed Services, ever the wailing Cassandras, will likely get the appropriations they want with less commotion, a boon for the defense industry.

“Clinton understands that the only avenue of safety for a Democrat in the arena of national security is to throw money at the Pentagon,” said Adams, and “this is consistent with her worldview on national security. She sees military force as an essential tool and if you take that view, why wouldn’t you want to increase the military’s budget?”

More importantly, her support of the military allows her to project an image of leadership and toughness during the campaign, which Adams says is absolutely necessary for winning the White House.

“What this does is protect her right flank, it makes it very hard for anyone in the general election to accuse her of being soft on national security,” said Adams.

“And where did she learn that lesson? Her husband.”

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter and TAC contributing editor. Follow her on Twitter [21].

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "The Military-Industrial Candidate"

#1 Comment By Nikola On November 20, 2014 @ 6:22 am

Thank you American Conservative for mentioning the Clinton bombing of Serbia in the 1990s. So many Serbs feel that Americans genuinely hate Serbia but most Americans have really no idea what the Clintons did to us in the 90s. It’s hard for our people here to understand that here but I do my best to explain that 99% of Americans are unaware that their government ordered the bombing of Christian Serbia’s hospitals and schools on false pretence to secure Albanian heroin routes in Kosovo.

Serbia was always an American ally. In WWII, Serbs saved 500 U.S. airmen who were shot down by the Nazis in German occupied Serbia. Kept them hidden for 6 months. I suggest readers look up the “Forgotten 500”.

#2 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 20, 2014 @ 9:04 am

“Clinton understands that the only avenue of safety for a Democrat in the arena of national security is to throw money at the Pentagon,” said Adams, and ‘this is consistent with her worldview on national security. She sees military force as an essential tool and if you take that view, why wouldn’t you want to increase the military’s budget?’”

Sadly, I think this is true. Bill Clinton, I think, appeased the military and protected himself from the charges of “softness” that have been leveled at national Democrats since the Vietnam era, by wasting money on the DoD and by using the military just enough to keep the hounds at bay. But Hillary is now a true believer. She is not all for war and money for the Pentagon because it is politic (although she does think it is politic as well), but because that is what she now thinks is good policy.

I find it a disgrace that the Democratic party will likely nominate her. I will not vote for her in the primary or in the general election.

#3 Comment By Philip Giraldi On November 20, 2014 @ 9:52 am

Great article Kelley! One might well also recall that Victoria Nuland, who has done so much to reignite the Cold War, was a protege both of Hillary and Dick Cheney!

#4 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 20, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

Hillary Clinton prepares to launch the most formidable hawkish presidential campaign in a generation.

With the notable exception of virtually every recent Republican contender in the universe whose last name is not “Paul”.

#5 Comment By hetzer On November 20, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

@EngineerScotty – the difference is Clinton has the blessing of the establishment, and will also probably win.

#6 Comment By tbraton On November 20, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

Hillary Clinton prepares to launch the most formidable hawkish presidential campaign in a generation.

With the notable exception of virtually every recent Republican contender in the universe whose last name is not “Paul”. ”

Apparently, you forgot that GWB campaigned in 2000 on the false premises that he believed in a “modest foreign policy” and did not believe in “nation building.” That was why I voted for him in 2000 but not in 2004. Had he stuck to his campaign pledges both the country and the Republican Party would have been much better off, in my opinion. After 9/11, that translates into getting in to Afghanistan and getting out just as quickly and staying out of Iraq altogether.

#7 Comment By N. Joseph Potts On November 20, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

Soft empire! What a GREAT spin! Perfect!

#8 Comment By Margie On November 20, 2014 @ 10:35 pm

How can you expect to be taken seriously when you don’t know that “salad days” is a time of poverty not of riches. It is when one is starting out in one’s career and too poor to afford meat, so one has salad instead.

[22]—ed.

#9 Comment By Meow Mix On November 21, 2014 @ 1:15 am

I don’t get it. The American Conservative spends so much time complaining about the neocons, the military industrial complex, Zionists, and catering to Paulbots that the staff sound indistinguishable from anarcho-capitalists and commies. Do you want American global hegemony or would you prefer China? Do you want Obama to fail, yes or no? Do you want to defeat the Left or just rot away in obscurity? If you’re serious then just vote GOP or the least garbage Democrat.

#10 Comment By William Dalton On November 21, 2014 @ 2:30 am

philadelphialawyer:

“Bill Clinton, I think, appeased the military and protected himself from the charges of “softness” that have been leveled at national Democrats since the Vietnam era, by wasting money on the DoD and by using the military just enough to keep the hounds at bay.”

Bill Clinton had to fight the image of being “soft” on national defense because he was Vietnam era draft dodger. That is not a problem Jim Webb will have in his campaign.

Engineer Scotty:

Point: “Hillary Clinton prepares to launch the most formidable hawkish presidential campaign in a generation.”

Counterpoint: “With the notable exception of virtually every recent Republican contender in the universe whose last name is not “Paul”.”

Many Republicans are more hawkish than Hillary (primarily because they have a different party base to appeal to). None are as formidable.

#11 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 21, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

William Dalton:

“Bill Clinton had to fight the image of being ‘soft’ on national defense because he was Vietnam era draft dodger. That is not a problem Jim Webb will have in his campaign.”

Putting aside the question of whether Bill Clinton really was a “draft dodger” (and the best evidence suggests that he broke no laws in his avoidance of military service—is that “draft dodging?”), the charge of being soft on defense that is leveled routinely at Democratic presidential candidates goes, and has gone, much deeper than the draft record of any particular national Democratic politician. That is so clear that I am not even going to bother to document the point, nor will I argue about it with you.

As for Webb, you’re right about the personal dimension of the issue. But, rest assured, if he is nominated by the Dems for President, his GOP opponent (unless his last name is “Paul”) and the right wing media will no doubt still say his FP and defense policy views are too “soft.”

“Many Republicans are more hawkish than Hillary…None are as formidable.”

I agree. And take that to have been the author’s point.

#12 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 21, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

Meow Mix:

“Do you want American global hegemony or would you prefer China?”

I’m no conservative, but are those the only two choices? Sounds like a false dichotomy to me.

“Do you want Obama to fail, yes or no?”

I think most of the folks here would say that while they want Obama to “fail” to the extent that he wants liberal policies that they think are harmful to be enacted and implemented, they don’t want him to “fail” in the sense of hurting the USA by being a bad president across the boards. I think the notion here is that old school conservatives put country above party and ideology.

“Do you want to defeat the Left or just rot away in obscurity?”

Again, speaking for the folks here (who can certainly speak for themselves as to who they are and what they want–see the various statements to that effect), I think their desire is that good policy be enacted and implemented, not “defeating the Left,” per se. As for “rotting in obscurity,” the focus here is on policy and argumentation, not a popularity contest.

“If you’re serious then just vote GOP or the least garbage Democrat.”

I think the notion is that they want to influence the GOP, and perhaps even the Democrats, to be more to their liking, rather than just lock step supporting the lesser of two evils.

“The American Conservative spends so much time complaining about the neocons, the military industrial complex, Zionists, and catering to Paulbots that the staff sound indistinguishable from anarcho-capitalists and commies.”

Perhaps that’s because many TAC writers actually agree with the anarchists and “commies” about these particular issues. Merely because a “commie” says “X” does not mean that “not X,” or “Y,” is a good idea, even for conservatives.

“I don’t get it.”

No, you don’t. I think you are looking for something like RedState or NRO. They might be more to your liking.

#13 Comment By Boris M Garsky On November 22, 2014 @ 11:16 am

If it weren’t for Israel, she would have no foreign policy. Does she not recognize that she is running for the American presidency? It is one thing to support Israel, but it is an entirely different matter to be sycophant to Israel. In all of her rantings, I have yet to hear of what she will do for America and Americas people. She adheres to Goldwater, sheldon, Albright, Kagan- that says everything about her. She is a vacuous sycophant to where ever the money lies.

#14 Comment By j snodgrass On November 22, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

reading he first comment prompted my writing.

When Yugoslavia “broke up” in the early 1990s, the President George HW Bush administration was reluctant to recognize any of the component countries – Croatia, Serbia, etc. In the end, the “conservative” German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl recognized Croatia as a separate country.

Nowhere in the media, either alternative or mainstream, was it mentioned the Croatia was the home of the Ustashe, a military force of Fascists who fought for the Germans in WWII. The irony of this group of thugs being recognized by the German government was completely lost on reporters who have no sense of history.

Much has been made of the involvement of Fascists in the present Ukrainian crisis. There have been examination of rising right wing activities in Greece. This struggle has been going on for over twenty years and no one has said squat!

#15 Comment By Don G. On November 22, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

Same diff! The pure white Dem lady or Bush III, or one of the other Repubs. And both of them will resort to the use of drones so there won’t be any US military casualties. And then everything about the wars will be just fine again! Ya’all know it’s so doncha!

#16 Comment By Simon in London On November 22, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

“NATO bombing of Serbia in 1994”

Do you mean 1998?

#17 Comment By JohnG On November 22, 2014 @ 11:32 pm

When it comes to the Clintons, the Democrats, or the media, nothing can surprise me any more.

She was in a helicopter that was shot at over Bosnia. Then she was “dead broke” upon leaving the White House. Needless to say, both turned out to be big fat lies, and only God knows how many others she told us with straight face. That she is considered a serious candidate (much less a frontrunner!) says more about us as a country than it will ever say about her. God help us!

#18 Comment By Chris Condon On November 23, 2014 @ 3:49 am

Gerhard Wisnewski, a popular German writer, has written that Henry Kissinger was the de facto President during the Nixon Administration. The American Constitution forbids foreign-born persons from becoming president, no Nixon was put in as the nominal president and was expected to take orders from Kissinger. Unfortunately, Nixon got too big for his britches and was tossed out. Kissinger remained.

#19 Comment By Dorothy On November 23, 2014 @ 7:28 am

Good article.
Just one correction – Nato’s bombing of Serbia was in 1999 not 1994.
Perhaps the author was referring to Nato’s bombing of Bosnian Serbs in 1994.

#20 Comment By Aleutian On November 23, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

When this shifty, lying, arrogant political monstrosity is elected, AIPAC will be dancing on the table and Israel will declare a National Holiday.
She was going to be the first female President of our country and she is going to do it by hook or by crook. Hillary has sold her soul to the devil and Mephistopheles is waiting in the wings to collect.
(See: Faust by Charles Gounot).

#21 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On November 24, 2014 @ 9:32 am

Woodrow Wilson in a pantsuit.

#22 Comment By Ruth ferguson On January 26, 2016 @ 12:27 pm

Any possible American Presidential candidate in year 2016 that was and still is a good friend of Henry Kissinger, is not a person we should be electing to guide and protect our country. Kissinger is a brutal cutthroat leader we should all run from!!