Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton this morning delivered a foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington. By itself, the choice of the venue was revealing.
Brookings served as Ground Zero for centrist think tank advocacy of the Iraq War, which Clinton (along with potential rival Joe Biden) notoriously and vehemently advocated. Brookings’ two leading “scholar”-stars — Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon — spent all of 2002 and 2003 insisting that invading Iraq was wise and just, and spent the years after that assuring Americans that the “victorious” war and subsequent occupation were going really well (in April 2003, O’Hanlon debated with himself over whether the strategy that led to the “victory” in his beloved war should be deemed “brilliant” or just extremely “clever,” while in June 2003, Pollack assured New York Times readers that Saddam’s WMD would be found).
Since then, O’Hanlon in particular has advocated for increased military force in more countries than one can count. That’s not surprising: Brookings is funded in part by one of the Democratic Party’s favorite billionaires, Haim Saban, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel and once said of himself: “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.” Pollack advocated for the attack on Iraq while he was “Director of Research of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.” Saban became the Democratic Party’s largest fundraiser — even paying $7 million for the new DNC building — and is now a very substantial funder of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In exchange, she’s written a personal letter to him publicly “expressing her strong and unequivocal support for Israel in the face of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement.”
So the hawkish Brookings is the prism through which Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy worldview can be best understood. The think tank is filled with former advisers to both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and would certainly provide numerous top-level foreign policy officials in any Hillary Clinton administration. As she put it today at the start: “There are a lot of long-time friends and colleagues who perch here at Brookings.” And she proceeded to deliver exactly the speech one would expect, reminding everyone of just how militaristic and hawkish she is.
The context for her speech was the Iran Deal, which Clinton supports. It would be virtually impossible for her not to do so — there is no way anyone could win the Democratic nomination while opposing a key foreign policy legacy of the sitting Democratic president — but, regardless of the motives, she has the right position on that. But that deal is vehemently opposed by AIPAC and of grave concern to the hawkish foreign policy circles on which she has long depended, and so the core purpose of the speech was to assure those nervous precincts that, despite the Iran Deal support, she’s still the same aggressive, war-threatening, obsessively Israel-devoted, bellicose hawk they’ve grown to know and love.
To achieve that, Clinton repeatedly invoked the Netanyahu-cartoon image of Iran as a Grave and Evil Terrorist Menace. This was her formulation of the issue she seeks to address: “how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and more broadly, how to protect ourselves and our allies from the full range of threats that Iran poses.” She even compared the country to the Supreme Villain of the Moment: “Iran, like ISIS, benefits from chaos and strife.”
Clinton proclaimed that she “too [is] deeply concerned about Iranian aggression and the need to confront it. It’s a ruthless, brutal regime that has the blood of Americans, many others and including its own people on its hands.” Even worse, she said, “Its political rallies resound with cries of ‘Death to America.’ Its leaders talk about wiping Israel off the face of the map, most recently just yesterday, and foment terror against it. There is absolutely no reason to trust Iran.” She repeated that claim several times for emphasis: “They vow to destroy Israel. And that’s worth saying again. They vow to destroy Israel.”
She vowed that in dealing with Iran, she will be tougher and more aggressive than Reagan was with the Soviet Union: “You remember President Reagan’s line about the Soviets: Trust but verify? My approach will be distrust and verify.” She also explicitly threatened Iran with war if they fail to comply: “I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon, and I will set up my successor to be able to credibly make the same pledge.” She even depicted the Iran Deal as making a future war with Iran easier and more powerful:
Should it become necessary in the future having exhausted peaceful alternatives to turn to military force, we will have preserved and in some cases enhanced our capacity to act. And because we have proven our commitment to diplomacy first, the world will more likely join us.
As for Israel itself, Clinton eagerly promised to shower it with a long, expensive, and dangerous list of gifts. Here’s just a part of what that country can expect from the second President Clinton:
I will deepen America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, including our long standing tradition of guaranteeing Israel’s qualitative military edge. I’ll increase support for Israeli rocket and missile defenses and for intelligence sharing. I’ll sell Israel the most sophisticated fire aircraft ever developed. The F-35. We’ll work together to develop and implement better tunnel detection technology to prevent arms smuggling and kidnapping as well as the strongest possible missile defense system for Northern Israel, which has been subjected to Hezbollah’s attacks for years.
She promised she “will sustain a robust military presence in the [Persian Gulf] region, especially our air and naval forces.” She vowed to “increase security cooperation with our Gulf allies” — by which she means the despotic regimes in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar, among others. She swore she will crack down even further on Hezbollah: “It’s time to eliminate the false distinction that some still make between the supposed political and military wings. If you’re part of Hezbollah, you’re part of a terrorist organization, plain and simple.”
Then she took the ultimate pledge: “I would not support this agreement for one second if I thought it put Israel in greater danger.” So even if the deal would benefit the U.S., she would not support it “for one second” if it “put Israel in greater danger.” That’s an unusually blunt vow to subordinate the interests of the U.S. to that foreign nation.
But when it comes to gifts to Israel, that’s not all! Echoing the vow of several GOP candidates to call Netanyahu right away after being elected, Clinton promised: “I would invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House during my first month in office to talk about all of these issues and to set us on a course of close, frequent consultation right from the start, because we both rely on each other for support as partners, allies and friends.” She then addressed “the people of Israel,” telling them: “Let me say, you’ll never have to question whether we’re with you. The United States will always be with you.” For good measure, she heaped praise on “my friend Chuck Schumer,” who has led the battle to defeat the Iran Deal, gushing about what an “excellent leader in the Senate” he will make. What’s a little warmongering among friends?
Just as was true in her book, she implicitly criticized Obama — who boasts that he has bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries — of being insufficiently militaristic, imperialistic, and violent. She said she wanted more involvement in Syria from the start (though did not call for the U.S. to accept any of its refugees). In a clear rebuke to the current president, she decreed that any criticisms U.S. officials may utter of Israel should be done only in private (“in private and behind, you know, closed doors”), not in public, lest “it open the door to everybody else to delegitimize Israel to, you know, pile on in ways that are not good for the — the strength and stability, not just of Israel.” About Russia, she said, “I think we have not done enough” and put herself “in the category of people who wanted us to do more in response to the annexation of Crimea and the continuing destabilization of Ukraine.”
The speech wasn’t all heinous. As I indicated, she did advocate for the Iran Deal and criticized GOP candidates for vowing to tear it up. More impressively, she offered a rare but needed admission that much of the world’s extremism comes not from Iran but from the U.S.’s second most cherished ally in the region: “Much of the extremism in the world today is the direct result of policies and funding undertaken by the Saudi government and individuals. We would be foolish not to recognize that.” That tracks Tom Friedman’s column from this week in which he admitted that “the title greatest ‘purveyors of radical Islam’ does not belong to the Iranians. Not even close. That belongs to our putative ally Saudi Arabia.”
But overall, the picture that the stern Iraq and Libya war advocate painted of herself was as clear as it was unsurprising and alarming: She resides on the hawkish, militaristic end of the Democratic Party when it comes to most foreign policy questions. But the real significance is this: If Hillary Clinton is already this hawkish and war-threatening while trying to fend off Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primary while bolstering her liberal credentials, imagine what she’s going to be doing and saying about all of this once she’s the Democratic nominee running against a Republican in the general election and, even scarier, once she occupies the Oval Office and, as far as the U.S. military is concerned, assumes the title of Commander-in-Chief.
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Two words that did not come out of Clinton’s mouth during the entire event: “Palestinians” (do they exist?) and “Libya” (that glorious war she supported that was going to be the inspiring template for future “humanitarian interventions” before it predictably destroyed that whole country).