Hillary the Hawk: Who Will Challenge Her?
In her much-parsed interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Hillary Clinton reveals that she believes nothing in the American political landscape has changed since October 2002. That’s when she cast her vote to go to war against Iraq. That vote gave oxygen to Barack Obama’s campaign against her in 2008, leading to an eight year delay to Clinton’s presidential ambitions. It was a vote to destroy one of the secular regimes in the Mideast, a brutal dictatorship certainly, but one which kept the religious jihadists, including Al Qaeda, at bay. If you believe, as Peter Hitchens put it, that every politician and commentator who supported the Iraq war should have that fact noted, in large red letters besides everything they write and displayed on the podium every time they speak—a penance which can removed when those who were killed and maimed as a result are no longer killed or maimed, Hillary should now be known as the most important Iraq war enabler still active in presidential politics. George W. Bush has retired to portrait painting. Cheney is not running, nor Tony Blair. Of the political pillars of that era, major figures whose collaboration with the neocons helped shut down a meaningful national debate about whether to go to war, Hillary is the most substantial still standing.
When speaking to Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton claimed to be all “hepped up” about the rise of jihadism—particularly the advance of ISIS. But oddly enough, no policy position she staked out in that interview had anything to do with combatting ISIS. Who are the major mideastern opponents of the Sunni jihadist group in the region? Apart from the Kurds, there are two: the government of Syria, which has actually been winning a war against fundamentalist Islamic rebels, and Iran. Like Iraq under Saddam, Syria is a secular dictatorship, strongly backed by the country’s Christians. Hillary laments only that the United States hasn’t done more to overthrow it.
Then there is Iran—the Shi’ite regime which is the most powerful opponent of Sunni jihadis in the region. But Hillary’s stance towards Iran is pure hostility. Seemingly disowning her own record as secretary of state, which paved the way for Iran nuclear negotiations even before the election of the reformist president Rouhani, she stakes out a position adjacent to the hawkish Israeli one. She says “I’ve always been in the camp that held that they (Iran) did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right.” Hillary barely avoids a direct snub of Wendy Sherman and other American negotiators who began speaking to Iran when she was secretary of state, but the thrust of the interview contains the notion that Iran is an evil place which can’t be trusted with enriching uranium. Adherence to this position is a recipe to for war, because Iran quite clearly is not going to stop enriching uranium.
So to sum up: Hillary regrets the lack of American action against Syria, while seeking to lay the rhetorical foundation for a subsequent war against Iran, all the while claiming to be “hepped up” about the rise of Sunni jihadism. It’s a point of view which makes little strategic sense, unless the world view is approaches something like perpetual hostility virtually every non-Israeli actor in the Mideast. Clinton’s hostility to Iran and Syria does however correspond with the views of Bibi Netanyahu, who receives a nice bouquet from Hillary in the Goldberg interview, laying the blame for the women and children killed and maimed left by Israeli shelling and bombing at the feet of Hamas. Coddling Israel may be the main point here, along with the swipes at Obama.
When the Goldberg interview came out, MoveOn Political Action, a liberal group that originally founded to oppose the efforts to impeach Bill Clinton, released a terse statement reminding Hillary Clinton that “any person thinking about seeking the Democratic nomination in 2016 should think long and hard about embracing the position of the right wing war hawks that got America into Iraq in the first place … these hawkish stances are also threatening to undermine the peaceful international resolution of Iran’s nuclear program.” Thus a warning shot from the nation’s largest liberal activist organization. But Hillary’s base is no longer in the progressive grass roots, if it ever was. Her most important supporters are major Israelophile donors, Haim Saban and others, who believe, probably correctly, that their donations count for more in selecting the Democratic nominee than the views of the Democrats whose foreign policy they seek to supervise.
George W. Bush once had the wit to joke about major financial elites being his “base”, but with Hillary the gap in attitudes between the major money people and the base of Democratic voters is substantial, and no joking matter.
As yet, amazingly, Hillary has no real opponent to the nomination. Centrist inside politics watchers have concluded her Goldberg interview means that she carefully calculated that she can run to the right and face no consequences. It’s probably true that most of the names floating about, Brian Schweitzer and Elizabeth Warren pose little threat to a Clinton coronation. But someone who could talk coherently about foreign policy—James Webb, for instance—might be a different matter, though no one besides Webb himself knows if he has the discipline and energy to take on what would a grueling, and probably losing campaign. The absence of the genuine challenger to a hawkish Hillary leaves one depressed about the state of American democracy.