Fair Criticism of Hillary Clinton: Foreign Policy and Washington Group Think

We’ve been accused of being “in the bag” for Hillary Clinton here at the Banter by those on the left and on the right — an accusation that may have some merit given where we’ve chosen to direct most of our energy this past year. It is true that we have spent little time going after Clinton, particularly over the past few months. Given the monster she is facing in the general election, it isn’t exactly an abdication of journalist duty to point out that the human species could go extinct if she loses to Donald Trump. 

Regardless, Hillary Clinton is not, and has not ever been immune from criticism on this site — particularly from me. I’ve long been a critic of Clinton and have written extensively about her extremely troubling foreign policy leanings that should be of deep concern to anyone concerned about America’s role in the world. I backed Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries over Clinton because of this, and wanted Bernie Sanders to beat her in the primaries in 2016 for the same reason. I don’t hate Hillary Clinton, I just don’t particularly like her foreign policy. 

I’ve certainly warmed to Clinton this year given the way she has handled herself against Donald Trump, and I’ve come to greatly admire her tenacity and pragmatism. However, I still have reservations about her that persist to this day and it would be dishonest of me to ignore them. In a column for the NY Times, Ross Douthat articulates these reservations perfectly, calling her a product of “elite groupthink”, “Beltway power worship” and “a cult of presidential action in the service of dubious ideals.” He writes: 

What is distinctive about Clinton, more even than Bush or Obama, is how few examples there are of her ever breaking with the elite consensus on matters of statecraft.

She was for the Iraq War when everyone was for it, against the surge when everyone had given up on Iraq, and then an unchastened liberal hawk again in Libya just a few short years later.

She was a Russia dove when the media mocked Mitt Romney for being a Russia hawk; now she’s a Russia hawk along with everyone else in Washington in a moment that might require de-escalation.

She cites Merkel as a model leader, she’s surrounded by a bipartisan foreign policy cadre that’s eager for a Details To Be Determined escalation in Syria, and she seems — like her Goldman Sachs audiences — intent on sailing serenely above the storm of nationalism rather than reconsidering any of the assumptions of her class.

Douthat makes clear that Clinton is in no way comparable to Donald Trump (whom he likens to “a bull in a china shop” and someone “storming the cockpit of a hijacked plane, with the likelihood of a plane crash entirely factored in”), but nevertheless should be held accountable for her less than stellar record on a number of key issues. 

While well within mainstream ideology, Clinton’s foreign policy positions are actually quite extreme from an internationalist perspective. She is a hawkish Democrat with strong ties to Israel and a steadfast belief in using America’s military prowess to further the country’s interests abroad. While these are issues most Americans don’t have much of a problem with, the rest of the world does, and if she is not held accountable by those who have supported her during this campaign, she may well make more poor choices as Commander In Chief. As Douthat writes:

They’re the dangers of a recklessness and radicalism that doesn’t recognize itself as either, because it’s convinced that if an idea is mainstream and commonplace among the great and good then it cannot possibly be folly.

Many Democrats do not wish to acknowledge this and have given her a free pass during this election cycle. Again, this is completely understandable given the stakes, but these are issues that should, and must be raised when Clinton gets into office (which is now almost certain).  

Given Clinton is more of a pragmatist than anything else, she will likely respond to smart pressure from the left — as she did with Bernie Sanders post Democratic primary. But as her record shows, she won’t get there on her own. Unquestioning American militarism is central to political centrism in Washington, and that must change in the 21st century if we are to survive as a species. We are on the brink of environmental catastrophe which will have very serious ramifications around the world. As the potential for conflict rises, America is going to have to think very carefully about how it uses its military, and Hillary Clinton cannot afford to make the same blunders she has in the past. The consequences are simply too awful to imagine, and Clinton will be judged harshly if she doesn’t change.  

photo credit: thekrisharris