Since it’s foreign policy week this week, with President Obama delivering a major speech on Wednesday at West Point, Christie Watch will spend the next few days looking at the foreign policy views of the various 2016 candidates, starting today with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
When it comes to Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, start first by disentangling the nonsense about Benghazi—a nonexistent scandal if ever there was one—from the broader palette of Clinton’s own, relatively hawkish views. As she consolidates her position as the expected nominee in 2016, with wide leads over all the likely GOP challengers, it ought to worry progressives that the next president of the United States is likely to be much more hawkish than the current one. Expect to be deluged, in the next few weeks, with news about Hard Choices, the memoir of her years as secretary of state under President Obama, to be released June 10.
But we don’t need a memoir to know that, comparatively speaking, two things can be said about her tenure at the State Department: first, that in fact she accomplished very little; and second, that both before her appointment and during her service, she consistently came down on the hawkish side of debates inside the administration, from Afghanistan to Libya and Syria. She’s also taken a more hawkish line than Obama on Ukraine and the confrontation with Russia.
In the brief excerpt that’s been released by her publisher, Clinton notes that as secretary of state she “ended up visiting 112 countries and traveling nearly one million miles.” But what, if anything, did she accomplish with all that to-ing and fro-ing? Not a lot. She largely avoided the Israel-Palestine tangle, perhaps because she didn’t want to risk crossing the Israel lobby at home, and it’s hard to see what she actually did, other than to promote the education and empowerment of girls and women in places where they are severely beaten down. And, while it’s wrong (and really silly) to call Clinton a neoconservative, she’s more of—how to put it?—a “right-wing realist” on foreign policy, who often backed military intervention as a first or second resort, while others in the White House—especially Obama’s national security staff and Vice President Biden’s own aides, were far more reluctant to employ the troops.
In that vein, it’s useful to explore the memoirs of Robert Gates, who was secretary of defense under George W. Bush and then, inexplicably, under President Obama, too. In Duty: Memoir of a Secretary at War (which could also be the subtitle of Clinton’s own memoir), Gates says several times that he and Clinton saw eye to eye. (This has also been extensively documented by Bob Woodward, if more narrowly focused, in his 2010 book, Obama’s Wars.) In Duty, Gates says that he formed an alliance with Clinton because both he and her had independent power bases and were, in his words, “un-fireable”: