Sen. Bernie Sanders’s landslide victories in Washington State, Alaska and Hawaii on Saturday coincided with a long-awaited signal that he may finally be ready to challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the “Commander-in-Chief” question, which has been regarded as one of her key strengths.
In what may be the most striking campaign commercial of the presidential race, the Sanders campaign released an ad, entitled “The Cost of War” and featuring Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who endorsed Sanders not just as her preference for President but as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military.
“Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq War,” Gabbard says. “He understands the cost of war, that that cost is continued when our veterans come home. Bernie Sanders will defend our country and take the trillions of dollars that are spent on these interventionist, regime change, unnecessary wars and invest it here at home.”
Gabbard also counters another strong point of the Clinton campaign, its contention that Clinton’s plans for incremental change are more realistic than Sanders’s calls for sweeping reforms – or a “political revolution” – to reverse the nation’s steady drift toward a country of lavishly rewarded haves and increasingly desperate have-nots.
“The American people are not looking to settle for inches; they are looking for real change,” Gabbard says. But perhaps her most important statement comes at the end of the 90-second commercial when she says: “My name is Tulsi Gabbard and I support Bernie Sanders to be our next President and Commander-in-Chief.”
The phrase “Commander-in-Chief” is one that Sanders has largely sidestepped in the early phases of the Democratic presidential race, conceding Clinton’s superior qualifications on foreign policy though questioning her judgment when she voted for the Iraq War in 2002. Yet, what the Gabbard ad seems to recognize is that Sanders’s campaign could rally a substantial part of the Democratic “base” and win over many “regular” Democrats by challenging Clinton on her hawkish proclivity for “regime change” wars.
Though many political analysts argue that it is too late for Sanders to overcome Clinton’s substantial delegate lead – bolstered by the unelected “super-delegates” drawn from party politicians – Sanders’s recent string of landslide victories suggest that many Democrats are uncomfortable with or opposed to Clinton, whose “negatives” are among the highest of national political leaders (in a race to the bottom with Donald Trump).
Many Democrats have a deep distrust of Clinton who – though now highlighting her more “progressive” positions – seems eager to “pivot to the center” once she nails down the nomination, a hunger that was reflected in her pandering speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention last week.
A Neocon Favorite
Many neoconservatives and “liberal interventionists” now see Clinton as the vessel carrying their hopes for more “regime change” wars.
In 2002, Clinton famously supported President George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, which – beyond costing more than $1 trillion and killing hundreds of thousands of people (including nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers) – destabilized the Middle East and gave rise to “Al Qaeda in Iraq,” which has since morphed into the Islamic State.
Apparently having learned no lessons from the Iraq War, Clinton consistently took hawkish and interventionist positions as President Barack Obama’s first Secretary of State.
In 2009, Clinton backed a coup in Honduras that removed democratically elected (and progressive) President Manuel Zelaya) and reaffirmed control by the Central American country’s oligarchy. Since then, Honduras’s human rights situation has worsened, driving thousands of children to flee northward seeking safety and leaving environmental and political activists at the mercy of death squads.
Also, in 2009, Clinton joined with Bush-holdover Defense Secretary Robert Gates and neocon-favorite Gen. David Petraeus in pushing Obama into a major escalation of the Afghan War, a counter-insurgency “surge” that sent another 1,000 American troops to their deaths – and many more Afghans – but has since been abandoned as a failure.
In 2011, Clinton joined with “liberal interventionists” in again pushing Obama into a “regime change” war in Libya that led to the overthrow and torture-murder of Muammar Gaddafi – which she gleefully welcomed with the quip, “We came, we saw, he died” – but has since turned the once relatively prosperous North African country into a failed state with the Islamic State gaining another foothold.
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Both as Secretary of State and since her departure in 2013, Clinton has pressed to escalate the “regime change” war in Syria, seeking a “no-fly zone” that would require the U.S. military to destroy the Syrian government’s air force and air defenses, apparently without regard to the risk that the U.S. intervention could pave the way for Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and/or the Islamic State to march into Damascus.
Though the Syrian “regime change” strategy that Clinton has advocated has failed to oust President Bashar al-Assad, it has transformed another reasonably functional Mideast state into a bloody killing field and driven millions of refugees into what is now a destabilized Europe.
In 2014, Clinton also has embraced the neocon-backed coup in Ukraine that has touched off a new and costly Cold War with Russia. Again showing her “tough-gal” side, Clinton likened Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Two years later, the Ukraine “regime change” has not only given the Ukrainians a corrupt and dysfunctional government – kept afloat with billions of dollars from the U.S. and Europe – but the heightened U.S. hostility toward Russia has impaired chances for big-power cooperation on a number of these other conflicts.
All of this may fit the neocon agenda of removing or punishing governments that are viewed as unfriendly to Israel, but these Clinton-embraced strategies have been highly destructive to a peaceful and prosperous world. There is also the increased danger that Clinton might represent as Commander-in-Chief when her most hawkish inclinations are not tempered or restrained by President Obama’s general resistance to interventionist wars.
For months, Clinton has been identified by top neocons as their best hope to maintain influence at the highest levels of Washington, especially if “America First” Republican Donald Trump secures the GOP nomination.
Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, which drew up the Iraq War and other “regime change” plans in the 1990s, was among the influential neocons to abandon the Trump-dominated Republican Party and announce support for Hillary Clinton.
A month ago in a Washington Post op-ed, Kagan excoriated the Republican Party for creating the conditions for Trump’s rise and then asked, “So what to do now? The Republicans’ creation will soon be let loose on the land, leaving to others the job the party failed to carry out.” Then referring to himself, he added, “For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocon Kagan Endorses Hillary Clinton.”]
Kagan, whom Clinton appointed to a State Department advisory panel, is married to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, a former senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who rose under Clinton and helped orchestrate the Ukraine coup which sabotaged Obama’s behind-the-scenes cooperation with Putin on touchy issues such as Iran and Syria.
The Ukraine coup also opened the U.S. military-spending spigot even wider to pay for a new Cold War. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”]
Though much of Clinton’s neocon-style warmongering is unpopular with the Democratic “base,” Sanders has treaded lightly in these areas during his primary challenge to her long-anticipated coronation as the Democratic presidential nominee.
When foreign policy comes up, Sanders contrasts his opposition to the Iraq War to Clinton’s support but returns as quickly as possible to his overriding theme of income inequality and his opposition to a political-economic system rigged for the One Percent.
Sanders’s hesitation to challenge Clinton on her perceived foreign-policy “strength” ignores a key football lesson often attributed to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who reversed a longstanding belief that teams should look for their opponents’ weaknesses. Belichick instead focused on taking away his opponents’ strengths and making them play to their weaknesses.
With the help of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sanders appears to have finally grasped that lesson. With Gabbard praising Sanders as her choice for “Commander-in-Chief,” she implicitly seeks to neutralize Clinton’s supposed strong suit – her foreign-policy experience – and transform it into a weakness.
The question now is whether Gabbard’s assistance to Sanders has come too late.