Hillary Clinton

Neoconservatism With a Democratic Face

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Great column by Christopher Hitchens, the most high-minded of the Clinton-haters, on why Hillary Clinton will never be a dove.

A man like John Edwards can back away from his own 2002 vote easily enough by suggesting that he was deceived by Republican propaganda, but he was barely in politics before 2000. Sen. Clinton, however, was not just in politics. She was in the White House. That's why she had to speak of "the four years" that had elapsed since the relationship between the United States and Iraq went critical once more.

And more on Bill's role ginning up war with Iraq.

After speaking to the U.N. General Assembly meeting of 2006, President Jalal Talabani of Iraq found himself in a room with President Bush and former President Clinton. He embraced them both. "Thank you," he said to Clinton, "for signing the law that called for the liberation of Iraq. And thank you, Mr. Bush, for being the one to implement it."

This is really it; this is why the spinning of Hillary's Iraq vote and the cunning plans for how she can come out against an Iran war are doomed. Hillary's running as the "experience" candidate, but she actually has less experience in elected office than Barack Obama. The implication: She has the experience of living and working in the White House. And that White House laid some of the groundwork for the Iraq War. I don't know why reporters keep trying to break down her explanations for her 2002 vote; it'd be more useful to get her admit whether she would continue the foreign policy of her husband from 1993-2001. She would.

NEXT: Attn, NYC Reasonoids: Ron Bailey on the "Human Footprint," Tues., Feb. 13—Tonight!

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  1. Hugo Chavez in a pants-suit.

  2. Was Jalal Talabani confused about which Bush he was embracing? How could George H.W. Bush have implemented a law which his successor, Bill Clinton, signed?

  3. The implication: She has the experience of living and working in the White House.

    This is a really good point.

    And when you consider it this way, is there any doubt Hillary knows much more about what it’s like to be President than anybody else in the field? Why must elected office be the only thing that counts as “experience”?

  4. Weirdly enough, Bush-hate might end up dooming Hillary Clinton. Hitchens has a great mind.

  5. Bill Clinton may have beat the occaisional drums against Iraq, but here is a question: Do you think that if he had been around another 4 years that he would have unilaterally invaded Iraq and dismantled its government without first garnering an international coalition like George H.W. did? (And not Condi Rice’s fake “Coalition of the Willing”) The answer is surely “no,” and while hind sight is 20/20, wouldn’t you rather have the U.N. and the rest of the world in the soup with us now, rather than (correctly) blaming it on us? So, I think that it is unfair to pair Clinton and Bush Iraq policies, because any fair comparison makes W. Bush much, much worse.

  6. For the uninitiated, the term “Bush hate” as used by Loundry means “opposition to the Iraq War.” You know, because that’s the only possible reason anyone could have for opposing that war.

    Why didn’t you just write “Bush Derangement Syndrome?”

    Tonight I’m gonna party like two-ooh-thousand three!

  7. Hillary’s running as the “experience” candidate, but she actually has less experience in elected office than Barack Obama.

    Oh please. I’m not one of those that thinks Weigle is a Democratic shill, but he does let his desire color his observations a bit too far. Hillary has experience as a Senator. And from a political establishment point of view, very successful experience. There is also her experience in the AK governor’s mansion, where she was essentially elected and served as co-governor.

    Obama no relevant experience to the executive position. He is a blank canvas that people can project their hopes and dreams on to.

    Clinton’s foreign policy was pretty bad, but not as bad as our current one. It’s her domestic policy that scares the living shit out of me. Unlike Bill, I don’t think she has the flexibility to adapt to a Republican Congress by adopting their agenda and claiming it as her own. And I shutter to think at the damage she’d do with a Democratic one.

  8. I just have to look at her convoluted health care proposal. She’d keep all the gatekeeper roles for the AMA, NALU, and HMOs – while sticking it to the citizen taxpayers. Under Bill’s regime, the number of people in prison doubled and his drug czar argued vehemently against requiring the government to do studies before criminalization of drugs. Is it no wonder she has no difficulties whatsoever in raising campaign cash. She opens up the treasury to a whole lot of special interest groups that also love GOP big government authoritarianism.

  9. The problem with Hitchens reasoning is that, yes, the Clinton administration did sign the Iraq Liberation Act, and bombed Iraq. It did not, however, commit to the invasion-overthrow-occupation-administrtion of the country during the years following the Act’s passage. It did other things, such as supporting local opposition groups, defending the Kurds, enforcing the sanctions, and bombing the country on a semi-regular basis, to try to improve the chances of Saddam’s government falling.

    Hitchens tries to argue that having supported this legislation should be taken as de facto support for the invasion on Hillary’s part, but there are literally years of evidence proving otherwise. Hitchens claims that Hillary’s denunciation of the war would be a renunciation of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy. That’s a tough claim to swallow, since Clinton’s foreign polcy didn’t come anywhere near an invasion of Iraq.

    As the actual, historical Clinton administration Iraq policy shows, it is entirely possible to believe that the president should have the authority to take military actions against the Saddam government, and even to try to remove him from power – in other words, to support the AUMF – without agreeing on the wisdom of the invasion.

    The knock on Hillary (and Kerry) for their votes is not that they supported the war, but that trusted Bush to responsibly handle that authority. They’ve both said “I believe it was appropriate for the president to have that authority.”

    Well, I think they’re wrong, and Robert Byrd was right. I think Congress should be a lot stingier with its warmaking power, and not subcontract it out to the President. That’s what Hillary needs to be called on, not some counter-factual assertion that she wanted to invade Iraq like this, too.

  10. The problem with Hitchens reasoning is that, yes, the Clinton administration did sign the Iraq Liberation Act, and bombed Iraq. It did not, however, commit to the invasion-overthrow-occupation-administrtion of the country during the years following the Act’s passage.

    So, they were all for overthrowing Hussein, they just didn’t want to actually, you know, do anything about it.

    Or, to put it another way, the Clintons were for overthrowing Hussein before they were against it before they were for it.

  11. Almost two-thirds of the country suffers from Bush Derangement Syndrome. I think it’s contagious.

    Oh…and they hate the troops, too.

  12. RC Dean,

    Do you support old people having adequate retirements, or do you want to end Social Security?

    Oh, sure, you SAY you support old people having adequate retirements, you just don’t want to, you know, DO anything about it.

    That was easy.

  13. “they just didn’t want to actually, you know, do anything about it.”

    Because the most important thing is to DO SOMETHING. The more do-ey, the better.

    Clinton’s Iraq policy may not have removed Hussein, but it didn’t turn the country into a abbatoir, either.

    Thank God we’ve got a President who knows that you’ve got to DO SOMETHING.

  14. I’m curious about how Hillary and the other Democrats will handle a war with Iran. On the one hand, they want to cater to the anti-war vote, but on the other hand, how much influence will AIPAC have with them? A case will be made that we are protecting Israel by getting rid of the present regime in Iran. The Democrats won’t want to lose support from AIPAC.

  15. AIPAC strongly advocated for both the Iraq War and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, assuring their audiences that both would benefit Israel. Oops.

    I’m not sure AIPAC is going to have quite as much pull with Jewish and pro-Israel voters and donors as it did four years ago.

  16. Joe, I usually enjoy your posts but I’m calling BS on this one:

    The knock on Hillary (and Kerry) for their votes is not that they supported the war, but that trusted Bush to responsibly handle that authority. They’ve both said “I believe it was appropriate for the president to have that authority.”

    Everbody knew that Bush was going to go to war once he got Congressional OK – certainly Kerry and Hillary are at least that smart. The Democrats voted for it because either they thought it was a good idea or they thought that politically it would be a bad idea to oppose it, given the nation’s charged atmosphere at the time.

    So I don’t think it’s that big a deal, but the Dems should just admit that they were wrong and are now trying to correct the situation.

  17. Dan T.,

    If you read Kerry’s floor speech during the debate over the AUMF, he makes it clear why he was voting, and what its significance was.

    It was clear to everybody that Bush was going to use force against Iraq, and every yea vote was a vote in support of force, but that covers a lot of territory.

  18. I think Hillary’s whole reason for supporting the war was so she could convince people that she would make a good Commander in Chief. She also did it to make her appear as a centrist. Just about everything she does is politically motivated. We need a statesman as President, not another polititian.

  19. Bill Clinton signed the “Hussein must die” bill to shut the Republicans up. He had no interest in Republican fantasies about overthrowing Hussein. As for a Clinton foreign policy, when he was elected he had none. Eventually, his intelligence allowed him to develop a pretty good foreign policy, except for his obsessive struggles to establish peace between Israel and the PLO, the result of his pathetic desire to establish himself as a “great man,” which he obviously isn’t.

    Hitchens is a smart guy and writes well when he doesn’t have a personal stake, but most of his output is severely marred by vanity and grudge-settling. I’d also point out that the goal of a presidential candidate is to get elected, not to make sense.

  20. Herb,

    I don’t think Hillary Clinton is b.s.ing when she says that the President should have the authority to launch and threaten wars, without Congressional approval.

    I think she really believes it. As she’s said, “I’ve been on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.” She wanted that power for her husband, she wants it for herself, she wants it for every president. That’s how she thinks our government should work.

    And that’s why I will vote for any plausible candidate who disagrees with her on this question.

  21. Good for you, Joe. The power to make war should not be in the hands of one person as it clearly states in our Constitution. Hillary would be an imperial President just like so many have been.

  22. If you read Kerry’s floor speech during the debate over the AUMF, he makes it clear why he was voting, and what its significance was.

    But do you believe him, or was he just trying to hedge his bets?

  23. There are no statesmen, only politicians. Choose the politician whose self interest aligns with your policy preferences. If you are lucky, that person may be able to advance at least one thing you want. You should be drunk with joy if that happens for you.

    Anything else is just buying lottery tickets. It is no way to make plans.

  24. Politicians are boring. Politics are boring. Partisans are boring.

    …Boring, boring, boring.

  25. “Hillary would be an imperial President just like so many have been.”

    I have to admit, this state is either true, false or not applicable. Clear?

  26. “There are no statesmen, only politicians.”

    But statesmen are only recognized in retrospect…during their day, they’re often very controversial figures that are disliked by many.

  27. Dan T.,

    “But do you believe [Kerry] or was he just trying to hedge his bets?”

    I believe Kerry’s thoughts come pre-hedged. He should have realized that, in practical terms, he was being asked for a yes/no on whether to invade, and made it more complicated than he needed to, thinking that the administration was willing and able to read fine print.

  28. To quote Opus.

    A statesman is a dead politician. We need more statesmen.

  29. One last snipe at RC Dean’s cheap debating point:

    “So, they were all for overthrowing Hussein, they just didn’t want to actually, you know, do anything about it.”

    Bill Clinton took much more vigorous military action against the Iraqi government, aimed at causing its ouster, than Ronald Reagan did towards the Soviet Union.

    So which is it, RC? Did Reagan “do nothing” about bringing down the Soviet government? Or are you going to admit that a president can pursue the overthrow of a government through means short of invasion, overthrow, occupation, and administration of the country in question?

  30. A statesman is a dead politician. We need more statesmen

    Trees of liberty and all that.

  31. “Great column by Christopher Hitchens, the most high-minded of the Clinton-haters…”

    You see, there are four kinds of people–those who hate the Clintons, those who defended the Clintons, those who hate Bush and those who defended Bush.

    …apparently, everything else is just fluff.

  32. Wait a second. Isn’t a neocon democrat just a liberal hawk? I thought the whole point of neoconism was big-government paternalist liberals who left the Democratic party because they wanted to fight communism and have an interventionist foreign policy in spite of the Vietnam fiasco.

  33. Wow, I must have accidentally pulled up the Daily Kos.

  34. lunchstealer,

    On foreign policy, even the most hawkish iteration of liberalism is distinct from neoconservatism.

    Liberalism views democracy/human rights and pro-Americanism as beting two distince axes, where neoconservatives don’t really distinguish the two. Hence, liberals oppose coups against democratically elected pains in our asses, while neoconservatives endorse them.

    Liberals believe democracy, human rights, and reform in foreign societies must develop organically from within those societies. Neoconservatives believe that they can be imposed from without. Think of a gardener vs. a carpenter.

    Foreign policy liberals believe we should sometimes take action for moral reasons, even if doing so does not advance our vital interests. Neoconservatives are split on this question, and usually try to paper over the dispute by claiming that “our highest ideals and our vital interests are now one,” and either inventing an interest-based justification for a humanitarian mission, or couching their opposition to a humanitarian mission in terms of priorities and limited capacity.

    Liberalism views international endorsement for military action to be essential for our reputation as a good actor, and for the success of the actions we take. Neoconservativism supports unilateralism not just as acceptable, but as superior to a stance which allows other countries to have a say in how and when we go to war, regardless of whether they are our allies or what we can get from them. They view any influence other countries can have over our actions in purely negative terms.

    Neoconservative foreign policy did indeed split with liberalism during Vietnam in order to push for a more activist program of using our military to “liberate” countries ruled by hostile governments, but it would be a mistake to reduce the distinctions to differing levels of enthusiasm for the use of force.

  35. Do you support old people having adequate retirements, or do you want to end Social Security?

    Oh, sure, you SAY you support old people having adequate retirements, you just don’t want to, you know, DO anything about it.

    Explain to me, exactly, how taking an amount of money that if invested would have allowed the person to retire a millionare, spending it on pork projects, the military, freeways, and then giving said people retirement “pensions” just barely enough money to buy catfood and a bedroom at a rooming house is “Doing something about their retirement”? Lets not forget about medicare and drug benifits which actually drive up the cost of medicine (elderly pay more NOW than they ever did for medical care).

    I understand you may have been being a bit sarcastic, but everyone knows that social security system is a tax for military spending intentionally designed to impoverish the elderly… you should have chosen something else.

  36. Rex Rhino,

    I chose the example carefully, as I have as much doubt about the relationship between the Iraq War and the development of a stable, liberal democracy in that country as you have about the relationship between Social Security and a decent retirement.

  37. If we old folks truly loved our children and grandchildren we would disclaim our “Social Security benefits” and fight against this war that is taking all the money (from the future generations) and the lives of those very same children we claim to love. Oh, I hear my friend outside waiting in the car, We gotta get to the casino. Bye.

  38. I would like to know who hired David to write on this site? Nothing he writes pertains to Libertarianism. It’s all about how conservatives are stupid, unlike David who assigns himself an IQ of 753.

  39. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Virginia Postrel.

  40. Don’t you guys realize how important the primaries are?

    …I mean, the election is less than two years away!

  41. Alan Vanneman-

    So bascially, when the Republicans do something, that’s the Republican’s fault. When Bill Clinton did something, that’s the Republican’s fault.

    Glad we’re clear on that.

  42. Joe-

    You actually just compared attacking Iraq in the late 1990’s with attacking the USSR in the 80’s. I’d say apples and oranges, but it’s more like apples and dark matter.

  43. Gasping Libertarian-

    I’ve had similar thoughts. Not that I think there ought to be an ideological test to post for Reason, but you’d assume someone to be of a genearlly “libertarian” bent. I was surprised to see Weigel call himself “conservative” in one post; I’ve certainly seen nothing to indicate that. I know what he’s against (apparently anything related to Republicans or the war), but I’ve no idea what he’s for.

  44. That last line sums up the Democratic party as a whole, come to think of it.

  45. I don’t have a problem with Weigel calling himself a conservative. The GOP got away from its conservative underpinnings, and the Democrats, for whatever reason, are moving away from the southern conservative democrat model of the Clinton years (I know, they aren’t conservative conservative, just conservative dems). I don’t know who the hell is conservative anymore. Also, I see myself as a liberal who doesn’t agree with the Democrats on regulation and taxes, and some personal rights. I don’t know if that makes me a libertarian, but I agree a lot more with some of the Reason people than any other political writers. Alternet just got too looney, and the right wing wants to dumb everything down to a bumper-sticker sized zinger. In the grand scheme of things, I think H&R folks are doing a fine job bringing a libertarian view to the issues. They should do more NYC crap, but they do what they can.

  46. Dave,

    “You actually just compared attacking Iraq in the late 1990’s with attacking the USSR in the 80’s. I’d say apples and oranges, but it’s more like apples and dark matter.”

    Yes, there are many differences between Iraq and the USSR. No, that does mean you’ve provided a plausible counter-argument.

    So which is it? Did Reagan “do nothing” to promote regime change in Moscow? Or did the actions he took count as efforts to promote regime change?

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