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Clinton’s American Legion Speech

Hillary Clinton’s speech [1] to the American Legion in Cincinnati didn’t contain anything new or surprising. It was billed as an endorsement of “American exceptionalism” defined as support for activist foreign policy and global “leadership,” and that is what Clinton delivered. One thing that struck me while listening to it was the muted response from the audience. Despite Clinton’s fairly heavy-handed efforts to present herself as a friend of veterans and champion of the military, the crowd didn’t seem very impressed. The delivery of the speech was typically wooden, but then no one expects stirring oratory from Clinton. Either the audience wasn’t interested in what they were hearing, or they found Clinton to be a poor messenger, or both.

The substance was mostly boilerplate cheerleading for the status quo in foreign policy, but a few particularly jarring lines stood out. Near the start of the speech, Clinton said, “We are an exceptional nation because we are an indispensable nation. In fact, we are the indispensable nation.” That isn’t true, but Clinton’s acceptance of this claim confirms that she understands “American exceptionalism” in a particularly warped way that justifies interfering all over the globe. That is what Albright’s “indispensable nation” rhetoric meant twenty years ago, and it’s what Clinton’s rhetoric means today.

Clinton thought that she was dinging Trump when she said, “We can’t cozy up to dictators.” That would be all right if it were true, but it is hard to take seriously from a committed supporter of U.S. “leadership.” Cozying up to authoritarian rulers has been and continues to be a significant part of U.S. “leadership,” and if you are in favor of the latter you are going to be stuck with the former. This rhetoric is especially absurd coming from someone who has repeatedly stressed the importance of supporting U.S. clients in the Gulf. Clinton has made a point of promising that the U.S. will stay quite cozy with our despotic clients when she is president, and it is likely that the U.S. will probably get even cozier still if she has anything to say about it.

Overall, Clinton’s speech could have been given by a conventional Republican hawk, and some of the lines could have been lifted from the speeches of some of this year’s Republican presidential contenders. There were brief nods to the nuclear deal with Iran and New START that a Republican wouldn’t have made, but they were only mentioned in passing. Clinton insisted that “America must lead” and conjured up a vision of the vacuums that would be created if the U.S. did not do this. This is a standard hawkish line that implies that the U.S. always has to be involved in conflict and crises no matter how little the U.S. has at stake in them.

At one point, Clinton asserted, “Defending American exceptionalism should always be above politics.” That amounts to saying that our foreign policy debates should always be narrowly circumscribed and most of our current policies should always remain beyond challenge or major revision. That’s not healthy for the quality of our foreign policy debates or our foreign policy as a whole, and it shows the degree to which Clinton is out of touch with much of the country that she thinks this is a credible thing to say.

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17 Comments To "Clinton’s American Legion Speech"

#1 Comment By otto On August 31, 2016 @ 2:50 pm

She is opting for the neo-cons. Smart move

#2 Comment By Viriato On August 31, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

“At one point, Clinton asserted, ‘Defending American exceptionalism should always be above politics.’ That amounts to saying that our foreign policy debates should always be narrowly circumscribed and most of our current policies should always remain beyond challenge or major revision.”

That’s exactly what Clinton believes, unfortunately. When she unveiled her “stronger together” slogan, one of the points she made was that we should have “a bipartisan, even non-partisan foreign policy.” She is basically a Scoop Jackson Democrat.

Broad consensus is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that some degree of consensus is necessary in order for a democratic system to function. But any such consensus should emerge from vigorous debate, which does not exist in Washington or in the mainstream media. It should not be simply imposed on the country by an unchallenged, ossified elite that is either stuck in the Cold War past or has a vested interest in renewing the Cold War.

#3 Comment By Myles On August 31, 2016 @ 3:01 pm

Bill Kristol used to call himself a Scoop Jackson Democrat, too. Maybe he will again.

Hillary must be the only person left who actually thinks embracing the neocons is a way to win votes. But if that were true, Rubio would be the GOP nominee, rather than the guy who, for all his many faults, didn’t pander to them.

#4 Comment By Captain P On August 31, 2016 @ 3:40 pm

Cozying up to dictators is bad, unless they donate large amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation. In that case, you’re not “cozying up” to the dictators — you’re “reassuring allies” and “protecting America’s credibility.”

#5 Comment By Joseph M. On August 31, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

Would the mushroom cloud campaign ad that obliterated the Goldwater candidacy have the same effect today upon a neocon candidate? Is the ad even copyrighted or otherwise available?

#6 Comment By SF On August 31, 2016 @ 4:05 pm

Has the American Legion given any Democrat running for president a warm response? Muted sounds about right to me.

Clinton was speaking to many more people than the audience in front of her. She won’t get very many votes from those in the military. No Democrat ever does.

Undecided voters (all 2 or 3% of them), especially Republicans are her real target audience. She looks to sound suitably strong more important, calm and measured. A safe if not perfect choice for President.

#7 Comment By Old World Order On August 31, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

She has learned nothing. Nothing at all. Indeed, she just doubled down on permanent war.

Not surprising, but deeply depressing all the same.

Here’s hoping that someone – anyone, really – keeps this loathsome throwback to the worst aspects of US foreign policy of the past 20 years out of the White House.

#8 Comment By Chris Chuba On August 31, 2016 @ 5:02 pm

If our foreign policy wasn’t so obviously failed, I wouldn’t mind bipartisan consensus but since it is FUBAR, I want something new.

I just wish I had the ear of any of my fellow Republicans who consider themselves Religious Conservatives. I just can’t get over their blind faith in U.S. hegemony, especially when they screech at the thought of U.S. politicians doing something as benign as running a Transportation Fund. Yet they have no problem inflicting these imbeciles with life and death decisions on the rest of the world.

When I see Ted Cruz or a Rubio gaze into the camera about how vital it is for the U.S. to suppress Russia and China and run the M.E. (they use different words), it astounds me since it contradicts the Protestant tradition so much where one should be suspicious of human nature.

Do these people believe that corrupt politicians in the U.S. are suddenly anointed by God and transformed into world leaders in a sudden act of Grace? Sorry for the rant but I would seriously love to ask someone this question. This is not a troll at all. I have pondered this many times. How would Huckabee respond to this? He wrote a lucid essay on Iran about 10yrs ago before he went full Neocon.

#9 Comment By Simon94022 On August 31, 2016 @ 5:08 pm

What a choice we face in November – give full executive authority to either:

1. The volatile vulgarian who is smart enough to reject the tired nation-building, Democracy Evangelization, Responsibility-to-Protect, and other dangerous establishment policies. But who doesn’t think much at all about foreign policy and could even blunder into a big war out of personal pique.


2. The champion of mindless and discredited bellicosity. Who is — probably — smart enough to avoid a new large ground war or nuclear despite her dangerous anti-Russian rhetoric, but who will CERTAINLY initiate one or more new unnecessary, unjust and futile military interventions.

Pick your poison.

#10 Comment By Smart Aleck Power On August 31, 2016 @ 5:08 pm

“We are an exceptional nation because we are an indispensable nation. In fact, we are the indispensable nation.”

Indispensable to what? Wholesale destabilization of the Middle East?

#11 Comment By Neal On August 31, 2016 @ 5:26 pm

I wish she would stop putting out this nonsense. I really don’t want to skip my vote for president, but this sort of nonsense leaves me cold. I don’t want Trump to win, but neither do I want Clinton to think she has a mandate for this kind of militarism. Sadly, when it comes foreign policy, it appears not to matter which party has the presidency anymore.

#12 Comment By Commenter Man On August 31, 2016 @ 5:43 pm

Meanwhile, over at the WaPo, neocon cheerleader Jennifer Rubin loves the same speech:

#13 Comment By Chris Chuba On August 31, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

We are an Exceptional nation because we are an Indispensable nation
This is a tautology. You can swap the words exceptional and indispensable and have the exact same sentence.

Commenter Man, yet another example of how people will create their own reality. I am certain I will read the same tripe tomorrow when I peruse the links on ‘realclearpolitics.com’. It is the only Neocon portal that I bother with.

If she gets elected I see a high probability of a hot war with Russia. She wouldn’t start it intentionally, it would be the pinnacle of our foreign policy establishment living in their own reality. I actually have a scenario in mind, when I read Russian sourced sites it strengthens my convictions. To bad our ‘Russian experts’ use Ouija boards and entrails instead of actually studying the Russians.

#14 Comment By jk On August 31, 2016 @ 9:09 pm

Don’t be surprised if Clinton pushes Russia to the edge or the US gets mired in a proxy war with Russia.

Everything is a Russian hack/conspiracy these days. They will find a reason to start something.

Smells like yellow cake to me.

#15 Comment By cecelia On August 31, 2016 @ 9:28 pm

Hilary should figure out that she is losing votes to Johnson and Stein and perhaps tone back the rhetoric.

Granted she was probably trying to look all Commander in Chiefy but she is so tone deaf on this stuff.

#16 Comment By Anonne On September 2, 2016 @ 12:07 am

The problem is that the cult that passes for Conservatives in this country values strength over all. Clinton cannot afford to come across as weak to these people. She is aiming exactly for the Jennifer Rubins of the world. In America, we do the strong thing, even if it is the wrong thing, because we will go to hell if we appear to be weak.

#17 Comment By Bowman On September 2, 2016 @ 6:40 pm

” She is aiming exactly for the Jennifer Rubins of the world”

… and one can but hope that her aim is true …