Hillary Clinton remains an unrepentant hawk, but insists her track record of supporting American military intervention abroad is less likely to lead to conflict than what Donald Trump says on Twitter.
That is the argument Clinton advanced Thursday in what was billed as a major foreign policy address but more frequently devolved into a critique of Trump's social media habits.
"Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle," Clinton said. "Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he's angry, but America's entire arsenal."
It's a good line, and Trump does often make statements that are counterproductive or inflammatory. But we don't have to imagine Clinton sending our spouses or children into battle, under circumstances that advanced neither our vital national interests nor our security. She has already done so multiple times and should not be let off the hook because of Trump's tweets.
While a senator from New York, Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq war, a decision her primary opponent rightly calls a "blunder" indicative of "bad judgment." Thousands of brave Americans died and trillions in taxpayer dollars were spent in a conflict that lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War II in order to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons he did not have.
Afterward the type of Islamic radicals who attacked America on 9/11 had more power in the region, not less. The Islamic republic of Iran had more power, not less. Iraq could only be held together by troops deployed not to keep foreign nationals from killing Americans, but to keep foreign nationals from killing each other.
Clinton, like most Americans, now concedes that the Iraq war was a mistake. But she did not turn against it until after this was already apparent to most of her party and vast swathes of the general public.
It was a mistake Clinton eagerly repeated as secretary of state, when she was one of the main proponents within the Obama administration of regime change in Libya. "We came, we saw, he died," she said of ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Unfortunately, Qaddafi was not alone. Since the military intervention in Libya, the country has descended into chaos and teemed with violence. In addition to the four Americans who were brutally murdered in Benghazi, many innocent Libyans have died.
Even President Barack Obama, Clinton's boss and the man who ultimately signed off on the Libya mission, admits "now it's kind of a mess."
Such a mess, in fact, that some national security experts have taken to calling Libya "Woodstock" for jihadists. It seems the only lesson Clinton learned from Iraq was to avoid politically unpopular "boots on the ground." But destabilizing countries by overthrowing even evil dictators often unleashes even worst forces, as ISIS runs wild in Libya just as it did in Iraq beforehand.
If politicians like Clinton failed to put Iraq back together again, they did not even try in Libya. Nor did Obama and Clinton even bother to seek congressional authorization for this intervention.
Undeterred, Clinton has pushed for greater U.S. military involvement in Syria, where regime change could once again empower the forces of jihadism and terror. She ridiculed Trump not only for his more outlandish foreign policy pronouncements but also his appreciation of the limits of what we can accomplish through war and the need to turn away from intervention toward self-protection.
"Take out the Iran deal stuff," Commentary editor John Podhoretz wrote of Clinton's anti-Trump foreign policy remarks, "and it's a Rubio speech." That's Marco Rubio, the hawkish Florida senator who railed against "isolationism" in the Republican Party while unsuccessfully seeking its presidential nomination.
Trump is maddening to those of us who favor greater restraint in the use of military force. He balances every sensible thing he says about foreign policy with something indefensible; he undermines salient criticisms of Clinton's conduct in Iraq and Libya by exaggerating his own prescience on these topics.
And when Trump could repeat some of these reasonable criticisms in response to Clinton's speech, he instead tweets about her teleprompter reading skills.
But from Kosovo under President Bill Clinton to the civil war in Syria today, Clinton has been a consistent voice for military adventurism, ignoring consequences and costs. As she warns us against letting her Republican opponent's "finger anywhere near the nuclear button," let's not forget how itchy her own trigger finger has been for going on two decades.