In a foreign policy speech widely hailed for its sharpest attacks yet against Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton put forward a vision that she contended was a far, far better alternative than the vision Trump has for the United States. However, a number of statements she made hypocritically disregarded her own record as first lady, senator, and secretary of state.
Clinton also demonstrated how Democrats plan to wield American exceptionalism to try and beat Trump in November. As a rebuttal to Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” they will insist “America Is Already Great; Oh, But Of Course, It Can Always Be Greater.”
A months-long squabble between the leaders of two political parties over the extent of America’s greatness threatens to plunge the world into one of the most insufferable debates in modern history.
Clinton declared, “This election is a choice between two very different visions of America. One that’s angry, afraid, and based on the idea that America is fundamentally weak and in decline. The other is hopeful, generous, and confident in the knowledge that America is great—just like we always have been.”
She promoted American exceptionalism, saying she still believes with all her heart that “America is an exceptional country.”
“We are not a country that cowers behind walls. We lead with purpose, and we prevail,” Clinton boasted. “And if America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum—and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void. Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety—and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit.”
The United States has taken the “lead” in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria, and in all of those countries, the military action taken has fueled chaos and enabled the rise of terrorist organizations, including al Qaida affiliates.
That is not to say that Trump has the answers, but to point out that American “leadership” does not have a stellar record of preventing chaos, particularly when mounting operations under the umbrella of the war against terrorism.
On the nuclear agreement with Iran, Clinton said, “When President Obama took office, Iran was racing toward a nuclear bomb. Some called for military action. But that could have ignited a broader war that could have mired our troops in another Middle Eastern conflict.”
In fact, Clinton threatened to ethnically cleanse Iran if it were to attack Israel when she ran for president in 2008. “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”
There was little evidence Iran planned to attack Israel, but she said such a threat was necessary to keep the “Islamic republic in check.” Obama responded, “It is important that we use language that sends a signal to the world community that we’re shifting from the sort of cowboy diplomacy, or lack of diplomacy, that we’ve seen out of George Bush. And this kind of language is not helpful.”
Clinton quoted a number of remarks from Trump to show he is a cartoonish figure who cannot be trusted with the presidency. But Clinton herself said, when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed, “We came, we saw, he died,” while pumping her fists.
She blasted “Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America,” and later added, “I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.” However, as journalist Glenn Greenwald has cataloged, she has been a “stalwart friend” of some of the “world’s worst despots.”
In 2009, Clinton said while she was secretary of state, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” She referred to Bashar al Assad in 2011 as a “reformer,” to argue Gaddafi was worse.
Clinton attacked Trump for suggesting Saudi Arabia of all countries should have nuclear weapons. But she oversaw arms deals with the country, despite the Saudi kingdom’s atrocious human rights record.
The former secretary of state vehemently supports Israeli military occupation and a foreign policy toward Palestine, which dehumanizes its people. She also does not believe there is anything illegal about a right-wing military coup in Honduras, which she stood by and allowed to go unchallenged when she was in charge of the State Department.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and UAE donated millions of dollars to the Clinton Global Initiative between 2001 and 2014. Powerful individuals, including leaders of tyrannical governments in the Persian Gulf, do not typically donate this kind of money to a politician’s personal foundation without expecting something in return for their investments.
Returning to issues of war, Clinton stated, “A president has a sacred responsibility to send our troops into battle only if we absolutely must, and only with a clear and well-thought-out strategy. Our troops give their all. They deserve a commander-in-chief who knows that.”
Clinton supported sending troops into Iraq, even though there was no “well-thought-out strategy.” She also supported regime change in Libya, and the country has been utterly destroyed.
Voters are expected to find her politics much more stable, however, during a town hall event on MSNBC hosted by Chris Matthews, Clinton made multiple statements, which should call into her question her ability to lead the United States.
Matthews asked Clinton if she believes Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. She said yes, she did. When asked who told her Hussein had WMDs, she dodged and did not answer. Matthews followed up, saying Bush administration officials lied about Iraq having nuclear weapons. Clinton would not say officials lied.
Clinton invoked flying over “Ground Zero” after the 9/11 attacks to defend her vote for the Iraq War. She said she believed Hussein had connections with al Qaida, which is false. She also mentioned Bush promised her $20 billion to rebuild parts of New York City, as if that played a role in influencing her support for invading Iraq.
Matthews mentioned at least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by the war in Iraq. Clinton had nothing to say about this massive atrocity carried out by U.S. military forces. When asked about America’s history of knocking off leaders in the Middle East, she insisted this was an “overstatement.”
“Is Libya perfect? It isn’t. But did they have two elections that were free and fair, where they voted for moderates? Yes, they did,” Clinton said. And, when Matthews questioned the history of the CIA overthrowing governments, Clinton conceded the U.S. was probably wrong in the “vast majority of cases” then added, “There’s always these historical games you can play. If somebody could have assassinated Hitler before he took over Germany, would that have been a good thing or not?”
Within in the context of an exchange about assassinating world leaders, Clinton rationalized such a policy, highlighting the use of drones to kill suspected terrorist leaders. She did not flat-out say such a policy is wrong but that in retrospect, it may not have been a good idea to kill people like Salvador Allende, Patrice Lumumba, or Mohammad Mosaddegh.
During her address, Clinton said Trump would order U.S. military to carry out the “murder of civilians who are related to suspected terrorists,” even though that is a war crime. “It really matters that Donald Trump says things that go against our deepest-held values. It matters when he says he’ll order our military to murder the families of suspected terrorists,” she later added.
The reality is this is already happening. It has been happening for multiple years. President Barack Obama’s administration orders U.S. military to kill people with drones. During a five-month period during Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan, The Intercept reported, “Nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.” The military designates those it kills in “targeted strikes” as “enemies killed in action,” even if they were not the “intended targets.”
Drone pilots experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of being ordered to kill people, who they cannot be sure are terrorists who pose an imminent threat to the U.S. They turn to alcohol or bath salts to anesthetize. A few even commit suicide, and it is a struggle to obtain psychiatric treatment because every detail from the work they are ordered to do is considered classified.
She fully supports U.S. drone strikes and does not believe there have been a large number of civilian casualties.
Clinton invoked Trump’s racism against immigrants and his support for building a wall on the Mexican border. Back in November, she stated, “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. And I do think you have to control your borders.”
Finally, Clinton touted the role she played in “wrestling” with China to achieve a climate deal in Copenhagen. As a result of U.S. military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who disclosed U.S. diplomatic cables, it is known that Clinton’s State Department used bribes and threats to buy support for an accord. Spying and cyber warfare were also employed against countries.
The German newspaper, Der Spiegel, reported, “The U.S. and China, the world’s top two polluters, joined forces to stymie every attempt by European nations to reach [an] agreement.”
The U.S. and China colluded to ensure European nations would not successfully advance an agreement in Copenhagen that would tie them to “specific emission-reduction targets.”
It’s also important to recognize, as the head of the State Department, Clinton sold natural gas fracking to the world on behalf of corporations like Chevron and Halliburton.
In conclusion, the problem is not that Clinton was wrong to deliver an address explicitly hammering Trump for his maniac tendencies, which could put the country at risk (although it is arrogant considering she has not exactly defeated her opponent, Bernie Sanders, yet). Rather, the issue is the vision she put forward is not much of an alternative to Trump.
Pointing at a madman running for president and saying don’t give him the nuclear codes is not good enough if Clinton does not offer the world a far more humane foreign policy to embrace and support.
Like Shadowproof columnist Roqayah Chamseddine has written, Clinton stands for “predatory pragmatism.” The policies she supports are not just imperial policies. They are policies, which result in bloody aftermaths. And, despite the possibility of a ‘Madame President’ overseeing a destructive empire, there is nothing great about what will happen to marginalized communities around the world if a liberal brand of imperialism is considered a viable alternative to Trump’s impulsive and unhinged foreign policy.