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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. Despite conventional wisdom, asks Bloom,  just how nuanced and progressive is Clinton’s global perspective? (Photo: Seth Wenig/AP)

'Terrorism for Dummies': Clinton’s Neo-Conservativsm Is Simply Dangerous

Peter Bloom

A supposedly key advantage of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president is her superior knowledge of foreign policy. Conventional political wisdom suggests that her time as Senator and Secretary of State provides her with an edge over her less experienced rivals – in either Party.

This is despite the fact that as a lawmaker she made “the mistake” of voting for the Iraq war and her significant lack of achievements as Secretary. A legitimate question is just how nuanced and progressive Clinton’s global perspective actually is.

Her much heralded recent speech on fighting ISIS reveals her in fact dangerously simplified view of terrorism and international relations. It is one where the world is divided between “good guys” (The US, Europe and its allies) and the “bad guys” (the terrorists and extremists). This reactionary rhetoric may appeal to many Americans but it makes the US and the world much less safe.

A Dangerously Simple World View

Her remarks centered on creating an aggressive short and long term strategy for combatting terrorism at home and abroad. She declared:

“Our strategy should have three main elements. One, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq and across the Middle East; two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist     infrastructure that facilitates the flow of fighters, financing arms and propaganda around the world; three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.”

She gave only lip service to the need for tolerance against Muslims, economic and political progress in the Middle East and the protection of individual privacy against heightened state surveillance.

In echoing the simplified “us vs. them” narrative of her neo-conservative predecessors, Clinton is reinforcing a dangerous and ineffective policy of 21st century American militarism and imperialism.

Instead she repeated the romanticized dogma of American exceptionalism, proclaiming “The United States and our allies must demonstrate that free people and free markets are still the hope of humanity.”

These sentiments are directly challenged by actual evidence of what fuels ISIS and terrorism. As recent interviews with captured ISIS members reveals, most are motivated not by an extremist ideology but anger at the West’s destructive interventions in the region as well as feeling “terrorized” by ISIS leadership to join.

Significantly, experts in the region stress the threat of making what are primarily localized conflicts into global battles. Furthermore, according to a leaked MI5 report British born terrorists “are a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism.” More broadly, as anthropologist Scott Antran testified to the US Senate in 2010, such violence primarily appeals to young men who are “bored, underemployed, overqualified and underwhelmed” for whom “jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer . . . thrilling, glorious and cool.”

In echoing the simplified “us vs. them” narrative of her neo-conservative predecessors, Clinton is reinforcing a dangerous and ineffective policy of 21st century American militarism and imperialism.

A Moderate Militant

Clinton is a self-described “idealistic realist” when it comes to international affairs. In her book Hard Choices she writes

“There are times when we do have to make difficult compromises. Our  challenge is to be clear-eyed about the world as it is while never losing sight of the world as we want it to become. That's why I don't mind that I've been     called both an idealist & a realist over the years. I prefer being considered a  hybrid, perhaps an idealistic realist. Because I, like our country, embody both tendencies.”

However, Clinton’s broader foreign policy record shows her to be more of a “moderate militant”. She was a hardline voice in the Obama administration  – arguing against getting “swept up in the drama and idealism of the moment” of the Arab Spring by prolonging US support for dictator Hosni Mubarak, the freezing of Israeli settlements in 2009 and imposing a deadline for ending the Afghanistan military surge.

She has also backed a range of oligarchic and autocratic regimes across the globe. This support ranges from supporting a military coup in Honduras that replaced a left wing president with a questionably elected and corrupt candidate backed by the country’s business elite to strengthening ties with pro-Western dictators in Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain among others.

Additionally she has “gained little ground” in advancing economic development or gender equality internationally. As one commentator observes

“Clinton's backing of neo-liberal economic policies and war-making by the United States and its allies…may have actually set back indigenous feminist movements in the same a way that the Bush administration's ‘democracy-promotion’ agenda was a serious setback to popular struggles for freedom and democracy.”

Terrorism for Dummies

These policies stand in stark contrast to the emerging progressive views of left wing Western politicians. Leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn recently called for an end of the “cycle of war” that only creates “more mayhem” and “more loss.”  Her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders has linked terrorism to climate change as well as to an American legacy of overthrowing democracies internationally.

By contrast, Clinton keeps on repeating conventional “War on Terror” talking points – adding much detail but little broader context or perspective. It is ironically reminiscent of the British born terrorist who bought the books “Islam for Dummies,” the “Koran for Dummies” before going to Syria to conduct Jihad.

Hillary Clinton is merely reading from the neo-conservative “terrorism for dummies” – and it is simply dangerous.


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Peter Bloom

Peter Bloom

Peter Bloom is a Professor at the University of Essex in the UK who books include “Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization” (2016), “The CEO Society”, and most recently “Guerrilla Democracy: Mobile Power and Revolution in the 21st Century.”

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