As Hillary Clinton puts together what she hopes will be a winning coalition in November, many progressives remain wary — but she has the war hawks firmly behind her.
“I would say all Republican foreign policy professionals are anti-Trump,” leading neoconservative Robert Kagan told a group gathered around him, groupie-style, at a “foreign policy professionals for Hillary” fundraiser I attended last week. “I would say that a majority of people in my circle will vote for Hillary.”
As the co-founder of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, Kagan played a leading role in pushing for America’s unilateral invasion of Iraq and insisted for years afterward that it had turned out great.
Despite the catastrophic effects of that war, Kagan insisted at last week’s fundraiser that U.S. foreign policy over the last 25 years has been “an extraordinary success.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s know-nothing isolationism has led many neocons to flee the Republican ticket. And some, like Kagan, are actively helping Clinton, whose hawkishness in many ways resembles their own.
The event raised $25,000 for Clinton. Two rising stars in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, Amanda Sloat and Julianne Smith, also spoke.
The way they described Clinton’s foreign policy vision suggested that if elected president in November, she will escalate tensions with Russia, double down on military belligerence in the Middle East, and generally ignore the American public’s growing hostility to intervention.
Sloat, the former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, boasted that Clinton will be “more interventionist and forward-leaning than Obama’s been” in Syria. She also applauded Clinton for doing intervention the right way, through coalitions instead of the unilateral aggression that defined the Bush years.
“Nothing that [Clinton] did was more clear than the NATO coalition that she built to defend civilians in Libya,” said Sloat, referencing the Obama administration’s overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. That policy, spearheaded by Clinton, has transformed a once-stable state into a lawless haven for extremist groups from across the region, including ISIS.
Kagan has advocated for muscular American intervention in Syria; Clinton’s likely pick for Pentagon chief, Michelle Flournoy, has similarly agitated for redirecting U.S. airstrikes in Syria toward ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Smith told the audience that unlike Trump, Clinton “understands the importance of deterring Russian aggression,” which is why “I’ll sleep better with her in the chair.” She is a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.
Smith left the government to become senior vice president of Beacon Global Strategies, a high-powered bipartisan consulting group founded by former high-ranking national security officials.
When Robbie Martin, a filmmaker who recently produced a three-part documentary on the neoconservative movement, asked how Clinton plans to deal with Ukraine, Kagan responded enthusiastically.
“I know Hillary cares more about Ukraine than the current president does,” Kagan replied. “[Obama] said to me [that he wouldn’t arm Ukraine because] he doesn’t want a nuclear war with Russia,” he added, rolling his eyes dismissively. “I don’t think Obama cares about Putin anymore at all. I think he’s hopeless.”
Kagan is married to Victoria Nuland, the Obama administration’s hardline assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. Nuland, who would likely serve in a senior position in a Clinton administration, supports shipping weapons to Ukraine despite major opposition from European countries and concerns about the neo-Nazi elements those weapons would empower.
Another thing neoconservatives and liberal hawks have in common is confidence that the foreign policy establishment is right, and the growing populist hostility to military intervention is naïve and uninformed.
Kagan complained that Americans are “so focused on the things that have gone wrong in recent years, they miss the sort of basic underlying unusual quality of the international order that we’ve been living in.
“It’s not just Donald Trump,” Kagan said. “I think you can find in both parties a very strong sense that we don’t need to be out there anymore.”
“If, as I hope, Hillary Clinton is elected, she is going to immediately be confronting a country that is not where she is,” he said. “She is a believer in this world order. But a great section of the country is not and is going to require persuasion and education.”
Sloat agreed, arguing that “it’s dangerous” for people to draw anti-interventionist lessons from Libya and Iraq.
The Clinton-neocon partnership was solidified by Trump becoming the Republican nominee. But their affinity for each other has grown steadily over time.
The neoconservative Weekly Standard celebrated Clinton’s 2008 appointment as secretary of state as a victory for the right, hailing her transformation from “First Feminist” to “Warrior Queen, more Margaret Thatcher than Gloria Steinem.”
But the fundraiser was perhaps the most outward manifestation yet of the convergence between the Democratic foreign policy establishment and the neoconservative movement.
Hannah Morris of the liberal pro-Israel lobbying group J Street celebrated this bipartisanship as a “momentous occasion.”
“We could not be more proud to have [Kagan] here today,” she said.