If Hillary Clinton’s latest book, “Hard Choices,” was not an obvious enough sign of her presidential aspirations, then her recent Washington Post review of Henry Kissinger’s new book, “World Order,” seems to have sealed the deal. In it, Clinton builds on her already hawkish tenure as secretary of state to prove she can bang the drums of war harder than President Obama and that she can embrace a diplomatic approach so iron-fisted as to put her in the same league as a man that Christopher Hitchens called “a war criminal.”
Clinton begins by asserting that Kissinger’s view of the world is in line with hers and Obama’s because it “largely fits with the broad strategy behind the Obama administration’s effort over the past six years to build a global architecture of security and cooperation for the 21st century.” She continues in this same vein later, proudly stating that “what comes through clearly in this new book is a conviction that we, and President Obama, share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.”
Kissinger was Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state—a position he continued under President Gerald Ford. There have been books written (Hitchens, Gary J. Bass, Lubna Z. Qureshi), a film made by Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney based on Hitchens’ book, and countless articles (such as this one), published on the subject of Kissinger’s criminality during his policymaking years. Yet Clinton calls him a “friend” whose counsel she “relied” upon while she served as secretary of state under Obama from 2009 to 2013. She makes no mention of how her opinion of him has obviously evolved from the critical views she held in her youth.
It appears as though Clinton worries about appearing “soft” on foreign policy. She explains how, as secretary of state, she “us[ed] all the tools of foreign policy, even those sometimes dismissed as ‘soft.’ ” Her review sends a clear message that she can be just as tough as Kissinger, and tougher than Obama.
There are other hints. In Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg’s analysis last month of Clinton’s foreign policy, based on an interview with Clinton, he writes that “she finds [Obama’s] approach to foreign policy overly cautious, and she made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good.” And of course, Clinton wants to be that leader.
Unfettered by a hesitant Obama, Clinton as president hints that she would wade into conflicts with guns blazing. She has openly chastised Obama for failing to fund rebel groups early on in Syria’s civil war, thereby enabling, in her mind, the rise of the brutal Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has emerged as the new lynchpin of a renewed U.S. war strategy in northern Iraq and possibly Syria. But the group is seen by some as the predictable outcome of an overly aggressive U.S. foreign policy that included invasion, occupation and the creation of a government—similar to the policies championed by Kissinger in countries like Chile. If anything, the emergence of ISIS should be a warning sign against interference.
Working under Obama, Clinton oversaw and pushed for U.S. and NATO intervention in Libya. The results of that disastrous operation are apparent today as the post-NATO Libyan parliament has fled the capital city of Tripoli, which has been taken over by rebel groups. Although the U.S. news media may not be splashing the Libyan debacle on the front pages of newspapers, Libya is perhaps the clearest example of Clinton’s foreign policy leadership. Clinton also served as secretary of state during the height of the U.S.’ drone wars championed by Obama in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. None of those countries are safer places today.
Those who were dismayed by the recent 50-day Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza, in which 2,100 people were killed even as the U.S. replenished Israeli weapons, shouldn’t hold their breath for a Clinton presidency that would be anything but in lockstep with Israeli policy. She showed unwavering support for Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, going as far as to address international criticism of Israel by saying, “I don’t know a nation … that hasn’t made errors, but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas,” and then throwing in, “You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism.” So extreme were her statements on Israel that journalist Glenn Greenwald challenged his readers with a quiz to try to guess who made certain statements first, Clinton or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Judging by her words, Clinton is an apologist for power and empire. If Israel’s “mistakes” can be blamed on Hamas, then the U.S.’ will certainly not waver her position if she is president. Take her assessment of American history in The Atlantic interview:
You know, we did a good job in containing the Soviet Union but we made a lot of mistakes, we supported really nasty guys, we did some things that we are not particularly proud of, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, but we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism. That was our objective. We achieved it.
In other words, the U.S. did some unconscionable things, but hey, at least in the end that worked out well for American power!
Channeling the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s defense of capitalism (“There is no alternative”), Clinton states with conviction in her book review that “there really is no viable alternative. No other nation can bring together the necessary coalitions and provide the necessary capabilities to meet today’s complex global threats.” This type of American exceptionalism is precisely what Kissinger’s approach to the world is based on. The belief that the U.S. alone has the capability of solving world conflicts has by and large dominated American foreign policy, and with disastrous results, as the last few wars have shown. Clinton’s review of Kissinger’s book can be viewed as her foreign policy manifesto, coming at a time when she is on the verge of formally launching her presidential campaign. The idea that the U.S. alone can and must step in to staunch conflict when it emerges is not only dangerous, it obscures the brazen power grabs and access to resources that too often guide Washington.
As part of her argument that there is no alternative to U.S. power, Clinton claims “the things that make us who we are as a nation—our diverse and open society, our devotion to human rights and democratic values—give us a singular advantage in building a future in which the forces of freedom and cooperation prevail over those of division, dictatorship and destruction.” But a cursory review of U.S. relationships with countries such as Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, to name a few, belies the notion that U.S. policy is driven by lofty ideas of human rights and democracy. In fact, it is division in Iraq, dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and destruction by Israel that the U.S. has nurtured. The acquisition of power and to that end, a hypocritical attachment to the ideals of democracy, are what dictate American foreign policy.
Shamelessly, Clinton also plays the gender card, writing in her review that “our levers of leadership are ... about advancing the rights and role of women and girls.” This was exactly the sentiment that was publicly adopted by George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush in the early days of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. But American promises to save women from their brutal leaders proved hollow when U.S.-backed replacements in both countries proved to be just as misogynistic, if not more so, than their predecessors.
Clinton seems to concede that it is less the actual devotion to human rights and more the appearance of devotion that really matters. “If our might helps secure the balance of power that underpins the international order,” she writes, “our values and principles help make it acceptable and attractive to others.” In other words, values make good propaganda and provide cover for war. And that is part of what she attempts to achieve in writing her review of Kissinger’s book: “It becomes our responsibility to show as well as tell what American leadership looks like.”
Not counting direct quotes from Kissinger’s book, and the mentions of his book title, Clinton’s review uses the word “order” 10 times within phrases such as the “international order,” the “global order,” a “rules-based order,” an “effective regional order” and a “just and liberal order.” Clearly order, like Kissinger in his book, is what Clinton promises as president. And order, as U.S. history has shown, means the domination of American power.
I agree with her sentiment near the end of her review where she writes, “A real national dialogue is the only way we’re going to rebuild a political consensus to take on the perils and the promise of the 21st century.” My hope is that providing an honest context for her foreign policy can add to that dialogue.
When Barack Obama ran for president, he promised to withdraw troops from Iraq, but he also promised to deepen the Afghanistan War. Somehow that second promise was ignored by voters weary of the Bush doctrine. Perhaps they can be forgiven for voting him into office the first time around. After all, a junior senator with a minimal track record was a convenient blank slate onto which to project our hopes. But Clinton is not only openly fawning over Kissinger’s ideas of a U.S.-dominated “World Order,” we have firsthand experience of her leadership in the State Department. When she announces her presidential bid, we must greet it with a strong dose of reality and an understanding that she promises to go where even Obama has not dared.