Thursday, June 09, 2016

Hillary Clinton and the fusion of neocon and liberal-interventionist foreign policy

Paul Pillar has a very good, brief analysis of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy, The Safety and Sameness of Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy The National Interest 06/02/2016. He begins by endorsing Clinton's main line of criticism against Donald Trump's foreign policy:

Clinton is correct that what has passed for Trump's ideas on foreign policy “are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas – just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.” Trump's efforts to sound coherent have been laden with contradictions and declarations that resemble bumper stickers more than carefully thought-out policy proposals. Some of his most specific and distinctive pronouncements belong in the realm of the fantastic, such as excluding all Muslims from the country, building a huge wall and somehow getting a neighbor to pay for it, and encouraging Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea to get nuclear weapons. Just when he has seemed to have made a suggestion that sounds fresh and constructive, such as referring to neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he suddenly veers in a much different direction.
Pillar's critique of Clinton's policy comes from his outlook that US foreign policy "has, through several administrations, been suffering from some fundamental misdirections." And he notes of her recent major foreign policy address:

... she repeatedly fell back into aspects of a Washington conventional wisdom that have made for the persistence of problems rather than the solution of them. This was true, for example, in portions of her discussion of relationships with allies and adversaries. She showed a good understanding of what diplomacy with adversaries consists of when she remarked that these are “countries that share some common interests with us amid many disagreements” and that “Donald doesn’t see the complexity” involved. But she gave no acknowledgment that there also are mixtures of common interests and disagreements—indeed, not just disagreements but conflicting interests—in relations with countries commonly considered allies. This arose, for instance, when amid her appropriate defense of the diplomacy leading to the nuclear agreement with Iran she started talking about the security of Israel—without mentioning that the Israeli government has done all it can to subvert and kill the very agreement she was defending.
He also argues that it is actually hard to tell the difference between the policy of military escalation against ISIS that Trump advocates and that which Hillary proposes. And he expresses reasonable concern over Clinton's American Exceptionalism:

Clinton's overall approach is grounded in that central tenet of Washington conventional wisdom that, as she put it in the speech, “America is an exceptional country,” that “we lead with purpose, and we prevail,” and that “if America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum – and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void.” The awful metaphor of a vacuum, with the misleading notion that in any troubled place in the world if the United States does not occupy it then bad vapors will whoosh in, has underlain thinking that has repeatedly meant costly trouble for the United States, including in some of the places where U.S. troops are found today.
And he calls attention to an important report that seems to reflect Hillary's hawkish foreign policy positions:

The longstanding, despite being damaging, conventional wisdom central to Hillary Clinton's thinking on foreign policy mirrors what was laid out at greater length in the recently released report from the Center for New American Security titled “Extending American Power”. As critical readers of that report have noted, it represents a mashing of neoconservatism and liberal interventionism and a recipe for repeating many of the failures that have contributed to the very unease and wishing for change that have helped to build support for Donald Trump, notwithstanding how little he has to contribute in the way of solutions.
The CNAS report could turn out to be an important as a guide to the foreign policy of a Clinton II Administration. (Extending American Power May 2016) And it has justifiably received some serious attention, including:

Jim Lobe, Hillary’s Foreign Policy: a Liberal-Neoconservative Convergence? LobeLog Foreign Policy 04/29/2016

Jim Lobe, The Neocon-Liberal Hawk Convergence is Worse Than I Thought LobeLog Foreign Policy 05/25/2016

Alastair Crooke, Neocons and Liberal Interventionists — Like Hillary — Are Converging on Foreign Policy World Post 06/08/2016

The title itself is a cue to how common its become to assume that "extending American power" is in and of itself a worthwhile goal. Extending American power is a good thing only if it benefits the American people and the world. If the goal is focused on narrow ends, such as enabling American vulture funds to plunder developing countries, extending American power for that purpose is more destructive and harmful than beneficial.

And if the US attempts to shape events according to arrogant and unrealistic assumptions about what US military power can accomplish in political terms, even policies pursued for good and just ends can be horribly destructive.

This report promises to be an important source during this campaign and beyond. For now, I'll just note that the section on the Middle East specifically advocates the no-fly zone escalation in Syria that Hillary Clinton advocates. It also treats Iran effectively as an enemy of the United States has to actively oppose. Remarkably, the paper emphatically rejects the notion that the historic nuclear agreement with Iran should even be allowed to help produce better US relationships with Iran: "Tehran should understand that Washington is not expecting the nuclear agreement to lead to a changed relationship with the government of Iran. The nuclear agreement should not be linked to Tehran’s expectation of some kind of détente or broader opening to the United States."

This is standard neocon militarism and imperialism for the Middle East. And of course the report takes it as a given that the military budget needs to be increased. At some point, the democratic movement in the United States will have to once again making a major reduction of the military budget and a re-ordering of priorities in foreign policy a major issue and get it accomplished.

This is also striking, "there is no doubt that the management of the U.S.-China relationship is the single most consequential challenge for U.S. foreign policy." Not nuclear arms control. Not managing climate change.

I'm also struck by the frankness with which the CNAS report describes Britain as a Trojan Horse for the United States in the European Union:

Add the danger of British departure from the European Union (EU) and the migration crisis and one can imagine significant ruptures in Europe that would have a very severe effect on the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the transatlantic community. ...

Europe has always functioned best when the three or four leading European powers worked together cooperatively, in partnership with the United States. In recent years, the traditional “troika” of Great Britain, Germany, and France has weakened considerably. British foreign and defense policies have weakened its leadership role in Europe and the world more generally. Germany has been left in the uncomfortable position of providing not only economic but also political and strategic leadership in Europe. The United States should work to pull this “troika” back together, with the addition of Poland (assuming of course that its government demonstrates respect for the highest standards of democratic governance), to provide strategic leadership within the European Union. For all that institution’s shortcomings, the United States has an interest in the preservation and health of the EU. ...

The United States has a particular interest in Britain remaining a strong and active player within the EU. A British departure would weaken Britain, Europe, and the transatlantic community. Among Britain’s strengths, and one aspect of its value as an ally, has been its ability to play a leadership role in Europe, providing a transatlantic perspective that can sometimes be absent from European councils. A strong Britain in a strong Europe is a key American interest. American diplomacy must strive to do the hard work of maintaining not only an alliance but a vibrant, cohesive, and powerful transatlantic community. That means increasing the level and frequency of U.S. participation in high-level meetings even when a crisis does not exist.

Such increased transatlantic dialogue should encompass the whole range of global strategic challenges. Whether or not Europe has a critical role to play or is threatened by every global crisis, it will help all of us if Europe and the United States share perspectives, knowledge, and consideration of the moral and strategic challenges they face around the world. If the two sides of the Atlantic hope to share responsibility for defending the liberal world order, they ought to have, as much as possible, a common understanding of what that entails. [my emphasis]
In other words, the United States wants an obedient EU, strong enough to be useful to American policy, but not strong enough to challenge American geopolitical priorities in the world, and Britain is the main US proxy within the EU.

The report also expresses considerable urgency in rejecting the adoption of "offshore balancing" as a strategic approach, a concept advocated by representatives of the Realist school of foreign policy like Stephen Walt: "The next administration must make abundantly clear that it has no interest in pursuing an off-shore balancing strategy [in the Middle East], such as the “new equilibrium” some have suggested, which envisages a significant U.S. military drawdown from the region." (See Stephen Walt, Offshore balancing: An idea whose time has come Foreign Policy 11/02/2011; scroll down)

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