If the emotional highlight of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions was Khizr Khan's remembrance of his son's death fighting for the United States in Iraq, the scariest speech of the last couple of weeks also involved military topics.
In Philadelphia, the former Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, retired Gen. John Allen, delivered a bombastic lecture in which he endorsed Hillary Clinton on the grounds that she alone was capable of opposing tyranny and evil via military interventions around the world.
"With Hillary Clinton as our commander-in-chief," he shouted in language that doubtless warmed the hearts of interventionists of both major parties, "the United States will continue to be that indispensable, transformational power in the world." Not only that, but the Pentagon would be able to relax, knowing that the military-industrial complex would never have to pinch pennies: "Our armed forces will be stronger. They will have the finest weapons, the greatest equipment."
Amazingly, such balls-out hawkishness, delivered loudly at the highest-decibel level possible, garnered relatively little in the way of commentary or protest except in the Wells Fargo Arena itself. Anti-war activists started chants of "No More Wars," but were quickly muffled by other attendees—and Allen himself from the podium—counter-chanting "USA! USA! USA!" (fearing pro-Bernie Sanders protests, the DNC had actually handed out directions to Clinton delegates on how to silence commotion).
Writing at Foreign Policy, Duke University's Peter Feaver, criticized the practice of retired military officers speaking at conventions, arguing that
a crucial pillar of…respect [for the military] is the belief that the military self-consciously and purposefully stands outside of partisan politics…. The very act of wading into partisan politics while also pretending to be above partisan politics politicizes the military and risks undermining public confidence in this vital institution.
While noting retired "Lt. General Mike Flynn's rambling but bitterly partisan speech at the Republican National Convention last week in Cleveland," Feaver singled out Allen's remarks as particularly "corrosive" to respect for the military.
From the cringe-worthy faux cadence march out on to stage, to the awkward chants of "USA," to the shouted delivery — all of it reflected an explicit rejection of the idea that the military should stand above and apart from partisan politics.
For my money, the absolute lowest point was when Allen explicitly called on the active uniformed military to join in the political campaign: "Every American in uniform, in the White House or at home…. USA! USA! … we must be a force for unity in America, for a vision that includes all of us, all of us…." It is hard to craft a more politicized call for the military to join in partisan politics than that. And it is hard to find a bigger stage from which to make such a disturbing appeal than just before the candidate accepts her nomination.
It is nothing short of remarkable that Hillary Clinton's interventionist foreign policy has sparked relatively little pushback among Democrats, who during the Bush years considered themselves to be relatively anti-war. Indeed, in vague but unmistakable ways, Barack Obama ran in 2008 as a peace candidate, opposing "dumb wars" before tripling troop strength in Afghanistan, pushing on in Iraq, and upping the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists in countries with which the United States was not at war. As Matt Welch has noted, a good deal of Bernie Sanders' appeal to Democratic primary voters was rooted in his rejection of Obama-Bush foreign policy. In his negotiations to support the Clinton campaign, Sanders may have won promises to expand Medicare and Social Security and to create an entitlement for free public-college tuition, but he simply dropped any and all public criticisms of the former Secretary of State's interventionism.
Between Allen's pro-war speech and what Thaddeus Russell recently called "Hillary Clinton's Dangerously Coherent Foreign Policy," the DNC was a celebration of the most full-throated Wilsonian internationalism. As Russell put it at Reason.com,
Clinton herself has never seen an opportunity for American military intervention she didn't like. As Secretary of State she was the most enthusiastic of all of Obama's senior civilian advisors about the plan for a surge of troops into Afghanistan in 2009, and in 2011 she led the "humanitarian interventionists" in the administration who persuaded Obama to bomb Libya. In his comprehensive review of her work in the Obama administration, James Traub of Foreign Policy concludes that "at bottom, Clinton was a reflexive advocate of the military."
If and when Clinton becomes president and the United States remains embroiled in military actions that cause far more problems than they solve, the one thing we won't be able to do is pretend that she somehow hid the ball on this score.
Related from The New York Times Magazine: "How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk."
Here's a transcript of Allen's speech:
My fellow Americans, I stand with you tonight as a retired four-star general of the United States Marine Corps, and I am joined by my fellow generals and admirals, and with these magnificent young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
They went there and they risked their lives because they love this country.
They are here before you because this is the most consequential election is the greatest one in our memory for the president of the United States.
The stakes are enormous.
We must not, we could not stand on the sidelines.
This election can carry us to a future of unity and hope or to a dark place of discord and fear.
We must choose hope.
Every American in uniform, in the White House or at home – USA! USA! USA! – we must be a force for unity in America, for a vision that includes all of us. All of us. Every man and woman, every race, every ethnicity, every faith and creed, including the Americans who are our precious Muslims. And every gender and every gender orientation.
All of us together – all of us together – pursuing our common values.
My fellow Americans, from the battlefield to the capitals of our allies and friends and partners, the free peoples of the world look to America as the last best hope for peace and for liberty for all humankind, for we are the greatest country on this planet.
So we stand before you tonight to endorse Hillary Clinton for president of the United States of America.
We trust her judgment. We trust in her judgment.
We believe in her vision for a united America.
We believe in her vision of America as the just and strong leader against the forces of hatred, the forces of chaos and darkness.
We know that she – as no other – knows how to use all instruments of American power, not just the military, to keep us all safe and free.
My fellow Americans, I tell you without any hesitation or reservation that Hillary Clinton will be exactly – exactly – the kind of commander-in-chief America needs.
I know this because I served with her.
I know this as the former Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS.
With her as our commander-in-chief, America will continue to lead in this volatile world.
We will oppose and resist tyranny as we will defeat evil.
America will defeat ISIS and protect the homeland.
America will honor our treaty obligations.
We will lead and strengthen NATO and the Atlantic Alliance, and our allies in East Asia and around the world whom we have sworn a solemn oath to defend.
My fellow Americans, we will stop the spread of nuclear weapons and keep them from the hands of dangerous states and groups.
Our armed forces will be stronger. They will have the finest weapons, the greatest equipment. They will have the support of the American people – you – and the American military will continue to be the shining example of America at our very best.
Our veterans will be thanked by a grateful nation, and they will be cared for in the manner they deserve for the sacrifices they have made for all of us, for this great country, and for world peace.
But I also know that with her as our commander-in-chief, our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction.
I also know our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture, and they will not be ordered to engage in murder or carry out other illegal activities.
With Hillary Clinton as our commander-in-chief, the United States will continue to be that indispensable, transformational power in the world.
To our allies and our friends and our partners. Listen closely. We are with you. America will not abandon you.
To those acting against peace, civilization and the world order: We will oppose you.
And to our enemies – to our enemies – we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us.
And to ISIS and others: We will defeat you.
Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Americans, my fellow veterans, this is the moment. This is the opportunity for our future and that of the world.
We must seize this moment to elect Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America!
Thank you! And God bless you and God bless America!