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Clinton Can’t Hide Her Hawkishness

Michael Cohen comments on Clinton’s foreign policy speech from last week:

Indeed, for all of Clinton’s identification as a foreign policy hawk, she sounded downright dovish in San Diego.

I definitely wouldn’t go that far, but I agree that Clinton made a point of talking about the diplomatic successes of the Obama administration and tried to take credit for many of them. Her reliable support for military intervention over the decades was not mentioned, and the word Libya was never mentioned once. She omitted these things because they didn’t fit with the theme of painting Trump as reckless and prone to starting wars, and perhaps because she didn’t need to remind us of something we already know very well. She didn’t need to emphasize her hawkishness because it was already well-established, and it wouldn’t provide the kind of contrast with Trump that she wanted to make.

That said, it was not remotely a dovish speech. As Jeet Heer observed yesterday, even when Clinton endorsed a diplomatic solution she framed it in confrontational terms:

Even when taking pride in the diplomatic success of the nuclear deal with Iran, Clinton framed it in military terms, assuring listeners she would use military force if the deal was violated: “Now we must enforce that deal vigorously. And as I’ve said many times before, our approach must be ‘distrust and verify.’ The world must understand that the United States will act decisively if necessary, including with military action, to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Even when Clinton is deliberately downplaying her hawkishness, she can’t avoid threatening to use force to ensure something that is already being achieved without it. She was trying to define herself as much more of a supporter of diplomatic engagement than she really is, but she remains too much of a reflexive hawk to make that credible. I agree with Cohen that “reasonable discussion of foreign policy free of martial rhetoric is not something to be sneezed at,” but after Clinton has spent decades indulging in that martial rhetoric in most major foreign policy debates it is hard to take seriously that she isn’t the reliable hawk that we all know her to be.

Heer went on to say this:

The Clinton of the San Diego speech hasn’t internalized any of the lessons of the Iraq War. She’s given every indication of being more likely, as president, to use large-scale military force than Obama.

Clinton ismore likely to use large-scale military force than Obama, and I agree that she hasn’t internalized any lessons from Iraq (or Libya). Assuming that the speech was intended to distract attention from these things, it failed.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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