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Of Course Clinton Will Be Very Hawkish as President

Jeremy Shapiro and Richard Sokolsky think [1] Clinton won’t be as hawkish as president as many expect her to be. Their argument isn’t persuasive, and this strikes me as its weakest part:

The most important reason that a President Hillary Clinton is unlikely to have a hawkish foreign policy is that she will no longer be a senator, or the secretary of state, or a presidential candidate. She will be president. And that means that her priorities will be very different.

Presidents with less hawkish records than Clinton have ended up launching new wars and intervening in foreign conflicts far more often than their campaign rhetoric would have suggested. Bush campaigned on conducting a “humble” foreign policy to distinguish himself from the frequent interventions of the Clinton administration, but as president presided over the most hubristic and reckless foreign policy in decades. Obama was never as dovish as some of his fans and detractors wanted to believe, but he was supposed to be the less hawkish candidate in the primaries and the general election. Despite that, Obama has been a war president for every day he has been in office, and that includes two wars that he initiated illegally on his own authority. As a senator, Obama argued against starting wars without Congressional approval, but as president has done the very thing that he previously denounced.

The pressures and powers that come with the presidency encourage and allow a candidate to become even more hawkish once in office, and Clinton won’t be immune to those effects. More to the point, she won’t want to be immune to them. It’s not at all clear why being president would make Clinton less hawkish than she has been in other positions. There is good reason to assume that being in the office and being subjected to the endless demands to “do something” about each new conflict that comes along will exacerbate her tendency to favor more aggressive measures.

Shapiro and Sokolsky gamely try to make the case for Clinton as a supporter of diplomatic engagement, but the evidence is not as strong as they suggest. Clinton carried out administration policy on Russia in the first term, but like most first-term policies this one was run out of the White House and she wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing better relations with Moscow. She presided over the start of negotiations with Iran, but by all accounts didn’t think they would succeed, and once she was out of office favored more coercive measures to impose additional pressure on Iran that likely would have derailed negotiations if new sanctions had been put in place. Most of the time, Clinton tends to be the one arguing against accommodation and negotiation and in favor of using coercion. When she was running against Obama 2008, she derided his interest in diplomatic engagement as proof of his naivete, and I suspect that contempt for making the effort to engage pariah and rival states remains. More often than not, her preferred approach involves threatening or using force. Shapiro and Sokolsky tout her enthusiasm for “smart power,” but neglect to mention that she thinks the Libyan war was “smart power at its best.”

There will also be unexpected events over the next four years, and a candidate who believes in the importance of American “leadership” as Clinton does isn’t going to know how to leave well enough alone. When a candidate assumes that the U.S. has both the right and responsibility to interfere all over the world (and Clinton obviously takes this for granted), we should assume that she will get the U.S. involved in crises and conflicts that have not yet begun because she thinks that’s what international “leadership” requires.

They also claim that Clinton will be constrained by public opinion to a much greater extent as president than she has been before, but that’s a questionable assumption. With the notable exception of the public backlash against the proposed bombing of Syria in 2013, recent presidents have not encountered strong opposition at the start of a new intervention. There is certainly no appetite for more interventions, but as we have seen over the last seven years there is also not much of an antiwar movement to speak of when a Democratic president is in power. I assume Clinton will launch Kosovo- or Libya-style air wars when the opportunities present themselves, and she will be quicker to take sides in foreign conflicts than her predecessor and will back the side she takes more aggressively. She probably won’t commit the U.S. to a major ground war, but then her judgment on foreign policy is reliably bad so there are no guarantees that she won’t. Based on her record, it is very difficult to imagine that she would resist demands for “action” when they inevitably come, and that is why her consistent support for each new military intervention is so worrisome.

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22 Comments To "Of Course Clinton Will Be Very Hawkish as President"

#1 Comment By Uncle Billy On August 9, 2016 @ 11:01 am

I don’t see a President Hillary Clinton launching another massive invasion, such as George W. Bush did in Iraq, but I do see her using US air power to bomb various targets that she seems safe enough to attack. This will accomplish little, but it enables the President to pretend that they are doing something.

Bombing is grossly overrated. US aircraft go in and drop a few bombs. Big deal. You perhaps kill a few bad guys, but you cannot take and control ground from the air. You have to go in on the ground, and that is a problem as it usually involved US casualties. Air strikes provide the opportunity to pretend that they are “doing something.”

#2 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 9, 2016 @ 11:21 am

Good article and more the reason why that Congress needs to take more responsibility in what conflicts that America get’s involved with. IMHO, the AUMF needs to be rewritten to specify that any AUMF granted would have specific Mission and Time Constraints. Any modifications or extension of these constraints would require the POTUS to appear before Congress and make the case for the AUMF modification and/or extension. The way the AUMF is used now it puts all war-making decisons into the POTUS’s hand. Congress NEEDS to regain it’s Constitutional authority in whether or not this nation enters into military actions that could lead to war. For far to long Congress has acted like a bunch of Pontius Pilates.

#3 Comment By CharleyCarp On August 9, 2016 @ 11:32 am

The “opposition” in Congress has wanted more war and less diplomacy than the President. That may continue, at least in the House, in the next administration, but maybe it won’t. Clinton the Warmonger seems to have as much currency, out in the hinterlands, as Obama the Foreigner/Appeaser/Apologist, so maybe that will open up some space for Ryan et al to step up to their constitutional responsibilities.

I expect a Democratic Senate to be a little more useful as a restraint, especially if Sanders can keep his movement at least loosely together.

There’s no hope, though, about engagements like Yemen. You’ve done truly great work on the subject for 500 days now, and I think that pretty much anyone paying attention knows that you’re right and the propagandists are wrong. And yet, there’s really insufficient interest in the public or Congress to push the policy in a reasonable direction. I don’t see that changing at all no matter who wins in November.

#4 Comment By Joe F On August 9, 2016 @ 11:39 am

Not sure how it will play out and future events inform decisions more clearly than past policy support. She strives for pragmatism when it comes to self-preservation, so it is possible that she exercises greater restraint not as a result of being smarter, but as the final decision maker, it may be because of self preservation

#5 Comment By Captain P On August 9, 2016 @ 11:52 am

CharleyCarp:

1. How many senators endorsed Sanders, or even seemed sympathetic to him? The “Sanders movement” looks to be going the way of Occupy Wall Street- launching a few protests here and there, running a few Tumblr accounts, but not gathering candidates or pushing for policies with any realistic chance of happening.

2. Sanders didn’t talk about foreign policy at all unless he was forced to at the debates. I agree that in his heart of hearts, he is fairly dovish, but it’s far less important to him than zero-cost college, or universal health care.

#6 Comment By SteveM On August 9, 2016 @ 12:06 pm

Good essay. The thing is the Hillary Brain is saturated with a phantasmagorical amount of arrogance, hubris and conceit. She actually does believe that she has the intelligence, wisdom and insight to run the planet from the Oval Office.

BTW, that would be just an extension of her royal pronouncements of huge executive branch overreach on the domestic front causing all kinds of dystopian unintended consequences.

Moreover, U.S. Presidents, (like Hillary’s sociopathic pseudo-husband) use foreign military entanglements as diversions away from the stuff at home that really matters to American citizens. When the U.S. economy implodes, Hillary the Hack is going to be hitting the Global Cop buttons big time as she scrambles for political cover.

Lastly, Hillary has already gone full-Godwin, comparing Putin to Hitler. Some moderation eh? And she has gotten away with it, proving once again the MSM is in the tank for a haggard lifetime political crony as long as she has a Big “D” next to her name.

#7 Comment By liberal On August 9, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

CharleyCarp wrote,

And yet, there’s really insufficient interest in the public or Congress to push the policy in a reasonable direction.

Sadly, this is true. AFAICT people just don’t care as long as the lives of American servicemen aren’t likely to be at stake. Bombing people in faraway lands to smithereens in our name just doesn’t seem to have much emotional sway with most of our fellow citizens.

#8 Comment By liberal On August 9, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

SteveM wrote,

When the U.S. economy implodes, Hillary the Hack is going to be hitting the Global Cop buttons big time as she scrambles for political cover.

Why would the US economy implode? What evidence there is is that the economy does better when Democrats are in office than Republicans.

The real danger of Clinton is that she’ll push a little bit in Syria or Ukraine, places where Russia has escalation dominance, and things will progress until we’re in a full-fledged war with another nuclear power.

#9 Comment By VikingLS On August 9, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

There’s really only one reason to think that Clinton is likely to be less hawkish than she appears, and that’s because you’re a liberal progressive who is trying to justify voting for her.

#10 Comment By Kurt Gayle On August 9, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

“The real danger of Clinton is that she’ll push a little bit in Syria or Ukraine, places where Russia has escalation dominance, and things will progress until we’re in a full-fledged war with another nuclear power.” (“liberal,” 12:21 pm)

Your judgment, “liberal,” echoes the August 4th TAC comment of Philip Giraldi:

“There is an excellent argument for Trump. Hillary Clinton is the standard bearer for a militaristic interventionist foreign policy that would include unrelenting hostility towards Russia. Hostility towards Russia, which is already paranoid about US intentions, could lead to a nuclear war and many millions of Americans would die. Trump, unlike Hillary, seeks good relations with Russia and is dismissive of previous and current US military interventions.” (Is There a Good Argument for Trump? Gracy Olmstead, TAC, August 4, 2016)

#11 Comment By cecelia On August 9, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

yes she will be hawkish – but let us not forget that the opinion of the people matters – make it clear if she does do this that she lacks the support of the American people – act like citizens.

Same with Trump –

Would be nice if the Congress started acting like they actually have a job to do also.

#12 Comment By Kurt Gayle On August 9, 2016 @ 3:31 pm

“The real danger of Clinton is that she’ll push a little bit in Syria or Ukraine, places where Russia has escalation dominance, and things will progress until we’re in a full-fledged war with another nuclear power.” (“liberal,” 12:21 pm)

Your judgment, “liberal,” echoes the August 4th TAC comment of Philip Giraldi:

“There is an excellent argument for Trump. Hillary Clinton is the standard bearer for a militaristic interventionist foreign policy that would include unrelenting hostility towards Russia. Hostility towards Russia, which is already paranoid about US intentions, could lead to a nuclear war and many millions of Americans would die. Trump, unlike Hillary, seeks good relations with Russia and is dismissive of previous and current US military interventions.” (Philip Giraldi’s comment below “Is There a Good Argument for Trump?” by Gracy Olmstead,” TAC, August 4, 2016)

#13 Comment By jk On August 9, 2016 @ 6:57 pm

You ever see that Hillary video of laughing hysterically at killing Ghaddafi and destroying Libya?

I guess the evil cackling is out of context.

#14 Comment By Steve in Ohio On August 9, 2016 @ 8:15 pm

There is little cause for optimism. After 9-11 Bill Clinton lamented that the lack of a war during his presidency would keep him from going down in history as a great president. Hopefully, Bill and Hillary can see that history will most likely look unfavorably on Bush over his invasion of Iraq. However, they have a high opinion of themselves and probably some lingering guilt over Bill’s draft dodging during Vietnam.

Anyway, I will be voting for Trump, so don’t blame me.

#15 Comment By Chris Chuba On August 9, 2016 @ 9:20 pm

On Iran, she brags that she ‘brought Iran to the table by imposing a new round of sanctions’. Iran was already at the table. The only pre-condition they had was the right to enrich their own uranium which is exactly what we conceded in the JCPOA. Hillary was dead set against that concept.

She only supported the current agreement when it became a litmus test for party loyalty.

#16 Comment By War and Rumors of War On August 9, 2016 @ 11:58 pm

War is one way Clinton will repay her foreign donors. Some of them, anyway, like the Saudis and Israelis. Her Chinese and Indian donors will get more of the kind of trade deals that have been tanking America and swelling the Chinese and Indian economies.

And those 50 “respected GOP national security” figures who just declared Trump “unfit” will be cheering her on. Indeed, most of them will probably be working for her.

#17 Comment By bayesian On August 10, 2016 @ 12:18 am

@Captain P

I think Sanders deserves a bit more credit (for dovishness/noninterventionism) than you give him. Beyond his heart of hearts, he does have a voting record both in the House and in the Senate, which shows some willingness to be noninterventionist even when the President is a Democrat, most recently voting Nay on the 2012 NDAA (granted, Sanders was not technically a Democrat when he cast those votes, but for the purposes of the votes he was functionally a D). My suspicion is that those votes matched the wishes of his constituents; I tried to diff his votes versus Leahy but votesmart seems to be having trouble tonight.

Rather more honorable than the many whose public positions about specific policies and interventions seem to change radically depending on the party in the WH (I suppose I should credit the neocons for being consistently in favor of more bombing regardless of who is in the WH?)

Agreed that he did everything he could to avoid the topic during his campaign (as commented on by our distinguished host more than once), rather to my regret. I know it wasn’t one of his core issues, but it was an area in which there was a choice, not an echo, on the left half, and he managed to comment on multiple other non-core topics.

#18 Comment By NavCook On August 10, 2016 @ 12:41 am

Judging by the gang mentality of her supporters and the increasing incidence of physical violence against Trump voters, It’s pretty clear that borderline personalities and outright thugs sense and respond to her aggressive personality and eager resort to violence. They actually like it when she talks recklessly about “obliterating” Iran or gloats over the death of her enemies (e.g. the odd, un-funny “we came, we say, he died”).

[2]

[3]

So to the extent that her individual psychology is relevant, yes, she has all the marks of a hawk, and it’s borne out by the violent, and highly destructive foreign policies and military actions she advocated as Secretary of State.

#19 Comment By tuppeny fork On August 10, 2016 @ 6:41 pm

Of course Clinton’s a hawk. The Democrats want more war. In particular they want more war of the kind that results in killing lots of people who live in Muslim (mostly Arab) countries, and turning even more of them into refugees trying to get into Europe and America.

You know that’s what the Democrats want because they voted for Clinton, and that’s what she does. This also explains why so many former neoconservatives and former Bush II people defected to the Democratic Party: they know Clinton will keep destroying Muslim countries and killing Muslims. They conceal it under a lot of high-toned horses**t about Trump’s “unfitness”, but everybody knows that destroying Muslim countries and killing Muslims is their big thing.

That this is staggeringly costly and attracts terror attacks on America doesn’t concern either Clinton or her supporters in the least. Indeed, the terror attacks make it easier to make the case for bigger, more intrusive government, something else that both Clinton and her supporters want.

#20 Comment By beejeez On August 12, 2016 @ 12:05 am

There is no comparison in hawkishness in HRC and her opponents; Trump in particular has agitated his security briefers on the possibilities of using nuclear force in the Mideast. HRC is at least constrained by the anti-interventionists in her party.

#21 Comment By Harold MacCaughey On August 12, 2016 @ 7:23 pm

HRC will repay pro-Israeli largesse by allowing Open Season on the Palestinians.

Plan on a dramatic increase in Israeli colonies, oooops I mean “settlements”.

The reader will recall that her husband pardoned the traitor to the U. S. and Mossad agent Marc Rich. HRC accepted campaign donations from Rich’s wife Denise.

#22 Comment By non pareil On August 13, 2016 @ 1:38 pm

“There is no comparison in hawkishness in HRC and her opponents; Trump in particular has agitated his security briefers on the possibilities of using nuclear force in the Mideast. “

“we can obliterate Iran” – Hillary Clinton, 2008.

This was a threat to use nuclear force in the Middle East. It decades of carefully crafted and nuanced US nuclear doctrine on the scrap-heap. Note that she’s not talking about a military target or even a city. She’s talking about wiping out a large country, millions of mostly innocent women, men, and children. And she wasn’t even proposing to do it to protect or avenge America. She was trying to get Jewish votes at the time and was offering to do it if Iran attacked Israel.

Trump’s a businessman. Loudmouthed, vulgar, cocksure, extravagant, certainly, but we basically know the type and what makes him tick. He does deals. He’s never killed a soul so far as anyone knows.

Clinton on the other hand is a lifelong ideologue with an agenda. She has numerous incidents of catastrophically bad judgment to her account that already resulted in the collapse of whole countries, many deaths, literally millions of refugees. Only a month ago Obama’s FBI Director called her “reckless”, “negligent”, and “extremely irresponsible” for putting national security at risk with her emails.

History tells us which type is more dangerous. So does common sense.