In his victory speech, Barack Obama told us: “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” And, you know what? I believe him. He will listen. That’s the one important difference, I think, between the outgoing and incoming administrations: George W. Bush would no sooner listen to ordinary Americans when it comes to the conduct of foreign affairs than he’d consult with Congress i.e., not at all whereas Obama well, at least it’s possible, and that is one real big change.
Okay, then, listen up, Mr. President-elect, because I’ve got a few bones to pick with you.
One hardly knows what to say to such a proposal, except to wonder how President Obama intends to implement his own foreign policy platform over the Iron Lady’s determined opposition. For Hillary opposed every significant peace initiative he put forward during the campaign, including a timetable to get us out of Iraq and direct negotiations with our adversaries. She derided this last and very encouraging stance as “naïve” and “dangerous.” Is this the person who will now be expected to take the lead in facilitating those talks? Somehow, I don’t think so.
Blathering about the alleged wisdom of gathering together a “team of rivals,” our lickspittle liberal pundits are enthusing over this daffy idea with unrestrained obsequiousness likening Obama to Lincoln! Yet the only civil war or threat thereof is in the Democratic Party: ending that is what the rumored appointment of Clinton is all about.
It is also a sellout of major proportions. The Clintons and the Obama wing of the party may disagree about the intricacies of how to implement socialized medicine, they may quibble over the details of how much to tax and regulate us, but the biggest bones of contention are the foreign policy questions that have always divided the Democrats and are likely to reemerge if Obama moves to carry out his campaign promises on the international stage.
First and foremost among those promises is a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, which Americans have every right to expect yet this is now being thrown into doubt. Robert Gates, who has almost certainly been asked to stay on at the Pentagon, is reportedly negotiating with Team Obama over the conditions of his extended tenure: either nix a rapid-exit scenario or else forget it. Hillary, who opposed a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and suggested, instead, that they might stay on indefinitely in Kurdistan is in a much stronger position to make demands, and you can bet she will.
Another big difference between the Obama wing and the Clintonites is over how to deal with Iran. While Obama himself has not ruled out the use of force, and has pledged to do “everything” or, as he put it, “Everything!” to keep nukes out of the mullahs’ hands, his big innovation here is to advocate direct and unconditional talks between Washington and Tehran, even going so far as to say that he would personally meet with the Iranians, not to mention the North Koreans, the Venezuelans, and the Cubans.
To ordinary human beings, this policy may seem entirely reasonable, even uncontroversial: after all, we negotiated with the Soviets, who weren’t exactly pussycats, and Ronald Reagan even got them to disarm their warheads aimed at Europe (although George W. Bush undid that legacy by giving the Russkies more than enough reasons to rearm).
However, the people who make foreign policy for our country are far from ordinary: they are a close, tight-knit little community with their own peculiar prejudices and an inherent narrowness of vision. They represent interests whose loyalties are not to anyone or anything on American soil. They gather at the foot of the throne asking favors of the emperor, and now that a new emperor has been chosen and is about to be formally installed, all these interests are scrambling to ensure their influence. That is what being an empire entails.
In the tradition-bound world of U.S. foreign policy, innovation is frowned upon. How many times have we had that old establishment adage about how “politics stops at the water’s edge” thrown at us? This cliché inverts the reality: the foreign policy of a country is in large part determined by the internal struggles of rival political factions, and nothing underscores this general operating principle more pointedly than the looming takeover of the State Department by the Clintons.
I use the plural because a Clinton appointment really means both of them: for all intents and purposes, we’ll actually have two secretaries of state, like the ancient consuls of Rome. Speaking of the Romans, this was a familiar stratagem of Roman emperors, sending rivals off to distant diplomatic posts or to govern provinces on the far frontiers of the empire. By sending the Clintons off on a four-year world tour, Obama rids himself of two rather formidable and uncontrollable rivals. He also rids himself of sole responsibility for the conduct and success of his foreign policy.
Remember the Clinton ad about the phone call at three in the morning? Well, now it looks like it’ll be Hillary making that call, if and when it has to be made a clever bit of political jiu-jitsu on Obama’s part that has generally gone unremarked amid the praise for the alleged smartness of the Clinton appointment. What’s not so smart, however, is that he’s essentially conceding the realm of foreign affairs to the Clintons.
What we’ll have, in effect, is a co-presidency, with Obama taking the lead on domestic matters, selling Congress and the nation on the broad outlines of a “New” New Deal. The Clintons, on the other hand, will be put in charge of shoring up the Empire and reassuring our allies that the only “change” will be a regression: don’t worry, we’re just going back to the 1990s.
That, unfortunately, is good enough for many “progressives,” who supported the Kosovo war the signature intervention of the Clinton years and said nothing while Bill Clinton regularly ordered bombing of Iraqi cities in between (or during) Oval Office trysts. Yet Bill is the more pacific of the two. He resisted, for a time, the pressure from the neocons and the George Soros wing of the Democratic Party to intervene in the Balkans. It was Hillary who demanded it, as Gail Sheehy relates in her biography of Mrs. Clinton:
“Hillary expressed her views by phone to the president: ‘I urged him to bomb.’ The Clintons argued the issue over the next few days. [The president expressed] what-ifs: What if bombing promoted more executions? What if it took apart the NATO alliance? Hillary responded, ‘You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?’ The next day the president declared that force was necessary.”
That the Balkan civil war was hardly a “holocaust” in the sense that Hillary meant it, that a gangster state in Kosovo is the mutant fruit of our intervention, that the conflict prefigured a much larger confrontation with the Russians that today threatens a full-scale cold war I won’t even bother pointing this out to our triumphant liberals, who are too busy celebrating their election victory to spot the perils ahead. They’re having too much fun ridiculing Sarah Palin and competing with each other in their panegyrics to the Dear Leader to bother with such negative, “divisive,” and quite possibly subversive preoccupations. After all, after eight years of Blood, Soil, and Torture, a return to Clintonism in foreign affairs seems to them almost paradisiacal. That, at least, is my interpretation of what goes on in the minds of perfectly sincere yet “pragmatic” liberals, the sort with the best intentions in the world.
The neoconservative publicists Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan famously described the goal of U.S. foreign policy in the post Soviet era as the imposition of a “benevolent global hegemony,” and the liberal interventionists would agree, with the added proviso that it must be truly benevolent. It is imperialism with a politically correct face, moral uplift married to unmitigated militarism a deadly combination under any circumstances, and positively lethal in the present atmosphere.
Yet there are worse aspects of a Clintonian foreign policy, aside from its Slavophobia and its shrill, neo-Wilsonian self-righteousness. Hillary at the helm of the State Department means no significant change in our Middle Eastern policy, or, at least, a huge obstacle placed in the way of such. In her speech on the Senate floor in favor of going to war with Iraq, she scored partisan points by reminding her audience that the president’s father had “assembled a global coalition, including many Arab states, and threw Saddam out after 43 days of bombing and a hundred hours of ground operations. The U.S.-led coalition then withdrew, leaving the Kurds and the Shi’ites, who had risen against Saddam Hussein at our urging, to Saddam’s revenge.”
If only Hillary and Bill had been in the drivers’ seat back in the winter of 1991, when Bush the Father decided against marching on Baghdad why, we’d soon be “celebrating” the 18th anniversary of the occupation. History cheated the Clintons, in that respect, but I’m sure Hillary’s appointment as de facto co-president in charge of foreign affairs will provide ample opportunity to rectify that great injustice.
Back when Hillary was the presumed front-runner and all-but-inevitable Democratic nominee oh, how long ago and far away it all seems! she took to talking over the heads of her primary opponents and addressing the Republicans directly, accusing them of appeasement and “dropping the ball” on Iran. What I’m wondering is how someone who described the Iranian leadership as “madmen mullahs” and derided “the psychotic leader of Iran” is going to be able to negotiate in good faith with Tehran. Nobody in the U.S. remembers those particular remarks, but you can bet the Iranians do. In effect, Obama’s campaign promise to take a more diplomatic approach to our alleged enemies has been preemptively broken by the Clinton appointment, should it come to pass.
If there is a single foreign policy issue on which Hillary takes a pro-peace, anti-interventionist, mind-our-own-business position, I can’t think of it. From Iraq to Iran to the renewed threat of a cold war with Russia, she’s on the wrong side of the barricades every time.
Putin’s Russia is fast becoming the favorite bogeyman of the interventionist Left, with left-neocons like Anne Applebaum, an Obama supporter, heading up the posse. Russophobia has been all the rage for quite a while in the odd precincts of right-wing social democracy, an ideological current that manages to combine all the worst aspects of the socialist and the neoconservative in one supremely unappealing package, and in Putin they have a Saddam Hussein all their own. The Left in power needs an enemy too, a foreign “threat” to justify huge overseas expenditures and increasing military budgets, and Putin fits the bill to a tee. When it comes to the Russian question, Hillary is worse than Obama, who is quite bad.
Remember back when she told a New Hampshire primary voter that Putin doesn’t have a soul? Referring to President George W. Bush’s famous remark about what he saw when he looked into Putin’s eyes, Clinton snapped:
“This is the president that looked in the soul of Putin, and I could have told him, he was a KGB agent. By definition he doesn’t have a soul. I mean, this is a waste of time, right? This is nonsense, but this is the world we’re living in right now.”
As to what this portends for our relations with Russia, I leave it to my readers to imagine. Unfortunately, this is the world we’re living in right now, and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it.
Or is there?
What if there was a massive protest not mounted by the Republicans, but by the very same people who voted Obama into office?
Hey, he said he’d listen to us.
All kinds of BS are being bruited about how the transition process is going to be “inclusive” and open to public input. Let’s take them at their word. While the Washington insiders and their pet pundits rave on about what a brilliant move Hillary at the State Department would be, is it possible to prevent the hijacking of the Obama administration’s foreign policy with a huge outpouring of opposition by ordinary Americans?
I don’t know. But there’s one way to find out. Here’s the phone number of Obama’s transition team: 202-540-3000.
Give them a call and tell them what you think of Hillary at State. Maybe there’s hope, after all although I wouldn’t have the audacity to bet the farm on it. The least we can do is try.