Stavridis’ Dangerous Ideas
The New York Times reports that Clinton is vetting retired admiral James Stavridis as a possible running mate:
Some close to Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, say she was always likely to have someone with military experience on her vice-presidential shortlist, and Mr. Stavridis, currently the dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, fits the description.
During his four years as NATO’s supreme allied commander, he oversaw operations in the Middle East — Afghanistan, Libya and Syria — as well as in the Balkans and piracy off the coast of Africa.
There are good reasons why even some admirers of Stavridis don’t like the idea of having him as a VP nominee, but it’s also important to judge a possible candidate by the quality of his ideas. Since he retired, Stavridis has been offering up a number of bad policy recommendations and wrongheaded arguments. Since he is being considered for the VP nominee spot on the Democratic ticket, it is worth reviewing what kind of advice he might give in a Clinton administration.
Among other things, Stavridis was a vocal critic of the nuclear deal with Iran, and joined the chorus that talked about the “$150 billion” that Iran would be getting because of it. The number is grossly inflated, but the bigger problem is that Stavridis completely bought into the false idea that Iran is an “imperial” power that is expanding throughout the region. Along the way, he relied on shoddy assumptions that modern Iranian behavior can be understood by referring to ancient Persian history. Stavridis wrote:
Tehran’s geopolitical strategy — underpinned by the Shiite faith as a religious movement — is taken directly from the playbooks of the first three Persian empires, which stretched over a thousand years.
That’s not true, and he is using this reference to ancient Persian behavior as a way to make his wildly exaggerated claims about contemporary Iranian foreign policy seem more plausible. He doesn’t demonstrate that Iran is acting as an “imperial power,” nor does he prove that there is a desire to act this way, but simply asserts that “it is woven into their national DNA and cultural outlook.” That seems to be part of a pattern of depending too much on essentialist interpretations of ethnic identity and understanding foreign conflicts as being driven by “ancient hatreds.” That’s probably why Stavridis has called for partitioning Syria, which is something that most Syrians don’t want and wouldn’t accept. That tends to make Stavridis a poor analyst and leads him to support questionable policies.
Stavridis has also argued for making the relationship with Israel into a formal treaty alliance, which would give the U.S. yet another security commitment and would very likely draw it into even more wars in the region. He framed this as a way to reassure Israel in the wake of the nuclear deal, but like other attempts at “reassuring” bad clients over the last year this wouldn’t do anything to make the U.S. or the region more secure. He also favors sending weapons to Ukraine, so it seems that his judgment is not much better when it comes to other parts of the world outside the Near East.
Maybe Clinton won’t choose him, and maybe the leaking of his name was just meant as distraction or misdirection, but if he should end up being the Democrats’ VP nominee Americans should understand that he brings some dangerous ideas to the ticket with him.