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Clinton’s Hawkish Record and the Democratic Party

Usha Sahay offers a strange defense of Hillary Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy:

This brings us to the second, larger issue with the Hillary-as-hawk meme: on Iraq, Libya and all the rest, Clinton has been far from outside the mainstream. Indeed, the left tends to miscast Clinton’s foreign-policy views as being somehow out of step with a more dovish liberal consensus—a consensus that simply does not exist. The liberal internationalism described above is at the core of the worldviews of most Democrats, from Bill Clinton to John Kerry to Barack Obama. Obama was able to fashion himself as the anti-Hillary in 2008 thanks to the Iraq war. But since then, he has proven to be more than willing to use force under certain circumstances—just like Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State, who no doubt had a hand in shaping her boss’ approach.

The uncomfortable reality for many on the antiwar left is that there is, in fact, a legitimate middle ground between hawk and dove.

The “middle ground” referred to here isn’t a position “between hawk and dove.” It is a hawkish position held by a liberal. Clinton has long been and still is reliably hawkish, as Sahay’s own review of her record confirms, and she has this in common with a number of other Democratic politicians in Washington. I’m not sure how this refutes anything in the original criticism of Clinton that Sahay is answering. The original argument was that Clinton’s support for the Iraq war vote should still be held against her, and that her campaign transformation into an opponent of the war masked her broader foreign policy views, which appeared again in the Libyan war:

Her convictions and beliefs about regime change, intervention, and preemption, convictions she had arduously abandoned in 2008, seemed to return with a vengeance.

Of course, they didn’t really need to return. They had never gone away, which is why antiwar Democrats were understandably skeptical of her during the ’08 campaign and should be again next time. It’s true that Clinton represents hawks in her party, and they have more often than not set the foreign policy agenda for the Democrats in the last twenty years. It’s also true that Democratic hawks have consistently been wrong on most of the major issues over that same period, just as Republican hawks have been. However Clinton arrives at her conclusions, the fact remains that she has consistently ended up agreeing with the likes of McCain and Graham and disagreeing with most of the elected members of her own party. The main difference between the two sets of hawks is that the Democratic ones tend to be quicker to give up on failed and pointless wars, but the bad instincts and misjudgments are quite similar.

It’s true that liberal internationalists are “more than willing to use force under certain circumstances,” but in Clinton’s case there has never been an occasion when she has opposed the use of force. She was influenced by hawkish liberals during the ’90s, she became a predictable liberal hawk herself while in the Senate, and her tenure as Secretary of State included a war for regime change that she supported and argued for. Prior to leaving that office, she was one of the people inside the administration pushing for a more aggressive Syria policy. One wonders just how many more “limited strikes” around the world the U.S. would have launched over the last few years if she had been the nominee and won the election in 2008. That is what Americans can reasonably expect from a future Clinton administration, but it is also pretty clearly not what most Americans want from their government.

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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