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Yes, Clinton Is a Hawk, and It’s Silly to Deny It

Matt Yglesias’ post [1] on Clinton and foreign policy doesn’t make much sense:

But despite the fears of her left-wing critics, Clinton is no neocon. Nor is there really much evidence to back up a broad-brush notion that Clinton is especially “hawkish” in a generic sense. Clinton’s record overwhelmingly reflects continuity, for better or for worse, with longstanding aspects of American foreign policy [bold mine-DL].

Critics of the status quo will find plenty to dislike, but there’s no reason to believe her administration would represent any kind of dramatic departure in foreign policy — not just in the Middle East but around the world.

It’s not credible to say that there isn’t much evidence for Clinton’s hawkishness. In almost every case for the last twenty years, Clinton has reliably sided with those favoring more rather than less aggressive measures in response to foreign conflicts and crises. She did this during her husband’s administration (“I urged him to bomb” [Kosovo]), she did it as a senator with her Iraq war authorization vote, and she did it as Secretary of State (see Libya, Syria, etc.). Unlike many presidential nominees, Clinton has not shied away from her hawkish record as a candidate. During the primaries, she touted the Libyan war as “smart power at its best” and as I mentioned earlier this week she has made no secret of her support for “no-fly” and “safe” zones in Syria that would entail a significant increase in the U.S. military role in that country.

It is true that Clinton isn’t a neoconservative and sometimes disagrees with Republican hard-liners on certain foreign policy issues, but she assuredly is a liberal hawk and has favored every military intervention the U.S. has undertaken for the last twenty years (and some that it hasn’t yet done). That isn’t at odds with her support for the foreign policy status quo. It is a direct product of it. No one argues that she would represent a “dramatic departure” from the status quo. That’s the whole point of the criticism of her record: we know she won’t depart from the status quo, including Washington’s habit of forcibly intervening in the affairs of other countries and an irrepressible urge to “shape” events on the other side of the world. This is so obvious that I don’t quite understand why some liberal writers even bother trying to deny it. There are undoubtedly hard-liners in the U.S. that are even more hawkish than Clinton, but that doesn’t mean that Clinton isn’t a hawk. You have to pretend not to understand what the label means to argue that it doesn’t apply to her.

She has carried out policies of diplomatic engagement under Obama that as a presidential candidate she had mocked as naive and pointless, but it doesn’t follow that she would pursue similar policies as president. But I don’t think anyone believes that she would have pressed for a nuclear deal with Iran as Obama did, and had she won in 2008 I doubt very much that any engagement with Iran would have happened at all. Since foreign policy was largely concentrated in the White House during the first term, it’s also a stretch to credit Clinton for first-term policies that were usually conceived of and designed by others. Yglesias even tries to claim that she “has generally stood by Obama’s reluctance to provide lethal assistance to the Ukrainian military,” but last year she called [2] for more military aid for Ukraine:

“I do think we should do more to help Ukraine defend its borders,” she said. “New equipment, new training for the Ukrainians. The United States plus NATO have been very reluctant to do that, and I understand it completely because it’s a very sticky, potentially dangerous, situation. But I think the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian civilians who’ve been fighting against the separatists have proven that they’re worthy of some greater support.”

I think this is a bad position, and presumably liberal hawks think it’s fine, but this is Clinton’s position and it is not the same as current administration policy.

We know that in every internal administration debate Clinton was on the side of those favoring more aggressive measures whenever there was a question about initiating or escalating a conflict or sending weapons to one of the sides in an ongoing war. Since leaving the State Department, Clinton has typically sided with those calling for the U.S. to “do more” militarily in different parts of the world, and as far as we know she hasn’t seen a proposed U.S. military action in the last two decades that she thought was unwise or unnecessary. Of course Clinton is a hawk, and it is silly to pretend otherwise.

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17 Comments To "Yes, Clinton Is a Hawk, and It’s Silly to Deny It"

#1 Comment By Alan Vanneman On August 17, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

“Clinton’s record overwhelmingly reflects continuity, for better or for worse, with longstanding aspects of American foreign policy”.

That’s exactly right, Matt. Which is why everyone is so scared.

#2 Comment By Range Rover On August 17, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

Clinton means more war. War as a business model, war as the permanent condition of the American people. It’s the best way to get what she wants for herself and her cronies – both here and abroad.

#3 Comment By Jon Lester On August 17, 2016 @ 3:10 pm

Trump has some real losers advising him, up to and including Walid Phares, but I honestly don’t care that Paul Manacort once contracted with Yanukovych’s party, and as we saw with Brexit, people likely to vote for Hillary seem to have adjusted their morals to favor collective punishment and disapprove of self-determination.

#4 Comment By Ken Hamilton On August 17, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

Better Hillary Clinton than the alt-right candidate, Donald Trump. Never thought I would see a major U.S. political party captured by the alt-right. The political party of Ronald Reagan is dead.

#5 Comment By Ken Hoop On August 17, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

The one hope would be American war-weariness and pressure from Sandersistas would rein her in.
Not much of a hope.

#6 Comment By Scott On August 17, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

The amount of bad-faith special pleading by people who are supposed to be public policy intellectuals is really pretty startling. Hillary isn’t a hawk, and we’ve always been at war with Eastasia, I guess this is the line we’re supposed to toe now.

#7 Comment By Chris Chuba On August 17, 2016 @ 4:54 pm

Indeed there is plenty of continuity with our traditional foreign policy. It’s funny how so many assume that it’s normal for us to blow up a country every 6-8yrs and to fund insurgencies. Compared to us, the Russians are doves and we are now out to get them.

Let’s compare Libya to Ukraine.
If Putin reacted to Ukraine like we reacted to Libya he would have done the following …
Imposed a no fly zone in eastern Ukraine under right to protect. Oh and this no fly zone would have expanded to attacking all Ukrainian military assets up to and including Kiev as the rebels launched attacks. Like HRC, he had the President in exile waiting to reclaim the govt.

Instead, what he did was give the barest minimum help to eastern Ukraine while refugees were streaming into his country. He negotiated a process for them to be re-incorporated back into Ukraine and the total area ever outside of Kiev’s control never amounted to more than 7% of their territory.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have destroyed 3 standing countries and funded an insurgency in a 4th. Russia has not toppled a single govt. True they have had territorial disputes amounting to an area the size of Vermont. Funny how it is our birthright to be judge, jury, and executioner of every country on earth. Hillary fits very well into this tradition.

#8 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On August 17, 2016 @ 6:45 pm

I have been listening to [3]. It’s a history of folly, so when I hear talk of “continuity,” I tremble for the Republic.

#9 Comment By Noah172 On August 17, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

The political party of Ronald Reagan is dead

And good riddance.

Time moves on. Reagan’s time was his, and ours is ours — and some of our problems now are attributable to decisions of Reagan’s time.

When the Reaganites took over the party in 1980, did people lament that the party of Thomas Dewey was dead? Because Reagan was as distant from Dewey in 1980 as we are from Reagan’s triumph today.

#10 Comment By Myron Hudson On August 17, 2016 @ 8:38 pm

“Longstanding aspects of American foreign policy…”

Not the best ones either. She is no neocon but she sure is a Cold Warrior from the last century. Her critics are right and even those who would vote for her are holding their noses.

#11 Comment By Jonathan On August 17, 2016 @ 9:23 pm

Once again I have returned to the voice of reason. Few of my neighbors are concerned with foreign policy not realizing how much of it drives our economy, and neither are they worried about its repercussions such that they are prone to reevaluate our course through history. They are not concerned with the possibility that we had deviated from the vision of our founding fathers but certainly have detoured from the vision of Emerson and Thoreau and remain so very faithful to the path blazed by Pres. Andrew Jackson and later his protege Pres. James Polk. No, these are not their concern and with heads buried in the sand root for their candidate while denigrating the opponent.

#12 Comment By Adam Rosenthal On August 17, 2016 @ 9:26 pm

I usually find Yglesias pretty good but that was a very weak column, for all the reasons enumerated by DL.

The one earlier this week about Trump’s supporters being racist rather than economically anxious was also not well argued, even though I agree that ‘economic anxiety’ is unconvincing as an explanation of his support.

I guess he’s in vacation mode.to:

#13 Comment By VikingLS On August 17, 2016 @ 11:17 pm

“Never thought I would see a major U.S. political party captured by the alt-right.”

If by “alt-right” you mean white supremacists you need to learn about the history of the Democrat party.

“The political party of Ronald Reagan is dead.”

It wasn’t the party of Reagan until well into his presidency, and Noah is right, it’s no longer the 80s. The GOP is long overdue to move on.

#14 Comment By VikingLS On August 17, 2016 @ 11:21 pm

It’s very difficult for Democrats not to see themselves as the less hawkish party. It’s like pointing out to Republicans that in practice we aren’t really fiscally conservative. Yes the facts don’t show it, but darn it, it’s what we believe about ourselves.

#15 Comment By Esti On August 18, 2016 @ 2:42 am

Trump isn’t alt-right. If we bother to really look into the matter, we will learn that he isn’t, aside from the rhetoric, a racist, a sexist and so on. He is centrist more than anything, and a populist.

Hillary, on the other hand, is a hardcore Republican (alt-right if you wish to call it that way)in all bad ways, but in a Democratic clothing.

#16 Comment By Myles On August 18, 2016 @ 2:45 am

This is the thing, isn’t it? Democrats are massively predisposed to see themselves as the moderates, even when they’re running the most hawkish candidate since Goldwater.

It’s also one reason why Trump’s foreign policy speech hasn’t attracted more comment. It was a speech with serious flaws, as we’d expect from Trump, but the fact that he definitively cut himself off from the neocons and associated them with Hillary was very noticeable.

#17 Comment By JamesG On August 18, 2016 @ 2:43 pm

Bill Clinton once said that he could never be judged to have been a “great” president like FDR and Lincoln because they had a war requiring “great” leadership.

Does Hillary aspire to greatness?