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The Perilous ‘Middle Ground’ That Clinton Represents

Paul Pillar notices [1] the dubious “middle ground” rhetoric [2] that is being used to justify Clinton’s foreign policy in advance:

All of this loses sight of how much the framing effects have skewed this entire discussion. Bush’s signature use of military force and the defining initiative of his presidency—the invasion of Iraq—was an unusually extreme act as measured either by past U.S. foreign policy or standards of international conduct that the United States expects of others.

One of the many flaws in the idea that the U.S. should seek a “middle ground” between Bush and Obama is that it treats their respective records as offering equally damaging and extreme alternatives. Of course, the cost to the U.S. from the two presidencies is drastically different. Bush’s legacy was to launch wars that have cost trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives, while Obama’s has been his failure to extricate the U.S. from them at a significant but much reduced cost. Obama has certainly made some very serious and even indefensible mistakes (supporting the war on Yemen being among the worst), but in terms of the damage done to U.S. interests the costs have been much lower.

To believe that the U.S. needs to “moderate” between Bush’s disasters and Obama’s failures is to believe that the U.S. needs a foreign policy that will be even more costly in American lives and money than the one we have right now. That is not only not a “moderate” position to take, but it is also a highly ideological one that insists on the necessity of U.S. “leadership” no matter how much it costs us. The ‘middle ground” that Clinton offers is no middle ground at all, but rather represents moving the U.S. in the direction of one of the worst foreign policy records in our history. Obama’s great foreign policy failure was that he could not or would not move the U.S. away from the disastrous policies of the Bush era, and under Clinton there won’t even be the pretense that the U.S. should try to do this.

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10 Comments To "The Perilous ‘Middle Ground’ That Clinton Represents"

#1 Comment By Viriato On October 27, 2016 @ 2:47 pm

Great analysis. Do Clinton apologists really believe the “middle ground” bologna they are selling?

If they do, I wonder what role our party system plays in encouraging this skewed thinking. After all, Bush was a Republican, Obama is a Democrat who in 2008 ran as an outsider and a fierce critic of Bush, and Clinton is a more senior Democrat who in 2008 ran as a critic of Bush but also as a skeptic of Obama’s “naiveté.”

The problem with the “middle ground” rhetoric is not that it’s untrue. In fact, there is considerable truth to it. On the foreign policy ideological spectrum, Clinton really does occupy a position somewhere between Bush and Obama. Before she even ran for President in 2016, Clinton herself explicitly called for a more interventionist foreign policy than Obama has pursued, saying that “‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle” while also expressing sympathy with Obama’s determination to avoid “doing something crazy” like Bush had done.

The problem, as Daniel very clearly explains here, is that Obama’s policy has in fact been very far removed from the reversal of Bush’s policy that it is often portrayed as being… and that Obama’s failures are not rooted in his departures from the Bush playbook but rather in his embraces of the Bush playbook.

My point about the role of the party system in all this is as follows: If there were no party labels, would people be more inclined to notice how Obama’s foreign policy has been more of a continuation than a rejection of Bush’s? If so, would they be more skeptical of Clinton’s desire to, in Daniel’s words, “mov[e] the U.S. in the direction of one of the worst foreign policy records in our history?”

#2 Comment By Chris Chuba On October 27, 2016 @ 3:50 pm

It is really bad revisionism to call GWB’s invasion of Iraq an extreme deviation of U.S. foreign policy. In all of the debates regarding the decision to invade Iraq, no one except for Kucinich and Ron Paul questioned our ‘right’ to invade Iraq. A solid majority, including most Democrats authorized the war resolution.

So in his mind, it is extreme to want to use ground troops, solely on the potential loss of our own personnel but just fine if we want to use our air force and missiles to unleash terrible destruction on others. That and funding rebels and this is the ‘new middle’. Aggression by any other name is still aggression.

#3 Comment By bt On October 27, 2016 @ 4:45 pm

“It is really bad revisionism to call GWB’s invasion of Iraq an extreme deviation of U.S. foreign policy”

Isn’t that the truth!

The only thing that made W’s war such a standout is the incredibly incompetent way that it was managed. It’s not that wars like Viet Nam weren’t badly managed and grossly destructive and counter-productive, but Iraq will stand for a long time as the worst of them all.

#4 Comment By REDPILLED On October 28, 2016 @ 1:19 pm

Hillary and her foreign policy advisers are neocons, and there is nothing “middle ground” about neocons. They are violent, militaristic imperialists who refuse to accept the reality of a multi-polar world where other nations are independent of the U.S. bully.

Trump is an ignorant cartoonish narcissist, but Hillary is a warmonger.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 28, 2016 @ 1:31 pm

“One of the many flaws in the idea that the U.S. should seek a “middle ground” between Bush and Obama is that it treats their respective records as offering equally damaging and extreme alternatives.”

The middle ground is a dubious distinction. It doesn’t exist except for the extent of force. Further, I think that 9/11 as provocation matters. TO call Pres. Bush’s policy a failed response and then proceed to the same purpose loses all weight in my view. Regime change since Pres. Bush’s tenure has been engaged without provocation.

Which goes the question of “right to invade” there are rules however loosely applied. Just because most of the country opted for war — clearly an emotional response is an indication that said chosen option had legal, moral merit.

All of the contentions for war fall apart upon a glance of scrutiny.

Whether it was Iraq’s role in 9/11 – nonexistent.

WMD — inspectors in action and no evidence or the

claim about genocide — extreme repression f rebellions — 20 years plus removed and a practice engaged in by the US

Legal and moral action is not justified by popular opinion.

All of the arguments fail. To his credit Pres. Bush grasped one reality — that our occupation might be for 100 years for it to work.

#6 Comment By bbkingfish On October 28, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

I believe that Obama entered office with every intention of dialing back our reflexive aggression.

That he so quickly abandoned his intentions indicates to me that U.S. foreign policy is dictated by the generals. I think that probably has been the case for many years.

#7 Comment By Call It By Its Real Name On October 28, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

“the framing effects “

Exactly. Germany “defended” its way into Poland in 1939. The Soviet Union was a “worker’s paradise”. And in the contemporary US foreign policy context, disgusting euphemisms like “middle ground” and “centrist internationalist” are used to frame blatant meddling, interference, and aggression.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 29, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

“That he so quickly abandoned his intentions indicates to me that U.S. foreign policy is dictated by the generals.”

No, interventionists. Then said interventionists just select the generals willing or eager to go along. In this case, the money behind, around and in the Clinton organizational agenda.

#9 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 30, 2016 @ 9:02 pm

Foreign policy by the rich, of the rich, for the rich. Paid for with the money and lives of others. Add to OPM – other peoples’ money – the similar irresponsibility of OPL – other peoples’ lives, foreign and domestic.

#10 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 31, 2016 @ 6:20 am

It’s Orwellian, in the sense of dystopian “1984” permanent war, that what is called “moderation” and “middle ground” is the firmly neocon territory between the chillingly heartless Cheney and an only rhetorically reluctant Obomber.