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Ahead of Wednesday night's "Commander-in-Chief Forum" hosted by NBC News, the candidates' respective efforts expose what critics are decrying as a bi-partisan race to the bottom on militarism, endless war, and reckless spending. (Photo: BBC collage)

Gathering Up the Generals, Clinton and Trump Compete for Best Imperialist

"Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are unabashed militarists, seeing no shame or dysfunction in America’s wars overseas, and seemingly promising to escalate current wars or begin new ones."

Jon Queally

Exactly how many retired generals will it take to win the U.S. presidency in 2016?

On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton's campaign announced how 95 former generals and admirals have given the Democratic candidate their support.

Just a day prior, Donald Trump came up just a bit shorter when his campaign touted a letter signed by 88 former military leaders backing his presidential bid.

Those backing Trump indicated their opposition to Clinton stems mostly from a belief that she was "deeply involved with, and substantially responsible for, the hollowing out of our military" and that Trump would represent the "long-overdue course correction" the nation's armed forces need. Specifically, their letter championed Trump's "commitment to rebuild our military, to secure our borders, to defeat our Islamic supremacist adversaries and restore law and order domestically."

So while Clinton slams Trump's foreign policy for featuring Nixonian "secret plans" to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) and openly advocated torture, Trump attacks the former secretary of state as being "trigger-happy"—with a record to prove it.

During a speech in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Trump seized on Clinton's notoriously hawkish record—including her vote to invade Iraq in 2003, her leadership in the 2011 overthrow of the Libyan government, and her ongoing and highly problematic call to impose a no-fly zone in Syria—by saying that "sometimes it seems like there wasn’t a country in the Middle East Clinton didn’t want to invade."

Attacking his credentials, meanwhile, the Clinton campaign continues to paint Trump as "unfit" to command the military and someone who would somehow bolster demonized foreign leaders like Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un. "Trump’s policies are made even more terrifying," argued the campaign, "by the casual attitude with which he looks at war—and by his refusal to 'take any…cards off the table,' including nuclear weapons."

So while Clinton slams Trump's foreign policy for featuring Nixonian "secret plans" to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) and openly advocated torture, Trump attacks the former secretary of state as being "trigger-happy"—with a record to prove it.

However, ahead of Wednesday night's "Commander-in-Chief Forum" hosted by NBC News, the candidates' respective efforts expose what critics are decrying as a bi-partisan race to the bottom on militarism, endless war, and reckless spending.

Though Trump—given his professional experience as a real estate developer and reality television star—lacks a tangible foreign affairs record and has no military experience to speak of, that doesn't mean he hasn't sparked intense worry among voters and policy experts with his rhetoric about bombing "the shit out of" perceived enemies or his casual talk about the use of nuclear weapons.

According to Matthew Hoh, a retired U.S. marine officer and director of the Peacemaking Program for the advocacy group RootsAction.org, neither the Republican nor Democratic candidate provide much hope when it comes to ending the nation's overseas misadventures.

"As Americans head to the polls in a couple of months," Hoh said in a statement on Wednesday, "the two major parties share at least one thing in common: both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are unabashed militarists, seeing no shame or dysfunction in America’s wars overseas, and seemingly promising to escalate current wars or begin new ones."

As Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, put it in a column that appeared on Common Dreams in June, this election—when it comes to foreign policy issues—can ultimately be viewed as a selection between variant grades of poison. He wrote:

The sad fact is that American voters this November will probably be forced to choose between a Republican nominee who thinks the United States should ban Muslims from entering the country versus a Democratic nominee who thinks the United States has a right to invade Muslim countries; a Republican nominee who agrees with George W. Bush that it’s okay to torture prisoners in the name of fighting terrorism versus a Democratic nominee who agrees with Benjamin Netanyahu that it’s okay to bombard crowded civilian neighborhoods in the name of fighting terrorism; a Republican nominee who supports building a wall on the border to keep Mexicans out of the United States versus a Democratic nominee who supports Israel building a wall far beyond its border to keep Palestinians out of Palestine.

Written during the waning days of the primary season, Zunes argued in his piece that the insurgent primary campaign of Bernie Sanders had forced Clinton to tone down her hawkish rhetoric while Trump was forced to "exaggerate" his dovish tendencies as he attacked the pro-war positions of his more traditional GOP rivals.

But those primary races are now over.

And though neither candidate presents an appeasing choice for those interested in seeing a reduced U.S. military footprint, Zunes observes that ultimate changes in foreign policy postures have much less to do with who serves as the commander-in-chief than they do with the demands being made and pressure being applied by an engaged American public.

"Elections are important," he concluded. "Yet just as important are the other forms of pressure we can provide to force a saner and less militaristic foreign policy."


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