Hillary Clinton

Hillary's Appetite for War

Clinton's hawkishness appears to have no limits.


Credit: osipovva / photo on flickr

The United States has been at war every day since October 2001, when we invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Never in our history have we engaged in hostilities abroad without interruption for so long. But if Americans are weary of it, you can't tell it from our politics. 

If they were, Republicans would not be vying to show their willingness to use force against Russia or Syria or the Islamic State. More pertinent still, Hillary Clinton would not be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Democrats were proud to nominate Barack Obama in 2008 on the strength of his opposition to the Iraq War. But anti-war credentials no longer count for anything in Obama's party. 

The president himself is partly to blame, having inured his followers to the notion that the United States can't extricate itself from foreign conflicts (see: Afghanistan). But Obama has also refused to be panicked into reckless military action against Syria, Russia or Iran. Compared with what his critics demand, his steps against the Islamic State have been cautious and small-scale. 

Obama has been willing to brave criticism for alleged weakness, appeasement and isolationism. As Harvard scholar Stephen Walt wrote for Foreign Policy, he has shown "an appreciation not just of the limits of U.S. power, but also of the limited need to exercise it." 

No such restraint can be expected of Clinton. As secretary of state, she pressed for what turned out to be one of Obama's biggest mistakes: the air war against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, which led to the chaos that has engulfed the country. 

She met resistance from then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who told Obama "I don't think we ought to take on another war" and considered resigning over the decision to intervene. 

Back when that intervention looked good, her emails reveal, she was eager to ensure that she got credit. Lately, though, the left-wing In These Times noted, "Clinton has tended to lay the decision to go into Libya squarely at Obama's feet." Admitting she was wrong? That's not happening. 

Her hawkish approach has been consistent. Clinton was far less committed than Obama to reaching a nuclear deal with Iran—which was ultimately concluded by her successor, John Kerry. She advocated a bigger surge of troops in Afghanistan in 2009 than Obama finally authorized. 

After leaving the State Department, she criticized Obama for not doing more to help the rebels in Syria. She also derided the administration's informal foreign policy motto. "Great nations need organizing principles," she insisted, "and 'don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle." 

In his 2014 book, Maximalist: America in the World From Truman to Obama, Columbia University professor Stephen Sestanovich (an adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton) wrote, approvingly, "Of all those who shaped the Obama administration's international strategy, the secretary of state was most comfortable with the precepts of a traditional maximalism." 

Obama's first instinct is to steer clear of foreign conflicts. He can be persuaded to step in, but he needs a good reason. Clinton's first instinct is to intervene, whether through air power or ground troops or weapons. That is often her second and third instinct, too. 

Obama sees no compelling reason for the U.S. to remain at war indefinitely. Clinton sees no grounds not to. Her basic approach has a lot in common with that of George W. Bush. 

It's a measure of how accustomed Americans are to ceaseless war that this worldview is not a liability in the Democratic presidential contest. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders, who voted against the Iraq War, and Martin O'Malley have criticized Clinton for supporting it. How has that line of attack gone down with the party's rank and file? No. One. Cares.

Either most Democrats are comfortable with her approach or they have concluded that more war is inevitable no matter who occupies the White House. That's a radical change from 2008, when Iraq was the defining issue between Clinton and Obama. 

The president has drawn some powerful lessons from Iraq and elsewhere about the costs of war, the perils of plunging into places we don't understand and our modest capacity to shape outcomes in foreign crises. 

Clinton has not drawn those lessons. She stated a very different credo in 2010, referring to America's role in the world: "We do believe there are no limits on what is possible or what can be achieved." How long will we be at war if she becomes president? "No limits" is what I heard. 

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. But what if war really is inevitable? What if there is no hiding possible? Honestly, you’re the first person to say something to make HRC look good to me. I’m stunned. The point about organizing principles sound good even if influence peddling isn’t a great example.

  2. I’m REALLY fucking curious to know what the editors of Reason think we should do about ISIS. Nothing? Not nothing but less than something? Anything? Drum circle maybe?

    Seriously, I would like them to lay out a detailed policy statement on their position towards ISIS, what they believe it’s relative threat to the US is, and how to deal with them, here and abroad. With particular emphasis on the military options (or lack thereof), diplomatic position, and our border security.

    Because all I ever hear from this site is criticism of everyone, particularly anyone who thinks the military should be used for anything ever, or anyone who thinks that maybe a completely unregulated border isn’t the best idea right now.

    So please, editors, we all know that you’re against ‘endless war’. Cool. Sounds like a really brave position to take. Now tell me what you WOULD do, ideally, if you were suddenly in charge. How do you ‘end war’? Rock my world with your brilliance.

    1. Get the fuck out of the Mid-East and let them chop each other’s heads off. They won’t come after us here if we’re not over there.

      1. Bullshit. Next.

        1. Ok, next it is then.

          I’ve stated further down that I wont say that I know what will work. I think that it is not a hard conclusion to draw that more of the same from the last decade and a half will continue to produce the same, undesirable results. Salafi jihadism begets al-Qaeda begets Taliban begets Daesh begets…something worse I would wager.

          So, what’s next, you ask? Well, first, we could try doing basically anything other than what we are currently doing, because as we’ve seen, the current approach isn’t working. Maybe we back out completely and see what happens. Maybe we back out, wait a year, then go back in and clean up what’s left. Maybe we stop funding anyone, ally or otherwise, and see what happens. Maybe we no longer have allies, and we treat every armed force, state run or not, as an enemy and fight them all. Maybe we use nukes?

          The point is, you argument is especially dumb because you are ignoring the fact that nothing that we have tried has worked, and so it is particularly foolish to continue with more of the same. I’d like to hear what YOUR plan is. Unless of course its some dumbass shit about not letting the terrorists win because Murica.

      2. Give Israel more weapons and unleash the hounds.

        1. They, no one in the west, knows what to do and would be willing to do what is required to fix this mess.

    2. Doing nothing would be a great improvement over what has been done. At the very least stop funding people who are eithe ISIS, going to become ISIS or are fighting the same people ISIS is. That alone would achieve more than anything nire intervention is likely to.

      1. Just in case you’re not sure, those “moderate” rebels we have been funding and arming in Syria are, in reality, either mercenaries from any number of countries including the US or ISIS themselves. There are no moderate rebels.

    3. I can honestly admit that I don’t know what would work. What I can say is that fighting in the mid-east has never worked for the West. So while the answer may not be to pull out completely and ignore the region (considering the world’s dependence on oil, I don’t see how we could isolate ourselves from the region), I am pretty confident that pursuing the same course of action that we have for a decade and a half won’t solve anything.

    4. Our endless interventions in the Middle East created ISIS, so yes, we should do nothing. Get the hell out of there and let them kill each other.

      1. The Koran created ISIS.

        And what about when they come here? Or try to? What would you do about our immigration/refugee policy?

        1. “The Koran created ISIS.”

          No, the current state of the Middle East created ISIS, whereas the Koran is merely used as a justification. It could be any other ideology and the terrorists would be just as ruthless. If the Middle East always followed the Koran, why do we suddenly have huge numbers of Islamic extremists -now- instead of say 30 years ago?

          1. Nope. The Koran created ISIS.

            The reason we didn’t have terrorism to such a degree thirty years ago is because the internet has given these people the unprecedented ability to communicate and organize. Muslim terrorists have ALWAYS existed, but they were limited to just the assholes around them, with no real way to translate their ideology into an organized movement.

            But you’re fucking delusional if you think that we aren’t seeing ‘real’ Islam here.

            1. Ok, so let’s say that this is “real” Islam.

              What exactly do you think will work to stop a force of holy warriors who believe that they just as bad as the enemy for not waging a holy war? This is a group that thinks that dying is a good thing, that their god wants them to rape children to become closer to god. If this religious zealotry is the real Islam, what measures do you suggest to combat it?

              1. Nuclear weapons on every Islamic capital and concentration camps for muslims living in the west.

                1. satire or retarded?
                  Too hard to tell.

                  1. No shit. The idea that we are going to suspend the Constitution and just round up American citizens who are muslim sounds like something out of the Onion.

  3. Madonna says that if we offer the dignity and unconditional love that they will just kinda melt away.

    Doesn’t seem to be working for Europe though so I’m not convinced she’s right.

    1. Yeah. The left loves the idea that savages are somehow noble. But it always turns out that they’re more savage than we think for some weird reason.

      Maybe it’s because they’re backward savages. Our values have no meaning for them.

  4. But Obama has also refused to be panicked into reckless military action against Syria…


    1. The level of idiocy is pretty high. I’m convinced Chapman’s banging someone on Reason’s staff because why the hell else would they (re)print this absolute nonsense?

    2. Well, he wasn’t “panicked” into it. It was a result of hours of consideration and a great deal of stupidity.

      1. What he means, dumbass, is that Obama didn’t put hundreds of thousands of troops in Syria like his predecessor did in Iraq.

        1. You forgot to say,”yet.”

  5. “The president has drawn some powerful lessons from Iraq and elsewhere about the costs of war, the perils of plunging into places we don’t understand and our modest capacity to shape outcomes in foreign crises. ”

    And with those “powerful lessons” include engaging in military action without congressional approval, kill lists, drone strikes against weddings, bombing hospitals, and the president unilaterally deciding to snuff out American citizens and calling it “due process?” All from a man who ran for office promising to respect constitutional limitations on presidential power?

    1. He can do no wrong and even when he does it’s someone else’s fault. You’d think Clinton locked him in a room with herself and physically worked him over until the poor guy gave in.

      What bullshit. He’s the boss, not some powerless and impotent worm. Ultimately, the military does nothing without his consent. The desperation to absolve Obama of his complicity in these matters is disgusting.

      1. One of the “powerful lessons” from Iraq is the danger of removing an established regime, even a brutal one, without having a solid understanding of what will replace it, and simply assuming that a Madisonian republican democracy will emerge spontaneously. Obama “learned” this “powerful lesson” so well that he repeated this mistake in Libya and came within an eyelash of repeating it in Syria until public pressure forced him to back down on killing Assad.

  6. They hate us for our carbon.


  7. “The United States has been at war every day since October 2001…”

    That means that literally half that has been under the Obama administration, i.e., his entire Presidency to date. At least dubya had a year where we weren’t at war, and who likes being compared negatively to the performance of Bush? While I agree that Clinton is the most hawkish of hawks, Obama has ultimately done literally nothing to be different.

    You complain that, “No.One. Cares.” about HRC’s war-mongering, and I would agree, but amend that to say that no one (you especially) cares about Obama being just as bad as the worst of them.

    1. Democrats do not oppose war. They oppose Republican presidents being in charge of wars instead of them.

  8. Wait a sec. Wasn’t Obama Clinton’s fucking boss when we assisted in ruining Libya? Why the fuck should he get a free pass? If he’s such a pussy he simply couldn’t say “no” to a forceful personality, that makes him arguably worse.

  9. When you realize that regime change via ISIL is the creation of US military intelligence, it is clear that the President has nothing to do with deciding what our next step will be. He abdicated that responsibility when he signed off on the plan to fund and supply the Islamic State. We will commit more troops and ramp up defense spending. Our allies will purchase more US military equipment to fight the “good” fight. The US military is in the business of fighting wars. They have been remarkably successful in creating conflicts to support their mission. There has been very little “peace” since the end of the second world war even though we have not declared war since 1941. Over 100,000 of our brave men and women in uniform have been killed or maimed not in defense of their country but rather in support of our perverse culture of war and the associated wealth it generates. The US defense budget is the single largest source of illicit political money which congress embezzles on a regular basis. This is how we have become the world pariah. It is curious that, so far, the French people have not raised their voices to denounce the US as the root cause of the recent tragedy in Paris.

    1. Sheldon, is that you?

  10. “Either most Democrats are comfortable with her approach or they have concluded that more war is inevitable no matter who occupies the White House.” There is another possibility: that most Democrats believe her more recent dovish noises.

  11. Syria’s so fucked up I doubt we can do much more to it. Still, would it be really worthwhile to play “whack-a-mole” with ISIS in the Middle East?

  12. I think a big part of it is that she is always on the rag.

  13. Hey, women leaders who go to war are looked on as tough babes and get all sorts of accolades. Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Maggie Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi, Benazir Bhutto. And many of them get assassinated – she would get lots of neat stuff and places named after her when she died, which is better than Bill will get.

  14. Isn’t the answer simply to get the government out of education?

    1. Sorry, I meant to reply to a different article.

  15. Hillary goes where the prevailing winds push her … there’s no there, there.

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