Vanity Foreign Policy

Anyone who thinks a President Hillary Clinton would be less of a hawk than was Senator Hillary Clinton might want to take a look at Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview of her. Yeah, I know, its Jeffrey Goldberg. And a lot of what HRC is saying here is obvious pre-campaign posturing and not necessarily what she really thinks. As Betty Cracker wrote,

That said, my major concern about HRC is her hawkishness. That’s why I supported Obama instead of HRC back in 2008 — he recognized the Iraq War as “stupid shit” from the beginning; she didn’t.

The remark highlighted above doesn’t tell us much about Clinton’s organizing principles. When Goldberg questioned her directly on it, her response was “peace, progress and prosperity,” which could have come from a Miss World pageant script.

Like I said, pre-campaign posturing. She’s creating some space between herself and the Obama Administration she served as Secretary of State.

Digby wrote of the interview, “This is a very scary interview. Much more hardcore than I expected.” I don’t know what to expect from HRC, but she seems to be staying in what is (to her) familiar hawkish territory, so that her opponents can’t attack her for being some kind of leftie peacenik. This ought to tell us that we can’t assume she’s not the same HRC of 2002 who voted for the Iraq war resolution.

Goldberg also wrote,

Much of my conversation with Clinton focused on the Gaza war. She offered a vociferous defense of Israel, and of its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well. This is noteworthy because, as secretary of state, she spent a lot of time yelling at Netanyahu on the administration’s behalf over Israel’s West Bank settlement policy. Now, she is leaving no daylight at all between the Israelis and herself.

“I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets,” she told me. “Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult.”

I so hope she’s not the nominee in 2016.

HRC’s prime criticism of the Obama Administration is that the current crisis in Iraq arose because the U.S. did not do enough to support Syrian rebels. However, via Booman, Patrick Cockburn makes a strong argument that just the opposite is true. HRC says that events in Syria would have turned out differently had we done more to support Syrian moderates and work with our regional allies. Cockburn pretty much says that’s a fantasy.

The foster parents of Isis and the other Sunni jihadi movements in Iraq and Syria are Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This doesn’t mean the jihadis didn’t have strong indigenous roots, but their rise was crucially supported by outside Sunni powers. The Saudi and Qatari aid was primarily financial, usually through private donations, which Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, says were central to the Isis takeover of Sunni provinces in northern Iraq: ‘Such things do not happen spontaneously.’ In a speech in London in July, he said the Saudi policy towards jihadis has two contradictory motives: fear of jihadis operating within Saudi Arabia, and a desire to use them against Shia powers abroad. He said the Saudis are ‘deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shiadom’. It’s unlikely the Sunni community as a whole in Iraq would have lined up behind Isis without the support Saudi Arabia gave directly or indirectly to many Sunni movements. The same is true of Syria, where Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington and head of Saudi intelligence from 2012 to February 2014, was doing everything he could to back the jihadi opposition until his dismissal. Fearful of what they’ve helped create, the Saudis are now veering in the other direction, arresting jihadi volunteers rather than turning a blind eye as they go to Syria and Iraq, but it may be too late.

I’ve been saying that the Saudi monarchy can’t possibly want ISIS to keep getting stronger, because eventually it will come after them.

But if you read nothing else today (beside this post) be sure it’s U.S. Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel in the New York Times. And let us be clear which U.S. actions we’re talking about. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was radicalized during the American occupation of Iraq during the Bush Administration. U.S. forces actually picked him up with other jihadists in 2004, although there is disagreement whether he was released or kept in detention.

At every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.

In other words, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is George W. Bush’s war baby.

Finally, we come to that other morass of shameless pandering known as Sen. Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) doesn’t think the public has been sufficiently frightened about what is going on in the Middle East. On Sunday, he urged President Barack Obama to give a speech warning Americans that the United States faces a possible terrorist attack from Iraq or Syria.

Speaking to host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Graham repeatedly insisted on addressing his answers to Obama instead.

“So Mr. President, you have never once spoken directly to the American people about the threat we face from being attacked from Syria, now Iraq. What is your strategy to stop these people from attacking the homeland? They have expressed a desire to do so,” he said.

No one with any actual knowledge of what’s going on in the Middle East thinks “these people” are capable of “attacking the homeland,” even if they have expressed a desire to do so. “Expressing a desire” and “capability” are two things our adventures in Iraq ought to have taught us to be clear about, since the current threat happened because the Bush Administration insisted Saddam Hussein was a direct threat to the United States at a time when there was actually not much left of him but bluff and bluster.

In short, if we hadn’t let the Bushies frighten us into invading Iraq we wouldn’t be talking about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi now. And I suspect Lindsey Graham is bright enough to know that. But like many other righties he has built his political career on bluff and bluster, so if he wants to keep his job he’s got to keep fanning the flames.

And wouldn’t it be nice if our foreign policy could be based on something beside shameless pandering and posturing to gain election advantage at home? If it could be based on, you know, what is actually true of those troublesome foreign places? This may be representative democracy’s greatest weakness — it’s easier to get elected by stoking ignorance than by being honest.