For months, Christie Watch has chronicled Hillary Clinton’s hawkish, even neoconservative-influenced views on foreign policy. During her tenure as secretary of state, from the inside, she argued consistently—usually in alliance with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—for polices that were almost universally more hawkish than President Obama seemed to favor, sometimes succeeding in getting her way and sometimes not. She backed the 2009 escalation of the war in Afghanistan, argued for vastly increased US military aid to the insurgents in Syria, and was the leading administration advocate for forcible regime change in Libya. More recently, as reported by Bob Dreyfuss’s Nation blog, she broke with the Obama administration’s Iran policy, joining Israel’s Likud government and neoconservatives in the United States in supporting a zero-enrichment policy aimed at shutting down production of non–weapons grade uranium enriched to just 5 percent.
But now, with her interview in The Atlantic with Jeffrey Goldberg, a staunch advocate for Israel and a neocon fellow traveler, she’s thrown down the gauntlet, openly ridiculing Obama’s cautious approach to world affairs. For those who’ve followed her career, at least since the 1990s, it seems to be a case of Clinton being Clinton, allowing her natural proclivity for hawkishness in foreign affairs to mingle with her political opportunism. Not wishing to let herself be outflanked on the right by hawks—who’ll rev up the Benghazi non-scandal against her in 2016 and who are conducting a nationwide propaganda campaign to blame Obama’s judicious caution for the world’s ills—Clinton has made a fateful decision to go on the offensive. In so doing, she’ll open the door for even harsher Republican criticism, starting a race to the bottom—or to the far right—on foreign policy. Just wait until 2016.
Clinton has already polarized the commentariat, with some liberals delivering critiques of her anti-Obama broadsides, while conservatives are both gleefully defending her, while adding that, of course, she doesn’t go far enough. The New York Times, in its competently written account of Clinton’s slow-moving but accelerating break with Obama, notes that with the interview in The Atlantic, “the veneer shattered.” Most egregiously, she used a single offhand comment by President Obama—“don’t do stupid stuff”—to portray that as the driving principle of Obama’s foreign policy. Said Clinton, in the Atlantic interview: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” (As Mike Allen of Politico points out, the actual quote from Obama was “don’t do stupid shit.” Allen also compiles a useful account of how the phrase emerged.) Even more idiotically, the New York Post headlines its account “Hillary slams Obama for ‘stupid’ foreign policies.”
In fact, the phrase “don’t do stupid shit” itself is a good one, since it distinguishes President Obama from his predecessor, who in fact did do a lot of stupid shit, again and again. But it’s hardly the be-all and end-all of Obama’s foreign policy. In his West Point speech in May, Obama laid out a carefully conceived view of how the United States should approach the world, in which he emphasized that military action ought to be used as a last resort, with politics and diplomacy first. It’s a view that Obama sometimes forgets, as in the current bombing campaign in Iraq, but it’s the right idea. Don’t expect Clinton to echo it.
In terms of substance, if you don’t have time to read the whole interview, Clinton repeats her defense of zero-enrichment in Iran, unequivocally supports Israel in its over-zealous, blitzkrieg-like attack on Gaza, asserts that the United States ought to have backed the supposedly moderate factions of the rebels in Syria (which, she argues unconvincingly, would have prevented the rise of the Islamic State radicals), portrays the United States as engaged in a global war against unified jihadists (in fact, the jihadists are much more fragmented and far less dangerous than she implies), and so on. On Iran, she says:
I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out. So, little or no enrichment has always been my position.
In an August 12 piece in Politico, Mike Allen notes that the president and Clinton will be together during Obama’s vacation. The headline: “Hillary Clinton to party with President Obama.” And Allen notes, wryly, “This could be awkward.”