How far away from warmongers’ endorsements is far enough?
No, really, pressed the author of a recent article in The Nation, Bernie Sanders should tell Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to stop being so lovey-dovey with Henry Kissinger. Sen. Sanders has a mixed record on war, but is generally correctly identified as less-hawkish-than-Hillary (high praise indeed).
In spite of his endorsement of Clinton, Sanders continues to have followers who are more than a little reluctant to endorse the Democrat’s choice. To give them additional credit, there may be some among them who are skittish of Clinton for just this reason – her coziness with men like Henry Kissinger.
A Politico piece from last week related that as Trump is seen as bumbling on war issues, Clinton may be hoping to gain endorsements from warhawks across the aisle, including former secretaries of state Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice. Clinton’s desire to “get” Kissinger has not yet been confirmed, but it’s awfully easy to believe. After all, she has boasted of winning his approval during this very primary election. And on a personal note, their families are actually friends. He’d give her bipartisan, warhawk approval, which is something she might need as president, even if Antiwar.com might argue she’s worked entirely too hard to try and win such approval.
They’ve had the same job, Clinton and Kissinger. Both have a lot of haters, yet have been elevated to the highest corridors of power. And both can be objected to in theory, but somehow seem to be unstoppable where it really counts. Unstoppable and unaccountable; neither Kissinger nor Clinton has ever been punished for the blood on their hands, and there’s quite a bit on both.
Clinton has dabbled in Sanders-esque leftism, but mostly on a few bits of economic issues. She’s down with free college, maybe. Anything that sounds good, that millenials will love enough to come out and vote for her. There is little reason to believe that Clinton has any interest in dialing back her hawkishness, or that millennials or Democrats are going to prioritize foreign policy any time soon.
The Nation piece is good. It details the literal millions of dead people for which Kissinger at least shares blame (the majority of, perhaps). There are actually more details about him – there always are – that I was unaware of, such as his part in the deadly chemical leak in Bhopal, India in 1984. Generally, people remember that he he was the trusted adviser to several president, beginning with Richard Nixon. In that capacity, he pushed for policies that killed countless people in Cambodia, East Timor, and other nations. Kissinger is hated for this, but somehow never quite enough to, say, keep him off of Stephen Colbert’s show.
The only strange part about The Nation piece is this idea that either Sanders or his most ardent fans are willing to use their political capital to really fight this. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking. If so, it’s of the commendable variety.
Clinton may lose one or two Esquire pundits if she snatches Kissinger, but the overall effect may well be a net gain for her campaign. Trump is a grotesquery, and by contrast, Clinton can pose and preen as the officially “respectable” candidate with the hideous foreign policy to match.
So where does that leave the lefter-left? Yes, Sanders in his most delicious primary moment reminded Clinton – not to mention the rest of us – what Kissinger truly is, a war criminal whose approval is not something to feel pride over. However, based on his record, Sanders is not interested in prioritizing foreign policy, or being particularly radically anti-interventionist. His official endorsement of Clinton for president is just one piece of the proof. Like most politicians who aren’t named Ron Paul, Sanders has issues for which he advocates hard, and they are rarely antiwar.
What exactly Clinton has to do to win the hearts and minds of the most fearsome of the Bernie or Bust crowd is hard to ascertain. For some of them, there may not be anything she can do. Her record as senator, and as secretary of state, and as first lady who backed up her husband’s worst policies speak louder than her more recent panders. When she needs to be, Clinton is anti-gay, pro-prison, and is always, always pro-war. She voted for the War in Iraq, and the PATRIOT Act. As secretary of state, she pushed hard on the Libyan invasion, and then celebrated a US victory there, confusing a win with a massive power vacuum (the US will do that).
Oh, and serious questions have been raised about Clinton’s state department ties with the Clinton Foundation, and whether there was a mutual back scratching between the US and donor countries hoping to buy weapons. The tit for tat can’t be proven, but there is a terrifyingly blatant correlation.
Sanders endorsed all of this baggage when he endorsed Hillary Clinton. He may have done so reluctantly, after fighting for a mathematically absurd amount of time in order to win the nomination. But he did it. And though some of his fans will vote Clinton, others will not. And if she gets her Kissinger endorsement, will Bernie bros feel comfortable being that close to a bona fide warmonger? How much of a loss of credibility is there if you support a man, who endorsed a woman, who actively sought out the approval of a war criminal? How close are you to Henry Kissinger, then, if you back Bernie Sanders?
This sounds like a silly question, and it has no answer. It merely demonstrates the nauseating, bloody stench that lingers in every corner of Washington, DC. Donald Trump believes in Donald Trump, not DC. The appeal of that – or anyone who isn’t Clinton – is clear when you think hard about her record. However, Trump and his rampant xenophobia, and his complete lack of principles is not going to reverse course. Nobody who wins the White House will ever be strong enough to turn off the US war machine. They can’t do it, and more importantly, they don’t wish to. Kissinger is part of the package deal; the whole is a nation that feels as if its moral authority can never be compromised, no matter how many dead people lie in its policy wake.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.