The foreign policy spat between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton couldn’t have been scripted better for the mainstream media. It’s also the reason why watching politics in America drives me crazy. The great triangulation has begun. Lyndon Johnson had the Texas two-step, and the Clintons have the Sister Souljah moment. It’s one of their ways of letting the Reagan Democrats know that even though they’re voting Democratic, it won’t be for a real progressive.
Some have speculated that the first female president or prime minister must be even more hawkish than her male predecessors; look at the examples of Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, or Boudicca. And so Hillary continues in this tradition, eager to send other people’s sons and daughters to die, in part to show that they have equal mettle to the the monsters of the patriarchy. But let’s not pretend that the other front-runners, Obama and Edwards, are that much better.
Of course, if you actually have diplomatic experience, your viewpoint is automatically invalidated. Sorry, Bill Richardson, but as your YouTube video demonstrated, you are overqualified to lead America’s fantasy charge to regain unipolar geopolitical power. How dare you have a valid point about foreign policy? You think that just because you are the only candidate besides Biden with actual foreign policy experience that you can expect to be taken seriously?
According to the Hillary Clinton theory of electable foreign policy, people don’t want a diplomat who has actually had real and fruitful negotiations with dictators by practicing that long-forgotten tool—statecraft. People want idle threats, unilateralism not only in military strikes but in diplomacy. Recently Hillary ridiculed Obama for saying he would meet dictators without preconditions, which is accepted diplomatic practice, something Richardson knows and has always maintained.
The reason Hillary Clinton is so dangerous is that she doesn’t get why the rest of the world hates the US. It’s not because we torture people or don’t have a fair wage for workers. It’s because we push our weight around. From a New York Times Interview where she talked about Iraq:
[T]he choices that one would face are neither good nor unlimited. We’re in a very difficult situation that has been made worse by the failures of the administration. So what will be inherited is not completely clear, but likely to be: Continuing sectarian violence; no real resolution of the political disagreements on the ground among the Iraqis; an unsettled if not unstable region, trying to figure out what the roles they want to play in regard to Iraq might be; a beachhead of Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives; the Turks being concerned about what is happening among the Kurds.
There’s a long litany of very difficult challenges. What I’m hoping is that with the slight change in policy that I am detecting in the Bush administration, that perhaps some progress could be made over the next nearly two years. Certainly, the willingness to engage Iran and Syria could possibly lead to some changes that would be beneficial to the overall structure of the situation we confront.
The surge, which is ongoing, and obviously if we’re going to do it we hope it is more successful than perhaps I think it could be.
I’m going to root for it if it has any chance of success, but I think it’s more likely that the anti-American violence and sectarian violence just moves from place to place to place like the old Whac a Mole. Clear some neighborhoods in Baghdad, then face Ramadi. Clear Ramadi, then maybe it’s back in Fallujah. It’s just difficult without a consensus on the part of the Iraqis, that they’re going to deal with it in some concerted effort, that we will have any long-lasting impact on the level of sectarian violence.
So come January of 2009, of course, a lot of it depends on what is actually happening on the ground.
At the same time she acknowledges these challenges, she is actively proposing two things as part of her Iraq plan: for there to be large-scale troop-withdrawal, and for the U.S. Army to continue fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) while training the Iraqi military. Sounds like the same mission with better photo ops, but less personnel to carry out the missions.
Either you believe in the mission or you don’t. Because if you make a half-hearted commitment to a strategic goal, you’re basically sacrificing the resources you’ve decided to donate to a lost cause. As the Democratic party’s second-staunchest Iraq hawk behind Lieberman, I think she never really lost the faith in some sense. She just thinks she can get away with conveniently crafted promises doomed to failure.
The problem with having it both ways is that you end up with the worst of both worlds—a commitment to force to project power, continuing a troop presence but reducing the force-protection for those troops. If we scale back U.S. troop presence, the remaining troops will have an even bigger target on their backs—the occupiers are almost gone, Iraqis will say, let us drive them out on helicopters like in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City. How many casualties will it take before ‘the generals’ Democrats boast about consulting request additional troops?
Only Biden has the guts to specify a number of troops he thinks should be left behind—20,000—but let’s use percentiles instead. If there are currently 162,000 troops in country, Biden’s plan allows 12% to remain there. But let’s look at it this way: even the most pacifist candidate would agree to leaving behind Marines to guard the diplomatic missions in Iraq. So we can establish a baseline: security personnel for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, to be the largest embassy in the world once construction is finished. A fully functional Death Star Embassy is said to employ 1,000 diplomatic staff.
If we use the combat to supply ratio for the surge analysis by GlobalSecurity.org, which is a ratio of 3:1 combat to supply personnel, we can start pricing our options.
A Marine bodyguard for each diplomatic mission member in the Baghdad embassy alone might mean 1,333 troops guarding a truck-bomb proof compound, or less than 1%. Season as necessary with increased civilian or military personnel to taste. But on the other hand, we have 14 ‘enduring’ bases in Iraq. Not permanent bases. No administration member has ever called them permanent. Our Base at Guantanamo bay isn’t permanent, either. None of our bases are, officially. If we maintain these bases only as diplomatic missions, let’s say, how many troops might that require?
The military doesn’t publish stats about this stuff, but from the closing of Camp Doha in Kuwait, we can estimate a camp large enough to inconvenience the local population is 3,000-5,000 soldiers’ worth. 14 camps means between 42,000 and 70,000 soldiers, an overall troop reduction of 74% to 57%.
Are hawks in the Democratic party calculating that reducing the number of troops by three-quarters is enough to placate the American public, which has only recently turned against the war en masse? My guess is yes, considering the rhetoric of the liberal interventionist hawks.
Her interview continues:
I think we have remaining vital national security interests in Iraq, and I’ve spoken about that on many different occasions. I think it really does matter whether you have a failed province or a region that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda. It is right in the heart of the oil region. It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel’s interests.
So I think we have a remaining military as well as political mission, trying to contain the extremists.
Here’s the heart of the matter. Liberal interventionalism (which isn’t quite neo-conservativism, but not far either) holds that since democratic capitalism needs the lebensraum, liberal capitalist states reserve the right to intervene in the internal affairs of any non-liberal-democratic state as they see fit, militarily or otherwise.
If we want to look at benchmarks for hawkishness, why don’t we start with comparing Mrs. Clinton and the rest of the candidates to her husband’s regime?
As the election grows slightly nearer, people have begun to pick apart the candidates’ actual foreign policy proposals, and it turns out that as we had feared, most of them are not interested in leaving Iraq. It’s the classic problem of internal inconsistency for the purpose of pandering to idiots.
As I’ve written here before, it was only ten years ago that the Democrats had Republicans over the barrel when it came to terrorism. All this criticism about how Clinton managed the threat from al-Qaeda (at which he did a better job than the Presidents Bush, but not by much) seems to gloss over his actual successes in the War on Terror, namely the targeting and containment of right-wing militias after the Oklahoma City bombing.
How did the Clinton administration do it? To hear Hillary tell it, they should have sent in the Army to clear out nests of terrorists, bombing training camps and secluded compounds in Michigan’s breakaway Upper Peninsula.
So what changed? Mainly, the skin color of the perpetrators, which gave the issue to Republicans. Why? Because the Republican party is a well-known haven for (white) racists. Americans know that Republicans want to hurt brown people and they’re not going to let some namby-pamby notion of equality or multiculturalism get in the way of KILLING US SOME GODDAMN RAGHEADS! U!S!A! U!S!A!
Honestly, I wish these people would just return to fucking their siblings and/or pets and leave foreign policy to people who understand it. Because when the great wave of reactionary knee-jerk armchair murderers go to the polls, they’re shopping for vengeance, not viability.
At any rate, today we’re going to look at the recent pair of articles in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy: Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney!
Far from a bare-knuckles brawl, Romney’s multilateral vision sounds like the kind of speech Hillary might give if the country was still 50-50 on the war in Iraq. His policy suggestions actually sound better than Obama’s—and the reason for that is the Romney knows that we need to repair the damage the Iraq war has generated worldwide. He’s just not willing to abandon the mission in Iraq (or Guantanamo, most disturbingly).
When reading Obama’s piece, it strikes me that for all his rhetoric about being the 21st century incarnate, his actual foreign policy as detailed in the essay seems awfully 20th. when he talks about ‘renewing Americas leadership’, it seems like he’s just talking about a chrome job: “a new vision of leadership in the 21st century—a vision that draws from the past but is not bound by outdated thinking.”
Obama’s self-identified foreign-policy heroes are FDR, Truman and JFK. “Kennedy modernized our military doctrine,” he notes proudly. It makes you wonder—where will Obama’s Bay of Pigs be? Who gets to be interned this time around? And of course, who gets the bomb dropped on their cities this century?
Although it’s well-practiced and mostly rational, Obama’s argument is supported by some grade-A liberal interventionalist bullshit. The most egregious example is the following statement:
“[W]e must lead the world by deed and example.”
A fine sentiment, and one I stand behind entirely. It’s too bad Obama doesn’t. there’s an easy way to prove him wrong, and it’s called the substitution game.
Would America allow foreign military bases on its own soil? Shouldn’t China be able to set up a base on San Nicholas so they can maintain control of the vital shipping lanes into Los Angeles and to check potential American military aggression? Would he let Raul Castro bomb Miami if a Cuban exile paramilitary group was planning a coup in a Dade County training complex?
Last year, Obama, Clinton, Dodd and Biden all voted to unilaterally violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by giving ‘dual-use’ nuclear technology to India, a non-signatory who is known to have offensive nuclear weapons. You’ll notice that Obama is always careful in his rhetoric about the NPT, calling for it to be ‘updated.’ I sincerely hope he doesn’t mean that it should be retroactively changed to whitewash his actions.
If we’re going to lead by example, shouldn’t we welcome UN nuclear inspectors to our uranium-enrichment facilities and start dismantling our nuclear weapons program?
To be fair, Obama has said, and I think it is actually very brave and laudatory, that he would rule out the offensive use of nuclear weapons.
Americans know that we have one big bad-ass army and by dint of our superior military power, we have become the world’s cop. Both Romney and Obama pay lip service to multilateralism while reserving the right to act unilaterally.
Speaking of which, let’s look a little more closely at Obama’s Iraq plan:
The best chance to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties to find a lasting political soution. And the only effective way to apply this pressure is to begin a phased withdrawal of U. S. forces, with the goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008—a date consistent with the goal set by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. This redeployment could be temporarily suspended is the Iraq government meets the security, political, and economic benchmarks to which it has committed. But we realize that, in the end, only Iraqi leaders can bring eace and stability to their country. At the same time, we must launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq, prevent its spread, and limit the suffering of the Iraqi people. To gain credibility in this effort, we must make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We should leave behind only a minimal over-the-horizon military force in the region to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda.
The rhetoric apes the Bush Administration’s with a dove-friendly changes in phrasing, but the rhetoric is fine. The concrete proposals, however, stick out like a sore thumb. As I’ve pointed out before, the whole benchmark nonsense combines the worst of all possible incentives and outcomes. The only way to ‘broker peace’ and delegitimize al-Qaeda is to use our withdrawal as a bargaining chip. Unilateral withdrawal doesn’t help as much as you’d think in promoting political progress.
Of course, if you consider what we have done to Iraq in the past twenty-five years, you’d understand a) that Bush has already “made it clear” rhetoric-wise that we don’t seek permanent bases in Iraq, and b) we have no credibility either way. when you say you wan to leave troops behind to do the exact same thing they’re supposedly doing now but with less support, you’ve put yourself into the “Iraq was just mismanaged” camp, right along with Hillary Clinton.
Here’s an idea: you don’t need to be in Iraq to train the Iraqi military. Of course, because the ranks of the new armed forces and police are full of terrorist and Islamofascists, training them anywhere is somewhat risky, but why don’t we train them SOMEWHERE ELSE, like one of our dozens of military bases, and withdraw to the U.S. embassy?
Obama’s project goals for the new American century sound awfully familiar—he just apes Rumsfeld’s rhetoric abut updating the armed forces, and demands that we expand the military. Romney’s article says almost exactly the same thing; Obama, however, says ne need to recruit 92,000 more soldiers, and Romney says we need 100,000 more. Do 8,000 troops define the momentous differences between neoconservatism and neoliberalism?
As we all know, talk is cheap. But that’s all we have to go on at this point. Politicians don’t live up to their promises, but analyzing what they’re promising can a least tell us towards which group this particular round of pandering is directed.
Obama’s far from finished with the textbook foreign policy bullshit:
When we send our men and women into harm’s way, I will clearly define the mission, seek out the advice of our military commanders, objectively evaluate intelligence, and insure that our troops have the resources and support that they need.
Great. WHAT ABOUT AN EXIT STRATEGY? Every president has handed us the same lines preceding every military incursion.
At the heart of the battle over America’s foreign policy are a few really tough questions: Can America do anything it sets its mind and armed forces to? Is America allowed to break international law because might makes right, or should America be permanently excepted from the international legal obligations we expect of any other country? Is there any justifiable excuse for opposing America’s unilateralism—and what can other countries do about it?
There are some candidates for president who do want to join the world community as an equal. But because jingoism is more popular than religion or ideology in American politics, these people can make a case for a moral foreign policy all they like, but they’ll never be judged ‘electable’ by the media.
There are two excellent reasons Obama called Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy “Bush-Cheney lite.” First of all, it’s true—she and Biden are the ‘neoliberal’ hawks on the Democratic ballot, the ones who find themselves largely aligned with the principles of the Project for the New American Century. The second and more interesting reason is that Barack Obama is, in foreign policy terms, Bill Clinton-lite.
But that’s a hell of a lot better than what Clinton, Romney, or Bush would do.