Friday, June 24, 2016
Is Hillary A War Hawk?
The accusation that Hillary is a war hawk is one of those odd accusations I find rather unfair, because it holds Hillary to a standard that no male politician ever has to face. As a senator aiming for a run at the White House someday, or as Secretary of State even, if she had taken a peace-loving approach to foreign policy she would have been attacked as a weak-willed bleeding-heart female, or perhaps even a wimp. Instead she took tough-line approaches on some, but certainly not all, foreign policy issues, and got attacked as a war hawk instead. And Hillary had the bad luck to serve as Secretary of State during one of the most turbulent periods in world history, forcing her hand regarding the use of military forces. It's a classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" type of situation, and it's not fair play.
Still, Hillary took the more militaristic approach and received the war hawk label. If your only two choices for a label are 'liberal, naive peacenik' vs. 'war-loving agent of the military industrial complex,' I suppose the warmonger one is the lesser of two evils, especially if you're a woman gunning for the highest office in the land. But is there any real truth to it? Is Hillary really a war hawk?
Those who say she is point to four main examples: Iraq, Libya, Syria and Israel. In each case, she has indeed not been gun-shy. In the case of Israel, while advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, she has clearly played favorites on the Israeli side. Her position on Syria while Secretary of State was to topple Assad by arming the rebels. In fact, she generally sided with toppling dictators in general, as her most well-known example of this was when she persuaded Obama to join in NATO bombings to help topple Qaddafi in Libya. "We came, we saw, he died," she later joked. People who strongly felt the United States should not get involved in yet another Arab military conflict were appalled.
Now, I see no reason why I should have to defend Hillary's desire to push for regime change in Libya, but I must. Too few don't remember or aren't aware of the realities that Libya faced at that time. Qaddafi was a bad man with a long list of prior offenses, and he had to go. The result afterwards in that nation was chaos, and Libyans are still struggling to stabilize their nation.
But Libyans love us! How many Arab nations can we say that of? We helped them get rid of their dictator, and then got out. They appreciated that, and still do. Yes, they have their problems, but they are their problems, and wouldn't want it any other way. From that standpoint, Libya was a tremendous success.
Bombing and then getting out is not the action of a warmonger. Zero boots on the ground is not the action of a warmonger. And staying out of a nation's conflicts after removing its dictator is certainly not something any warmonger would do. The wisdom to leave a nation alone to find its own path is the action of one who uses military might only when absolutely necessary.
But the accusations of Hillary being a warmonger continue. The example everyone points to the most is her Senatorial vote in favor of the Iraq war in 2002. Surely, someone who was in favor of Sonny Bush's invasion of a sovereign nation is evidence enough that she relishes using American military might as a solution!
Or is it? Remember, back then, it was not a vote for war. It was only a vote for the authority to invade if certain conditions based on U.N. resolutions were not met by Saddam Hussein. It was thought to be a vote for peace. The world wanted unilateral United Nations inspections to verify that Hussein did not have a program for Chemical, Biological or Radiological weapons. It was common wisdom that only the threat of United States invasion could force Hussein to the negotiating table. But for that threat to exist, Congress had to authorize the president. It was a tough decision, and Hillary sided with those who wanted to give the UN some teeth so that Hussein and other dictators would stop thumbing their noses at the rest of the world.
A beautiful write-up on this difficult decision is given in The People's View, which you can link to here. The resolution ultimately passed the Senate by a 77-23 vote, meaning Hillary was siding with a popular opinion among both Democrats and Republicans alike.
"This is a difficult vote," Hillary said on the Senate floor. "This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Any vote that may lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction...My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of preemption or for unilateralism or for the arrogance of American power or purpose...is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president. And we say to him: Use these powers wisely and as a last resort."
Of course, as we all remember, Bush used those powers foolishly as a first resort. The betrayal was not just against Clinton, but against the entire nation.
What about Iran? She convinced China And Russia to go along with more severe sanctions against Iran in order to force it to the negotiating table to give up its nuclear program. The long-term strategy was to achieve an agreement like the one which was finalized last year, in which Iran would give up its nuclear weapons program for ten years in exchange for the lifting of trade sanctions. It worked. Secretary John Kerry might have finalized the deal, but the workings got started under Hillary.
A warmonger would not have taken this approach. A warmonger would have located the suspected sites of the Iranian nuclear program and strategically bombed them. Many Republicans have been calling for exactly this sort of thing. But Hillary didn't. And the result was peace with Iran rather than war. And possibly even an Arab Spring event in that country, as the Iranian people have only one enemy left - their own government. The "Great Satan" is not threatening them with bombs anymore.
Okay, but these are still aggressive tactics in dealing with world affairs. Has Hillary done anything truly lasting that brought about peace without leaning on the military or using severe sanctions?
There are. For example, when Kyrgyzstan emerged from civil war to establish a fledgling democracy, she worked with Russian president Medvedev to ensure that it would not descend into conflict again. The result is that there is one more democracy there today that might not be, had it not been for Hillary. And also her efforts in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and her correspondence with the revolutionary leader Suu Kyi, helped to transform that little nation, just north of Vietnam, from a military Junta into a new democracy. Yes, the land of "The King And I" now has no king, and no dictator, thanks to Hillary.
These are small victories, to be sure. But they are significant ones, and examples that prove that Hillary is not the war hawk she has been presumed to be.
Perhaps the charge of warmongering comes primarily from those with significant pull who are convinced that this is indeed her modus operandi. For example, an article in the Huffington Post by Jeffrey Sachs lent significant weight to the charge of Hillary being a war hawk. You can read that article here. Sachs, a top-notch economist from the political left and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, has quite a following, and so when he made his accusation against Hillary of warmongering, many took notice. But Sachs is an adviser to Bernie Sanders, and like many who support his campaign, is quite bitter towards Hillary in ways that are not merited. In his article, he makes many of the arguments I have refuted above. But when pressed for additional warmongering accusations to add to Hillary's list, he piles on with items which are questionable at best. For example, he cites the Iraq Liberation Act, signed by President Bill Clinton on October 31, 1998, that made it official US policy to support “regime change” in Iraq. It read:
"It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
Sachs then says, "Thus were laid the foundations for the Iraq War in 2003."
Fucking what?! Bill Clinton makes it a policy to merely "support efforts" to remove a brutal dictator, and Sachs sees that as, what, a declaration of war? The United States government had, and still has, such policies for nearly all dictators, worldwide! And this he takes for warmongering by Hillary? A woman who wasn't even in power? A woman whose husband's infidelities with Monica Lewinsky had just been confessed to her the previous August, and who therefore was nowhere near Bill Clinton, or even talking to him, when this policy item was signed?
But this isn't enough of a reach for this otherwise brilliant man. He then cites the 1999 Kosovo war, in which NATO elected to bomb select targets in and around Kosovo when diplomatic solutions proved unable to stop the fighting. Although it didn't have the sanction of the UN, NATO called it "a humanitarian war."
"I urged him to bomb," said Hillary, as Sachs quotes her in an interview she gave to Lucinda Frank.
So did we all. Sachs calls this an example of Hillary's "warmongering." But in the strife in Kosovo, Albanians and Serbs were fighting fiercely, and in some cases were engaging in ethnic cleansing. Thousands were dying, and nobody could put a stop to it. A NATO bombing was the only thing that would stop the combatants and break their supply lines. So bomb they did, and the fighting finally stopped.
Sachs apparently thought it would have been more humane for America to sheath its sword and let them all continue to kill each other. But sometimes one really must resort to war in order to maintain peace. Pax par tridentum. Hillary understood this. I think she still does.
But to Sachs, stopping others from warmongering is apparently being a warmonger too.
I get it. We don't want America to get involved in any more foreign wars we can't win. But if we aren't willing to use the military to protect the interests of peace now and then, the result is often a descent into war. Sometimes the wars are civil wars, other times religious wars, but too many areas of the world are unstable for us to take an isolationist view.
I don't think our choices are as stark as a war hawk vs. an ostrich with its head in the sand, but I do think that an objective analysis shows that Hillary is somewhere in between the two.
Right where a potential president should be.