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Clinton, Paul, and Containment

Dan Drezner makes some mischief [1] with a comparison of similar statements by Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul. He offers an explanation:

The other possibility is that we’re in the very preliminary stages of the 2016 presidential election, and statements like these are sufficiently anodyne and flexible enough to allow either candidate to reference containment without feeling locked into any particular foreign policy position.

It’s true that it is still very early, and both probable candidates have little to gain from being too specific at this stage. Clinton is just as likely to make generic, ridiculous statements about “storytelling” [2] as she is to take specific positions, and Paul isn’t going out of his way to take positions on most contemporary issues, but I’m not buying it. Yes, Clinton and Paul are both comfortable invoking containment, but I’m fairly sure they mean very different things by them and they are using the same word to take their parties in opposite directions. After all, containment has meant very different things depending on who was defining it and how it was practiced.

Kennan famously outlined containment doctrine, but then vehemently disagreed with how and where it was applied by Truman and later presidents. When Paul refers to containment, it is Kennan’s version that he claims to have in mind, and my guess is that Clinton is thinking of containment as practiced by Truman et al. (Paul also tries to fold Reagan into his argument, but Drezner and I would both agree that it doesn’t matter what Reagan would do [3].) Talking up the virtues of containment in the modern GOP sends a different message and is intended to send a different message than when a Democrat mentions the concept in a long interview filled with hawkish positions [4]. Containment was originally a dirty word in Republican circles when it first came into being, and it has become so again thanks to Bush-era support for preventive warfare. The message that Clinton seems to have been trying to convey was that she would favor a more aggressive foreign policy than the one pursued by this administration, and that seems to be confirmed by the more hawkish positions she takes in the rest of the interview. In the process, she was telling the relatively more hawkish wing of her party that she is going back to Truman and other Cold War Democrats, whose foreign policy tradition some Democratic hawks think has been neglected too much in recent years.

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Clinton, Paul, and Containment"

#1 Comment By Matthew Cooley On August 11, 2014 @ 11:18 am

As a liberal, the idea of President Clinton II makes me very depressed.

You have to be pretty dense to think she’s learned her lesson since losing in 2007. She’s strongly backed every potential military action the US could make over the last 20 years; before, during, and after her stint as Secretary of State.

That said, I don’t think her blatant bombs-away approach to foreign policy will find a warm reception in the primaries.

#2 Comment By collin On August 11, 2014 @ 11:42 am

I used another post for the Elizabeth Warren NOW 2016 primary…but I am still not convinced Rand Paul is the Demotarian bro-mance candidate. I tend to think of Paul as Bush 2000 in which he talks about humble foreign policy, containment (of who?) & higher military spending and once in office letting the neocons take over.

#3 Comment By Charlieford On August 11, 2014 @ 11:50 am

“When Paul refers to containment, it is Kennan’s version that he claims to have in mind, and my guess is that Clinton is thinking of containment as practiced by Truman et al.”

Nice point.

#4 Comment By EarlyBird On August 11, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

Hillary is a hawk through and through. She also has a tin ear, is a poor campaigner, doesn’t wear well, and is out of step with Americans in a lot of ways – especially with progressives in her party. She is going to have another very tough nomination process and be challenged from the left for her hawkishness.

The 2016 election will be all about foreign policy, and she’s going to sound like a meddling hawk when Americans want to withdraw from a lot of hot spots.

#5 Comment By SFBay On August 11, 2014 @ 1:28 pm

EarlyBird, re: . She is going to have another very tough nomination process and be challenged from the left for her hawkishness.

Who do you think will challenge her? I don’t see anyone showing any strength against her. It’s definitely not Warren. Spitzer? O’Malley? There’s no one, at least now. And, the liberals in the Democratic party are not now and won’t ever be the majority of the party.

#6 Comment By James Canning On August 11, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

I think Hillary Clinton should note that Israel helped to create the disaster in Syria by failing to make a peace deal with Syria in 2008. Clinton of course will say nothing of the sort.

#7 Comment By Matthew Cooley On August 11, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

@EarlyBird: I don’t think foreign policy is going to be all that big, which is why I’m scared that if Hillary says all the appealing things (for Dems) about taxes, healthcare, education, prison reform, the drug war, gay rights, etc., she can just sort of hand wave her desire for getting us inserted into every single violent dispute on the planet and Dems will shrug it off.

@SFBay: to be fair, Obama was still totally unknown at this point in the cycle. If there is a genuine hunger for “anyone but Hillary”, then a candidate will be found. Its still waaaay to early to give into the supposed Hillary steamroller.

#8 Comment By Matthew Cooley On August 11, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

I just want to add that I think a lot of politicians with Presidential aspirations are the kind of people obsessed with marking their place in history. And they seem to feel that war-making is the easiest route to a plus-size chapter in American high school history books. Bush, McCain, and Hillary all fit this mold.

#9 Comment By SFBay On August 11, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

Michael, Obama gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, televised nationally in prime time. He wasn’t that unknown.

#10 Comment By Dennis Brislen On August 11, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

Progressives are likely to remain in the fold for Hillary if the GOP nominates another in their line of John Bolton/Sheldon Adelson approved neocons, first cousins and Likudnik/RR armageddonists.

In this scenario progressives will hold their nose once more and vote as the LOTE their own neocon first cousin Hillary.

The wild card could be Bernie Sanders. If he runs and stays the course he would be a 2016 version of Ralph Nader. He would assuredly pull off some progressives even though he too appears to fall prostrate before AIPAC.

#11 Comment By ML On August 11, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

To beat Hillary, it is not going to be enough to say that her judgment has stank in the past (though it did).

Instead, a noninterventionist candidate has to answer one simple question: “Now that ISIS has created a jihadi state, if you aren’t going to fight a war against it, what are you going to do?”

#12 Comment By ck On August 11, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

” I tend to think of Paul as Bush 2000 in which he talks about humble foreign policy, containment (of who?) & higher military spending and once in office letting the neocons take over. ”

I would love to think otherwise, but sadly I think this is right.

#13 Comment By EarlyBird On August 11, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

SFBay and Matthew Cooley:

I don’t even know if it’s going to be Hillary’s opponent for the Democratic primary who is going to give her fits over foreign policy – though to the extent that she even has one, that person will. I think the Dem primary voters will push her to the left and she will have to disavow or explain her hawkishness. The media and whoever is on the GOP side will push her on it.

She will be properly outed as an interventionist hawk and taken to task for that at a time when Americans are exhausted by endless interventions. I also feel that events in the Middle East are so fluid that foreign events will be center stage during the campaign.

#14 Comment By SFBay On August 11, 2014 @ 11:39 pm

EarlyBird, I guess time will tell. A lot will depend on how the current intervention goes and we won’t know about that for a while.