Hillary Clinton's Illiberal Belligerence
by Stephen Zunes
While much attention has been given to Senator Hillary Clinton's support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, her foreign policy record regarding other international conflicts and her apparent eagerness to accept the use of force appears to indicate that her fateful vote authorizing the invasion and her subsequent support for the occupation and counter-insurgency war was no aberration. Indeed, there's every indication that, as president, her foreign policy agenda would closely parallel that of the Bush administration. Despite efforts by some conservative Republicans to portray her as being on the left wing of the Democratic Party, in reality her foreign policy positions bear a far closer resemblance to those of Ronald Reagan than they do of George McGovern.
For example, rather than challenge President George W. Bush's dramatic increases in military spending, Senator Clinton argues that they are not enough and the United States needs to spend even more in subsequent years. At the end of the Cold War, many Democrats were claiming that the American public would be able to benefit from a "peace dividend" resulting from dramatically-reduced military spending following the demise of the Soviet Union. Clinton, however, has called for dramatic increases in the military budget, even though the United States, despite being surrounded by two oceans and weak friendly neighbors, already spends as much on its military as all the rest of the world combined.
Her presidential campaign has received far more money from defense contractors than any other candidate – Democrat or Republican – and her close ties to the defense industry has led the Village Voice to refer to her as "Mama Warbucks." She has even fought the Bush administration in restoring funding for some of the very few weapons systems the Bush administration has sought to cut in recent years. Pentagon officials and defense contractors have given Senator Clinton high marks for listening to their concerns, promoting their products and leveraging her ties to the Pentagon, comparing her favorably to the hawkish former Washington Senator "Scoop" Jackson and other pro-military Democrats of earlier eras.
Clinton has also demonstrated a marked preference for military confrontation over negotiation. In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, she called for a "tough-minded, muscular foreign and defense policy." Similarly, when her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Senator Barack Obama expressed his willingness to meet with Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro or other foreign leaders with whom the United States has differences, she denounced him for being "irresponsible and frankly naive."
Senator Clinton appears to have a history of advocating the blunt instrument of military force to deal with complex international problems. For example, she was one of the chief advocates in her husband's inner circle for the 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 to attempt to resolve the Kosovo crisis.
Though she had not indicated any support for the Kosovar Albanians' nonviolent campaign against Serbian oppression which had been ongoing since she had first moved into the White House six years earlier, she was quite eager for the United States to go to war on behalf of the militant Kosovo Liberation Army which had just recently come to prominence. Gail Sheehy's book Hillary's Choice reveals how, when President Bill Clinton and others correctly expressed concerns that bombing Serbia would likely lead to a dramatic worsening of the human rights situation by provoking the Serbs into engaging in full-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Hillary Clinton successfully pushed her husband to bomb that country anyway.
She has also defended the 1998 U.S. bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which had provided that impoverished African country with more than half of its antibiotics and vaccines, falsely claiming it was a chemical weapons factory controlled by Osama bin Laden.
Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Clinton went well beyond the broad consensus that the United States should go after al-Qaeda cells and their leadership to declare that any country providing any "aid and comfort" to al-Qaeda "will now face the wrath of our country." When Bush echoed these words the following week in his nationally-televised speech, she declared "I'll stand behind Bush for a long time to come."
She certainly did. Clinton voted to authorize the president with wide-ranging authority to attack Afghanistan and was a strong supporter of the bombing campaign against that country, which resulted in more civilian deaths than the 9/11 attacks against the United States that had prompted them.
Despite recent pleas by the democratically elected Afghan president Harmid Karzai that the ongoing U.S. bombing and the over-emphasis on aggressive counter-insurgency operations was harming efforts to deal with the resurgence of violence by the Taliban and other radical groups, Clinton argues that our "overriding immediate objective of our foreign policy" toward Afghanistan "must be to significantly step up our military engagement."
Particularly disturbing has been Senator Clinton's attitudes regarding nuclear issues. For example, when Senator Obama noted in August that the use of nuclear weapons – traditionally seen as a deterrent against other nuclear states – was not appropriate for use against terrorists, Clinton rebuked his logic by claiming that "I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons."
Senator Clinton has also shown little regard for the danger from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries, opposing the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions challenging the nuclear weapons programs of such U.S allies as Israel, Pakistan and India. Not only does she support unconditional military aid – including nuclear-capable missiles and jet fighters – to these countries, she even voted to end restrictions on U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
She has a very different attitude, however, regarding even the possibility of a country the United States does not support obtaining nuclear weapons some time in the future. For example, Senator Clinton insists that the prospect of Iran joining its three Southwest Asian neighbors in developing nuclear weapons "must be unacceptable to the entire world" since challenging the nuclear monopoly of the United States and its allies would somehow "shake the foundation of global security to its very core." She refuses to support the proposed nuclear weapons-free zone for the Middle East, as called for in UN Security Council resolution 687, nor does she support a no-first use nuclear policy, both of which could help resolve the nuclear standoff. Indeed, she has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against such non-nuclear countries as Iran, even though such unilateral use of nuclear weapons directly contradicts the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the same treaty she claims the United States must unilaterally and rigorously enforce when it involves Iran and other countries our government doesn't like.
Senator Clinton also criticized the Bush administration's decision to include China, Japan and South Korea in talks regarding North Korea's nuclear program and to allow France, Britain and Germany to play a major role in negotiations with Iran, claiming that instead of taking "leadership to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists ... we have outsourced over the last five years our policies." In essence, as president, Hillary Clinton would be more unilateralist and less prone to work with other nations than the Bush administration on such critical issues as non-proliferation.
In Latin America, Senator Clinton argues that the Bush administration should take a more aggressive stance against the rise of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected these recent developments "at our peril." In response to recent efforts by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural obstacles which have left much of their populations in poverty, she has expressed alarm that "We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America."
Apparently wishing that the Bush administration could have somehow prevented the elections of leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere, she argues that "We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement." Though she has not clarified what she means by "vigorous engagement," regional examples in recent decades have included military interventions, CIA-sponsored coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national elections.
She also supports Bush's counter-productive and vindictive policy towards Cuba, insisting that she would not end the trade embargo – recently denounced in a 184-4 vote by the United Nations General Assembly – until there was a "democratic transition" in that country. She has even backed Bush's strict limitations on family visitations by Cuban-Americans and other restrictions on Americans' freedom to travel.
Israel and Palestine
Regarding Israel, Senator Clinton has taken a consistently right-wing position, undermining the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian moderates seeking a just peace that would recognize both the Palestinians' legitimate national rights and the Israelis' legitimate security concerns. For example, she has defended Israeli colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, has strongly supported Israel's construction of an illegal separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory, and has denounced the International Court of Justice for its near-unanimous 2004 decision calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.
Senator Clinton has consistently put the onus of responsibility on the occupied Palestinians rather than their Israeli occupiers.
She has been particularly outspoken in her condemnation of the Palestine Authority, even prior to Hamas gaining the majority in their parliament, for publishing textbooks which she claims promotes "anti-Semitism," "violence," and "dehumanizing rhetoric" and thereby breeds a "new generation of terrorists." On several occasions she has blamed this alleged anti-Semitic indoctrination – and not the Israeli occupation – for Palestinian violence.
The only source she has cited to uphold these charges, however, has been the Center for the Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), a right-wing Israeli-based group whose board includes Daniel Pipes and other prominent American neoconservatives, which was founded in 1998 as part of an effort to undermine the peace process by attempting to portray the Palestinians as hopelessly hostile to Israel's existence. It has been directly challenged by other studies from more objective sources.
Senator Clinton's insistence on repeating the propaganda of long-discredited reports by a right-wing think tank instead of paying attention to well-regarded investigations by credible scholars and journalists may be a dangerous indication of how little difference there is between her and Bush in terms of what sources she would rely upon in formulating her policies.
Israel and Lebanon
Senator Clinton was also an outspoken supporter of Israel's massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip last summer, which took the lives of at least 800 civilians. She claimed that the carnage was justified since it would "send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians," because, in her words, they oppose the United States and Israel's commitment to "life and freedom." Despite detailed reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noting that there was no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields, Senator Clinton has repeatedly insisted that they did, in an apparent effort to discredit these human rights groups and absolve Israel of any responsibility for the enormous civilian casualties inflicted during the assault.
Senator Clinton's statements were challenged by her opponent in last year's Democratic primary for Senate in New York, union activist Jonathan Tasini, who pointed out that "Israel has committed acts that violate international standards and the Geneva Conventions." Her spokesperson, however, dismissed Tasini's concerns about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law as "beyond the pale." Senator Clinton supporters also denounced him as "anti-Israel," even though he is a former Israeli citizen who has lost close relatives in the Arab-Israeli wars and to Palestinian terrorism, whose father fought with Zionist forces in the Israeli war of independence, and has repeatedly referred to himself as a "friend of Israel."
Clinton even continues to defend Israel's decision to launch the devastating 2006 war on Lebanon even though an Israeli government report released earlier this year acknowledged it was a major setback to Israeli security.
Senator Clinton has also aimed her militaristic sights at Syria. In a typical example of her double-standards, she was a co-sponsor of the 2003 "Syrian Accountability Act," which demanded – under threat of sanctions – that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of chemical weapons and missiles, not to mention Israel's sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons. (See my article, The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony.)
Included in the bill's "findings" were charges by top Bush Administration officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous WMD programs. Not only have most of these particular accusations not been independently confirmed, they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had made similar claims against Iraq that have since been proven false. Yet Senator Clinton naively trusts their word over independent strategic analysts familiar with the region who have challenged many of these charges. Her bill also called for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria's expulsion from its non-permanent seat Security Council for its failure at that time to withdraw its forces from Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520.
This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since she defended Israel's 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon that finally ended just three years earlier which was in defiance of this same resolution, as well as nine other UN Security Council resolutions. Nor had she ever called for the expulsion of Morocco, Turkey or Indonesia from the Security Council when they held non-permanent seats despite their violations of UN Security Council resolutions regarding their occupations of neighboring countries.
Despite the fact that Syria is far weaker than it was 20 years ago when it was being generously armed by the Soviet Union, Senator Clinton insists that it is now "among the most difficult and dangerous [countries] in the world" and that it somehow poses "direct threats to ... neighbors ... and far beyond the region." She also offered her "strong support" for Israel's unprovoked air strikes in northern Syria in September. She has echoed the administration's charges that Syria is a major supporter of Hamas, even though the bulk of the Islamist Palestinian group's foreign support has come from Saudi Arabia and Iran, not the secular regime in Damascus. And, despite Syria's longstanding opposition to Sunni extremists and Iraqi Baathists – the major components of the insurgency fighting U.S. forces in Iraq – she has also accused Syria of backing anti-American forces in that country.
In response to the Bush administration's ongoing obsession with Iran, Senator Clinton's view is that the Bush has not been obsessive enough. In a speech at Princeton University last year, she argued that the White House "lost critical time in dealing with Iran," and accused the administration of choosing to "downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations" as well as "standing on the sidelines."
She has insisted that "we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran – that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons." Though going to war is still very high on her list of options, apparently supporting a nuclear weapons-free zone for the entire Middle East, normalizing economic and strategic relations in return for eliminating Iran's nuclear weapons capability, and other possible negotiated options are not.
In defending her vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she has claimed that Bush "deceived all of us" in exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime. Yet, when it comes to the similarly exaggerated Iranian threat, she has again repeated the Bush administration's talking points almost verbatim. Indeed, as recently as last month she was insisting that "Iran is seeking nuclear weapons," even though the consensus of the United States' 16 intelligence agencies was that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program back in 2003.
Senator Clinton was the only Democratic member of Congress seeking the presidential nomination to support the Kyl-Lieberman amendment which, among other things, called on the Bush administration to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – the largest branch of the Iranian military – as a foreign terrorist organization. To designate a branch of the armed forces of a foreign state as a terrorist organization would be unprecedented and was widely interpreted to be a backhanded way of authorizing military action against Iran. Indeed, Virginia Senator Jim Webb referred to it as "Cheney's fondest pipe dream."
She initially justified her vote in part because of the Revolutionary Guard's alleged involvement in Iran's nuclear weapons program, a position she has had trouble defending since it was revealed such a program has not existed for at least four years.
In language remarkably similar to her discredited rationalization for her 2002 vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she claimed that it was not actually a vote for war, but simply to give Bush a means "to apply greater diplomatic pressure on Iran." (Fortunately, Senator Clinton's position was too extreme even for the Bush administration, which designated only the al-Quds Force – a sub-unit of the Revolutionary Guards which doesn't always operate with the full knowledge and consent of the central government – as a terrorist organization.)
She has also decried Iran's "involvement in and influence over Iraq," an ironic complaint for someone who voted to authorize the overthrow of the anti-Iranian secular government of Saddam Hussein despite his widely predicted replacement by pro-Iranian Shi'ite fundamentalist parties. She has also gone on record repeating a whole series of false, exaggerated and unproven charges by Bush administration officials regarding Iranian support for the Iraqi insurgency, even though the vast majority of foreign support for the insurgency has come from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and that the majority of the insurgents are fanatically anti-Iranian and anti-Shi'ite.
Though Iran's threat to the national security of the United States is grossly exaggerated, they are a far more powerful country today in terms of their military prowess than was Iraq in 2002, when Senator Clinton supported invading that country because of its alleged danger to U.S. national security. It would be naïve, therefore, to ignore the very real possibility that, if elected president, she would find reason to invade Iran as well.
Given Senator Clinton's militaristic foreign policy, why are so many of her supporters apparently in denial of this unfortunate reality?
Part of the problem is that most of the public criticism of the former first lady has been based on false and exaggerated charges from the far right, often infused with a fair dose of sexism. As a result, many liberals become defensive and reluctant to criticize her. Many also ironically start believing some of the lies of the far right when they claim she is some kind of left-winger. There is also an understandable nostalgia for the eight years of relative peace and prosperity under her husband's administration after the horrors of nearly seven years under President George W. Bush, which have made it easy to forget the lesser but very real failings of President Bill Clinton.
There is also the fact that after 43 male presidents, the prospect of finally having a woman as chief executive is understandably appealing. Yet, what's the advantage of a female president if her foreign policies are still centered on patriarchal notions of militarism and conquest? What would it mean to the women of Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Lebanon and other countries who would suffer as a result of her policies? Did the position of British women improve as a result of the militaristic policies of their first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher?
These are the kinds of questions, along with a critical examination of her overall foreign policy record, that need to be considered by Democrats before making Hillary Clinton their nominee for president.