Sunday, July 03, 2016

Hillary and peace politics

Tom Hayden (even-the-Hillary-supporter-Tom-Hayden!) is not happy with the foreign policy perspective of the Democratic candidate he endorsed during the primaries. He writes in America Needs a New Peace Movement—Especially if Clinton Wins in November The Nation 06/30/2016:

In the campaign — and, if Hillary Clinton wins, during her presidency — Senator Bernie Sanders’s legions should be outspoken against regime change and demand that a new peace-and-diplomacy bloc be forged in Congress. ...

Someone like Representative Barbara Lee will revive a peace-and-diplomacy caucus in the Democratic Party, either as a new leverage point or an extension of the existing Congressional Progressive Caucus. Along with President Obama and Senator Sanders, Lee is pushing hard for a new Authorization to Use Military Force against ISIS, with important incentives for diplomacy and fixed limits on US ground troops. Only the exhaustion of sectarian parties representing Saudi Arabia and Iran will lay the conditions for a stable peace in Syria. As the major powers and their proxies continue bleeding, peace advocates should keep urging a political settlement, including a possible partition.
Hayden sounds somewhat resigned on the prospects for limiting what he calls the 15-year Long War, presumably dating from 9/11:

The real choices now are between a limited and secretive US war against terrorism, which at least preserves most of the New Deal legacy of Social Security, community colleges, and public schools, on the one hand, and expanded funding of Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, including a revived public option. The fight to save the planet from fossil fuels will lead to a final showdown with Big Oil and the denying, lying fundamentalists. The Republicans are gnashing their teeth to destroy those vital social programs during their march to war. The war-presidency model of Franklin Roosevelt could be the best-case scenario for a renewed peace struggle in the midst of new opportunities for labor, environmentalists, and communities of color.
David Bromwich, who has been very perceptive in his criticism of President Obama's obsession for bipartisanship, gives some more specific criticisms of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy perspective in The Roots of Hillary's Infatuation with War The National Interest 07/29/2016. He argues that Hillary has a foreign policy outlook very favorable to so-called humanitarian intervention, including covert regime-change operations. The example of Libya is a key one:

The NATO action to overthrow Muammar el-Qaddafi, in which Clinton played so decisive a role, has turned out to be a catastrophe with strong resemblances to Iraq—a catastrophe smaller in degree but hardly less consequential in its ramifications, from North Africa to the Middle East to southern Europe. The casus belli was the hyperbolic threat by Qaddafi to annihilate a rebel force in Benghazi. His vow to hunt down the rebels “like rats” door to door could be taken to mean a collective punishment of inhabitants of the city, but Qaddafi had marched from the west to the east of Libya, in command of an overwhelming force, without the occurrence of any such massacre, and the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence assigned low credibility to the threat. Clinton took more seriously an alarmist reading of Qaddafi by Bernard-Henri Lévy, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, and chose to interpret his threat as a harbinger of “genocide.”

Landler, in his book Alter Egos on the Clinton-Obama relationship, joins the consensus that has lately emerged from the reporting of Patrick Cockburn, Anne Barnard and other journalists on the ground. “Libya,” Landler writes, “has descended into a state of Mad Max – like anarchy”; the country is now “a seedbed for militancy that has spread west and south across Africa”; it “has become the most important Islamic State stronghold outside Syria and Iraq”; “it sends waves of desperate migrants across the Mediterranean, where they drown in capsized vessels within sight of Europe.” Clinton’s most recent comments, however, leave no doubt that she continues to believe in the healing virtue of smart power. The belief appears to be genuine and not tactical.
The fact that Hillary would take seriously anything Bernard-Henri Lévy has to say about foreign policy is scarcy in itself! Glenn Greenwald memorably described BHL as "France's most celebrated (and easily the world’s most overrated) public intellectual." (France Arrests A Comedian for His Facebook Comments, Showing the Sham of the West's "Free Speech" Celebration The Intercept 01/14/2015)

We have a genuinely bipartisan foreign policy problem in the United States. The US is the most powerful country militarily in the world. And we are operating on a foreign policy strategy that aims at maintaining not just defense of the US, not just being the militarily most powerful country, but at being overwhelmingly the most powerful country. IN foreign policy lingo, it's a hegemonic strategy, very different from a potent but more modest alternative like the off-shore balancing advocated by adherents of the "realist" foreign policy school like Stephen Walt.

Republican foreign policy generally draws more directly on the frankly imperialist "neoconservative" ideas, the Democrats more on the humanitarian interventionist outlook identified with officials like Samantha Power, currently Obama's Ambassador to the United Nations. But part of what we see in Bromwich's analysis is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the practical differences between those two approaches.

Bromwich makes an important point that liberal interventionsists take the Kosovo War as a kind of ideal success story for the humanitarian hawk approach. Andrew Bacevich and Eliot Cohen edited a collection of essays, War Over Kosovo: Politics and Strategy in a Global Age (2001), that give a very different picture from the success story that the Kosovo War is often taken to be in American commentary. Bromwich observes:

The truth is that the pretext for military intervention was almost as thin in Yugoslavia as it was in Libya. There, too, genocide was said to be in progress—the slaughter of tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians—but the reports were chimerical. In First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, David Gibbs concluded that approximately two thousand had been killed before the NATO bombing; whereas, during the bombing itself and in retaliation for it, Serbian security forces killed approximately ten thousand. Given the status of the episode in liberal mythology, the treatment of Kosovo in Living History is oddly minimal: less than a paragraph, all told, scattered over several chapters. Living History was published in 2003; and it seems possible that Clinton had an inkling of the mob violence that would break out in March 2004 in the nationwide pogrom against the Serbs of Kosovo—violence that would lead in early 2016 to the construction of tent cities in the capital, Pristina, and the firing of tear gas canisters in parliament to protest the abridgment of the political rights of the remaining ethnic minority. The aftermath of the Kosovo intervention has recently entered a new chapter. “How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS” was the astute headline of a New York Times story by Carlotta Gall, on May 21, 2016. Gall’s opening sentence offers a symptomatic tableau:

“Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an impoverished mosque in a former furniture store.”
In his concluding paragraph, Bromwich writes, "An incorrigible belief in the purity of one’s motives is among the most dangerous endowments a politician can possess. Her sentences about NATO could have been written by Tony Blair; and this explains why at least three neoconservatives — Eliot A. Cohen, Max Boot and Robert Kagan, in ascending order of enthusiasm — have indicated that a Clinton presidency would be agreeable to them. She is a reliable option for them."

Bromwich also makes this speculative observation, "Both Clintons have felt pressed to perform supererogatory works to show that liberals can be tough. For Mrs. Clinton, there is the additional need — from self-demand as much as external pressure — to prove that a female leader can be tougher than her male counterpart." This is certainly a common assumption among our punditocracy, that a female President would especially need to show her toughness through military action. But our star pundits also tend consider war as just a normal policy option, not as a failure of foreign policy, as an older formulation had it. There's some reason to believe that Presidents feel a need to show their willingness to use force early in their Presidencies. At this point, I don't see any reason to assume that pressure would be more or less for a female Executive.

Also in The National Interest, Paul Pillar took a look a month ago at The Safety and Sameness of Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy 06/02/2016, just after Hillary's major foreign policy speech of June 2. Since Pillar is critical of reckless military interventions, he has concerns about Hillary's approach. He concludes on a somber note:

This election year evidently is not going to be the year for positive redirection of U.S. national security policy. The first priority needs to be to keep dangerous incoherence out of the White House, because that is where the biggest potential damage to U.S. interests lies. Staying stuck in the rut of conventional wisdom is the relatively safer choice, although it's too bad we won't have a chance for something better.
Yes, it really is too bad.

That's why we really need to kind of robust peace activism that Tom Hayden advocates.

No comments: