Hillary Clinton’s Real Scandal Is Honduras, Not Benghazi
Clinton's Central American foreign policy blunder ought to darken her presidential prospects.
Is it too soon to predict who will be the next president of the United States?
Without officially declaring her intention to run again, Hillary Clinton has cornered Democratic frontrunner status. Given the weak and crowded Republican field, that makes her the presumptive next occupant of a prestigious office lacking — as comedian Jon Stewart observes — any corners.
Clinton’s apparent unbeatability this time around helps explain the right-wing hysteria over the Benghazi tragedy. The conspiracy theories about the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya amount to a desperate effort to discredit the Democratic Party’s strong centrist candidate. It’s no surprise that this ploy isn’t making a dent on her popularity.
What beats me is why more Democrats aren’t deeply troubled by the legacy of Clinton’s foreign policy blunder in Honduras.
Maybe you’ve forgotten what happened in that small country in the first year of the Obama administration — more on that in a moment. But surely you’ve noticed the ugly wave of xenophobia greeting a growing number of Central American child refugees arriving on our southern border.
Some of President Barack Obama’s supporters are trying to blame this immigration crisis on the Bush administration because of an anti-trafficking law George W. signed in 2008 specifically written to protect Central American children, which preceded the uptick in their arrivals. But which country is the top source of kids crossing the border? Honduras, home to the world’s highest murder rate, Latin America’s worst economic inequality, and a repressive, U.S.-backed government.
When Honduran military forces allied with rightist lawmakers ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, then-Secretary of State Clinton sided with the armed forces and fought global pressure to reinstate him.
Washington wields great influence over Honduras, thanks to the numerous military bases built with U.S. funds where training and joint military and anti-drug operations take place. Since the coup, nearly $350 million in U.S. assistance, including more than $50 million in military aid, has poured into the country.
That’s a lot of investment in a nation where the police, the military, and private security forces are killing people with alarming frequency and impunity, according to Human Rights Watch.
That wouldn’t give Republicans a big advantage, of course. Until they stop alienating a majority of female voters and communities of color, I find it hard to see the party of Mitt Romney and John McCain winning the White House.
Given the Democratic Party’s demographic edge, progressives have nothing to lose by seizing on the GOP field’s weakness and pressing for a viable alternative to another Clinton administration. Senator Elizabeth Warren could prove a contender. Unfortunately, the consumer-rights firebrand and Massachusetts Democrat lacks any foreign policy experience.
And foreign policy is no afterthought these days. Israel — the recipient of $3.1 billion a year in U.S. military aid — is waging a ground war in Gaza, and the stakes in the Russia-Ukraine conflict just grew following the downing of that Malaysia Airlines jet. Plus, Iraq is growing more violent and unstable once more. On all these issues, Clinton is more hawkish than most of the Democratic base.
But other Democrats with a wide range of liberal credentials and foreign policy expertise are signaling some interest in running, especially if Clinton ultimately sits out the race.
Even if Clinton does win in 2016, a serious progressive primary challenge could help shape her presidency. As more and more Honduran kids cross our border in search of a safe haven, voters should take a good look at her track record at the State Department and reconsider the inevitability of another Clinton administration.
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