'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Enter Hawks, Stage Right (Part 1) 

The Clintons rolled Obama on foreign policy. Not only are we not getting out of Afghanistan, we aren't getting out of Iraq, either:

Before Hillary Clinton has been formally offered the job as Secretary of State, a purge of Barack Obama's top foreign policy team has begun.

The advisers who helped trash the former First Lady's foreign policy credentials on the campaign trail are being brutally shunted aside, as the price of her accepting the job of being the public face of America to the world. In negotiations with Mr Obama this week before agreeing to take the job, she demanded and received assurances that she alone should appoint staff to the State Department. She also got assurances that she will have direct access to the President and will not have to go through his foreign policy advisers on the National Security Council, which is where many of her critics in the Obama team are expected to end up.

The first victims of Mrs Clinton's anticipated appointment will be those who defended Mr Obama's flanks on the campaign trail. By mocking Mrs Clinton's claims to have landed under sniper fire in Bosnia or pouring scorn on her much-ballyhooed claim to have visited 80 countries as First Lady they successfully deflected the damaging charge that he is a lightweight on international issues.

Foremost among the victims of the purges is her old Yale Law School buddy Greg Craig, a man who more than anyone led the rescue of his presidency starting the very night Kenneth Starr's lurid report into the squalid details of the former president's sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky were published on the internet in 1998. Despite his long and loyal friendship with the Clintons, Mr Craig threw his lot in with Mr Obama at an early stage in the presidential election campaign. As if that betrayal to the cause of the Clinton restoration was not enough, Mr Craig did more to undermine Mrs Clinton's claims to be a foreign policy expert than anyone else in the some of the ugliest exchanges of the battle for the Democratic nomination.

Until this week he was poised to be the eminence grise of the State Department, organising as total revamp of America's troubled foreign policies on Mr Obama's behalf. Its turns out that Mrs Clinton's delay in accepting the president elect's offer to be his top foreign policy adviser had much to do with her negotiating the terms of the job and insisting on the right to choose her own state department staff and possibly even some of the plumb Ambassador postings. She wanted guarantees of direct access to the president – without having to go through his national security adviser. Above all she did not want to end up like Colin Powell who was completely out-manoeuvred by the hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney who imposed neo-conservative friends like John Bolton on the State Department and steered the US towards a policy of using torture to achieve its aims.

Leonard Doyle of The Independent tells the story as primarily one of political inside baseball, a story of personalities caught up in the fight for spoils as a new administration takes power. But it is much more serious than that. Hillary Clinton has been consistently hawkish in regard to Iraq and Iran, and her advisors, the people that are now going to find themselves in the State Department, despite backing the losing candidate, share those views:

It should come as no surprise that during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Obama spoke at a Chicago anti-war rally while Clinton went as far as falsely claiming that Iraq was actively supporting al-Qaeda. And during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.

Clinton's advisors are similarly confident in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force. This is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush's troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon.

Clinton's top foreign policy advisor -- and her likely pick for Secretary of State -- Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained "a clear and present danger at all times." He rejected the broad international legal consensus against such offensive wars and insisted European governments and anti-war demonstrators who opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq "undoubtedly encouraged" Saddam Hussein.

Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband's national security advisor, insisted that "even a contained Saddam" was "harmful to stability and to positive change in the region" and insisted on the necessity of "regime change." Other top Clinton advisors -- such as former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq.

By contrast, during the lead-up to the war, Obama's advisors recognized as highly suspect the Bush administration's claims regarding Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" and offensive delivery systems capable of threatening U.S. national security.

Now advising Obama, former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, argued that public support for war "should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy." Brzezinski seems to have learned from mistakes like arming the Mujahideen. He warned that invading a country that was no threat to the United States would threaten America's global leadership because most of the international community would see it as an illegitimate act of aggression.

Another key Obama advisor, the Carnegie Endowment's Joseph Cirincione, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved as a result of sanctions, the return of of inspectors, and a multinational force stationed in the region serving as a deterrent. Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors -- such as Susan Rice, Larry Korb, Samantha Power, and Richard Clarke -- raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a large Middle Eastern country and the risks of American forces becoming embroiled in post-invasion chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.

These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposing views in the lead-up to the war, with Clinton voting to let President Bush invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his choosing, while Obama was speaking out to oppose a U.S. invasion.

Hillary Clinton has a few advisors who did oppose the war, like Wesley Clark, but taken together, the kinds of key people she's surrounded herself with supports the likelihood that her administration, like Bush's, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars.

By contrast, as The Nation magazine noted, a Barack Obama administration would be more likely to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America's allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country's international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.

In terms of Iran, for instance, Cirincione has downplayed the supposed threat, while Clinton advisor Holbrooke insists that "the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States," the country is "the most pressing problem nation," and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler. This is consistent with Clinton's vote for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that opened the door to a potential Bush attack on Iran, and with Obama's opposition to it.

Or, to put it concisely, Obama has subcontracted foreign policy out to Clintonista hawks.

Oh, but you say that he will stand up to them when Hillary, taking advantage of her direct line to the President, pushes their crazy interventionist ideas? Sure he will, just like he stood up to her when she and Bill demanded that he throw some of his most loyal foreign policy advisors over the side of the boat. This is beginning to look more and more like an unmitigated catastrophe. Even I'm shocked at the rapidity by which Obama is abandoning loyal constituencies in a misguided attempt to consolidate his power inside the Beltway. Meanwhile, I continue to get self-congratulatory e-mails from local progressives who supported Obama even as the election is stolen from them.

UPDATE: The content of The Independent article is briefly confirmed in a soft focus personality piece in today's New York Times.

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