During tonight's debate hosted by Fox Business, each GOP presidential candidate will doubtlessly beat his chest and proclaim that he alone can destroy ISIS, Islamic terrorism, Russia, China, Mexico, Canada, and all our other existential foes. Some will talk about killing not just jihadists but jihadists' families and others will talk about carpet bombing the Middle East back into the Stone Age. They will accuse each other of being "soft" on terrorism and not being willing to do what it takes (including giving the government a free hand to surveil us all) to win a "civilizational" threat.
And you know what? Not a single jamuck on that stage will be as bellicose as Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
As a senator from New York and as secretary of state, Clinton was very much in favor of wars wherever we could find them. According to her own memoirs, she even was a hawk as first lady, pushing Bill Clinton to bomb sites in Yugoslavia.
As I write in a new column at The Daily Beast,
As secretary of state, she rarely missed an opportunity to back more and bigger interventions. "Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war," wrote Michael Crowley in Time in 2014. "She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama's expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration's most reliable advocate for military action." That's exactly the reason why Republican John "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" McCain joked to The New Republic that it would be a "tough choice" for him if the presidency came down to Clinton or the libertarian-leaning dove Rand Paul. "We came, we saw, he died," Clinton herself joked to CBS News after the death of Moammar Qaddafi in the wake of bombing runs joined by the United States. Even after Libya was plunged into utter chaos and has become a "safe haven" for ISIS, Clinton still calls our intervention there "smart power at its best." Which raises the question: What could dumb power possibly look like?
Clinton exemplifies the conflation of American foreign policy with military power, which is a dangerous and largely unobserved development since World War II. To the extent that it made sense during the Cold War, it is a relic of a geopolitical reality (and serious threat in the form of the Soviet Union) that simply no longer exists. Islamic terrorism is a problem and so is instability in the Middle East (which we kicked up to the next level and beyond). Russia and China have interests that don't align perfectly with ours, but this isn't 1949 or even 1989. But the military-industrial complex identified by Dwight Eisenhower, who knew a little about waging war, has a logic all its own.
"Since the beginning of the Cold War, we built up a very substantial military," Gordon Adams, a professor emeritus of international politics at American University and former Bill Clinton adviser on security and military budgets, told me recently in an interview. "To some degree ever since then, the instinct in American policy has been to say that the most useful tool to reach for to demonstrate American leadership, to demonstrate American commitment, to demonstrate American capacity, is our military capability."
At tonight's debate, I doubt any of the Republicans will take Clinton to task for being too hawkish (Ted Cruz might slip in a Libya-related jibe and then muddy the waters by talking about how the Obama administration left Iraq and Afghanistan too soon or is committed to the destruction of the American Dream and the amnestying of Mexicans). Which means that come November and in regards to foreign policy, we'll likely have a choice between Republicans who want to start more wars as a matter of principle and a Democrat who has a proven track record of supporting wars. Which isn't that much of a choice.
Related: "Which President Bombed Iraq Best?"