ould I approve waterboarding,” Donald Trump asked his supporters back in November. “You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works.”
And, he added, “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.”
Had Dick Cheney returned from the near dead, reborn as a know-nothing carnival barker rattling the bones of American Exceptionalism without the Biblical bullshit? Demagogue for a new day, Trump brings to life our ancestors who stole a continent from Native Americans and then plucked Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from a rotting Spanish Empire. He gives voice to white supremacists, killer cops, and ballot-riggers who do not want the lives of black people to matter and do not want their votes to count. He panders to the growing ranks of nativists, each and every one the seed of earlier immigrants, who now despise the “huddled masses” from other parts of the world. And he speaks to the anxieties of white working-class underdogs whom he would inevitably betray.
Trump’s Republican competitors are no less toxic, and Ted Cruz could be worse with his loose talk about using nuclear weapons against Islamic State (ISIS) to see “if sand can glow in the dark.” But let’s not duck the more telling comparison. The nuanced and diplomatic Hillary Clinton could also be extremely dangerous on foreign policy, and much harder for the anti-war movement to fight against.
“This is a time for American leadership,” she told the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in November, just after the bloody massacre in Paris. “No other country can rally the world to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale, and that’s exactly what we need. The entire world must be part of this fight, but we must lead it.”
Hillary gave a brilliant speech that day, a masterful mix of detail and determination to establish herself as the have-gun, will-travel paladin of liberal intervention. She avoided the old-fashioned conservative nationalism of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for whom might makes right. She sidestepped the neoconservative imperialism of Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol, who tie themselves to the needs of the military-industrial complex far more than to the desires of right-wing Israeli governments.
Hillary, ever the idealist, takes up arms for the good of others. It’s an old stance that harks back to FDR’s liberal internationalism and the earliest days of the Cold War, and now finds a modern-day echo in historian Robert Kagan’s 2012 book The World America Made, a favorite at the Obama White House. Co-founder of the two neocon flagships – the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and the Foreign Policy Initiative – and husband of Victoria Nuland, a major player in the US-led coup in Ukraine, Kagan now shuns the neocon label and calls himself a liberal interventionist.
With Hillary as with Kagan, it’s staggering how much they fail to learn from mistakes of the past, whether personal or historic. Re-read Hillary’s speech to the CFR. For all her talk of relying on local troops, she believes with Cheney that the American military hammer should remain our prime response to every terrorist nail in the Middle East. She continues to think Washington should step in when local clients like the Iraqis fail to do our bidding. And she still wants the US to promote regime change.
Just remember. Hillary voted to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq. She helped organize the civil war against Muammar Kadhafi in Libya. She played a cameo role in the second Orange Revolution against the Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, and she is again talking up regime change against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. So many mistakes. So little learning.
“I worry,” warned Bernie Sanders, “that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.”
How kind Uncle Bernie was being! Among the consequences we know to expect is that a US-led war to drive ISIS out of Syria and Iraq may well succeed in the short-term, but would likely keep us tied down in the region for thirty to fifty years to come. As Mr. Rogers might ask, “Boys and girls, how do you spell neo-colonialism?”
Committed to American Exceptionalism and seeing America as the “indispensable nation,” Hillary’s experience and her ties to the rich and powerful make her deaf, dumb, and blind to the essential truth. American leadership in the Middle East is a big part of the problem, not of the solution.
Worse, she now wants to stir up even more trouble with her “comprehensive plan,” introduced in September, to counter Iranian influence across the region and bolster the confidence of our Arab partners, by which she means Sunni Arabs.
What could be more stupid than getting even more mired down in the middle of a historic sectarian war between Sunni and Shi’a Islam? You might well ask the same question of those who pretend to be part of the anti-war movement but now beat the drums to join with Russian and Iranian imperialism to fight against the Sunnis.