Martin O'Malley and the Liberal Hawks

The Democratic presidential candidate lays out a foreign policy agenda-and takes a swipe at Clinton over Benghazi.


We need to know in advance who is likely to take power—or vie for it—once a frontrunner is toppled.

If anyone was hoping Martin O'Malley would be some sort of radical antiwar insurgent, the Democratic presidential hopeful's speech this morning at the Truman National Security Project should shatter such illusions. Declaring that "our country's security—and our children's prosperity—demand that we be more engaged with the world around us, not less," the former Maryland governor put himself firmly in the liberal-interventionist tradition. The speech even included a tribute to the National Security Act of 1947, the law that among other things established the CIA.

That said, there are degrees of interventionism, and O'Malley's posture is much less warlike than Hillary Clinton's. He didn't merely condemn the Iraq war—an easy position to take these days—but became, as best as I can recall, the first Clinton challenger on the Democratic side to utter the word "Benghazi":

And we must recognize that there are real lessons to be learned from the tragedy in Benghazi: Namely, we need to know in advance who is likely to take power—or vie for it—once a dictator is toppled.

O'Malley is (a) completely correct on that point, and (b) taking a not-so-subtle swipe at Clinton, who was one of the chief forces behind the Libyan intervention when she was secretary of state. (And yes, as a senator Clinton voted for the Iraq war O'Malley opposed.)

Beyond that, O'Malley endorsed negotiations with Iran and favored an ISIS strategy where "we must avoid mission creep—and be mindful that American boots on the ground can be counter-productive to our desired outcome." He generally came across as a man who accepts the basic premises of empire but wants to use the country's troops more sparingly. The most striking thing about his speech is how much of it was devoted to foreign policy issues that aren't directly related to military action: climate change, international trade, "sustainable development." If you want an America that drops fewer bombs but remains extremely active around the world, Martin O'Malley wants your vote.