While much attention has been given to Senator
Hillary Clinton's support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, her foreign policy
record regarding other international conflicts and her apparent eagerness to
accept the use of force appears to indicate that her fateful vote authorizing
the invasion and her subsequent support for the occupation and counter-insurgency
war was no aberration. Indeed, there's every indication that, as president,
her foreign policy agenda would closely parallel that of the Bush administration.
Despite efforts by some conservative Republicans to portray her as being on
the left wing of the Democratic Party, in reality her foreign policy positions
bear a far closer resemblance to those of Ronald Reagan than they do of George
For example, rather than challenge President George W. Bush's dramatic increases
in military spending, Senator Clinton argues that they are not enough and the
United States needs to spend even more in subsequent years. At the end of the
Cold War, many Democrats were claiming that the American public would be able
to benefit from a "peace dividend" resulting from dramatically-reduced
military spending following the demise of the Soviet Union. Clinton, however,
has called for dramatic increases in the military budget, even though the United
States, despite being surrounded by two oceans and weak friendly neighbors,
already spends as much on its military as all the rest of the world combined.
Her presidential campaign has received far more
money from defense contractors than any other candidate Democrat or Republican
and her close ties to the defense industry has led the Village Voice
to refer to her as "Mama
Warbucks." She has even fought the Bush administration in restoring
funding for some of the very few weapons systems the Bush administration has
sought to cut in recent years. Pentagon officials and defense contractors have
given Senator Clinton high marks for listening to their concerns, promoting
their products and leveraging her ties to the Pentagon, comparing her favorably
to the hawkish former Washington Senator "Scoop"
Jackson and other pro-military Democrats of earlier eras.
Clinton has also demonstrated a marked preference for military confrontation
over negotiation. In a speech
before the Council on Foreign Relations, she called for a "tough-minded,
muscular foreign and defense policy." Similarly, when her rival for the
Democratic presidential nomination Senator Barack Obama expressed his willingness
to meet with Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro or other foreign leaders with
whom the United States has differences, she denounced him for being "irresponsible
and frankly naive."
Senator Clinton appears to have a history of advocating the blunt instrument
of military force to deal with complex international problems. For example,
she was one of the chief advocates in her husband's inner circle for the 11-week
bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 to attempt to resolve the Kosovo
Though she had not indicated any support for the Kosovar Albanians' nonviolent
campaign against Serbian oppression which had been ongoing since she had first
moved into the White House six years earlier, she was quite eager for the United
States to go to war on behalf of the militant Kosovo Liberation Army which had
just recently come to prominence. Gail Sheehy's book Hillary's
Choice reveals how, when President Bill Clinton and others correctly
expressed concerns that bombing Serbia would likely lead to a dramatic worsening
of the human rights situation by provoking the Serbs into engaging in full-scale
ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Hillary Clinton successfully pushed her husband
to bomb that country anyway.
She has also defended the 1998 U.S. bombing of
a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which had provided that impoverished African
country with more than half of its antibiotics and vaccines, falsely claiming
it was a chemical weapons factory controlled by Osama bin Laden.
Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Clinton went well beyond the broad
consensus that the United States should go after al-Qaeda cells and their leadership
to declare that any country providing any "aid and comfort" to al-Qaeda
"will now face the wrath of our country." When Bush echoed these words
the following week in his nationally-televised speech, she declared "I'll
stand behind Bush for a long time to come."
She certainly did. Clinton voted to authorize the president with wide-ranging
authority to attack Afghanistan and was a strong supporter of the bombing campaign
against that country, which resulted in more civilian deaths than the 9/11 attacks
against the United States that had prompted them.
Despite recent pleas by the democratically elected Afghan president Harmid
Karzai that the ongoing U.S. bombing and the over-emphasis on aggressive counter-insurgency
operations was harming efforts to deal with the resurgence of violence by the
Taliban and other radical groups, Clinton argues that our "overriding immediate
objective of our foreign policy" toward Afghanistan "must be to significantly
step up our military engagement."
Particularly disturbing has been Senator Clinton's
attitudes regarding nuclear issues. For example, when Senator Obama noted in
August that the use of nuclear weapons traditionally seen as a deterrent
against other nuclear states was not appropriate for use against terrorists,
Clinton rebuked his logic by claiming that "I don't believe that any president
should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear
Senator Clinton has also shown little regard for the danger from the proliferation
of nuclear weapons to other countries, opposing the enforcement of UN Security
Council resolutions challenging the nuclear weapons programs of such U.S allies
as Israel, Pakistan and India. Not only does she support unconditional military
aid including nuclear-capable missiles and jet fighters to these
countries, she even voted to end restrictions on U.S. nuclear cooperation with
countries that violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
She has a very different attitude, however, regarding even the possibility
of a country the United States does not support obtaining nuclear weapons some
time in the future. For example, Senator Clinton insists that the prospect of
Iran joining its three Southwest Asian neighbors in developing nuclear weapons
"must be unacceptable to the entire world" since challenging the nuclear
monopoly of the United States and its allies would somehow "shake the foundation
of global security to its very core." She refuses to support the proposed
nuclear weapons-free zone for the Middle East, as called for in UN Security
Council resolution 687, nor does she support a no-first use nuclear policy,
both of which could help resolve the nuclear standoff. Indeed, she has refused
to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against such non-nuclear countries as
Iran, even though such unilateral use of nuclear weapons directly contradicts
the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the same treaty she claims the United States must
unilaterally and rigorously enforce when it involves Iran and other countries
our government doesn't like.
Senator Clinton also criticized the Bush administration's decision to include
China, Japan and South Korea in talks regarding North Korea's nuclear program
and to allow France, Britain and Germany to play a major role in negotiations
with Iran, claiming that instead of taking "leadership to keep deadly weapons
out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists ... we have outsourced over
the last five years our policies." In essence, as president, Hillary Clinton
would be more unilateralist and less prone to work with other nations than the
Bush administration on such critical issues as non-proliferation.
In Latin America, Senator Clinton argues that
the Bush administration should take a more aggressive stance against the rise
of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected
these recent developments "at our peril." In response to recent efforts
by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural
obstacles which have left much of their populations in poverty, she has expressed
alarm that "We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and
economic openness in parts of Latin America."
Apparently wishing that the Bush administration could have somehow prevented
the elections of leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere,
she argues that "We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement."
Though she has not clarified what she means by "vigorous engagement,"
regional examples in recent decades have included military interventions, CIA-sponsored
coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national
She also supports Bush's counter-productive and vindictive policy towards Cuba,
insisting that she would not end the trade embargo recently denounced
in a 184-4 vote by the United Nations General Assembly until there was
a "democratic transition" in that country. She has even backed Bush's
strict limitations on family visitations by Cuban-Americans and other restrictions
on Americans' freedom to travel.
Israel and Palestine
Regarding Israel, Senator Clinton has taken a
consistently right-wing position, undermining the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian
moderates seeking a just peace that would recognize both the Palestinians' legitimate
national rights and the Israelis' legitimate security concerns. For example,
she has defended Israeli colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, has
strongly supported Israel's construction of an illegal separation barrier deep
inside the occupied territory, and has denounced the International Court of
Justice for its near-unanimous 2004 decision calling on Israel to abide by international
Senator Clinton has consistently put the onus of responsibility on the occupied
Palestinians rather than their Israeli occupiers.
She has been particularly outspoken in her condemnation of the Palestine Authority,
even prior to Hamas gaining the majority in their parliament, for publishing
textbooks which she claims promotes "anti-Semitism," "violence,"
and "dehumanizing rhetoric" and thereby breeds a "new generation
of terrorists." On several occasions she has blamed this alleged anti-Semitic
indoctrination and not the Israeli occupation for Palestinian
The only source she has cited to uphold these charges, however, has been the
Center for the Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), a right-wing Israeli-based
group whose board includes Daniel Pipes and other prominent American neoconservatives,
which was founded in 1998 as part of an effort to undermine the peace process
by attempting to portray the Palestinians as hopelessly hostile to Israel's
existence. It has been directly challenged
by other studies from more objective sources.
Senator Clinton's insistence on repeating the propaganda of long-discredited
reports by a right-wing think tank instead of paying attention to well-regarded
investigations by credible scholars and journalists may be a dangerous indication
of how little difference there is between her and Bush in terms of what sources
she would rely upon in formulating her policies.
Israel and Lebanon
Senator Clinton was also an outspoken supporter
of Israel's massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon
and the Gaza Strip last summer, which took the lives of at least 800 civilians.
She claimed that the carnage was justified since it would "send a message
to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians," because, in
her words, they oppose the United States and Israel's commitment to "life
and freedom." Despite detailed reports from Amnesty
International and Human
Rights Watch noting that there was no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah
used Lebanese civilians as human shields, Senator Clinton has repeatedly insisted
that they did, in an apparent effort to discredit these human rights groups
and absolve Israel of any responsibility for the enormous civilian casualties
inflicted during the assault.
Senator Clinton's statements were challenged by her opponent in last year's
Democratic primary for Senate in New York, union activist Jonathan Tasini, who
pointed out that "Israel has committed acts that violate international
standards and the Geneva Conventions." Her spokesperson, however, dismissed
Tasini's concerns about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law
as "beyond the pale." Senator Clinton supporters also denounced him
as "anti-Israel," even though he is a former Israeli citizen who has
lost close relatives in the Arab-Israeli wars and to Palestinian terrorism,
whose father fought with Zionist forces in the Israeli war of independence,
and has repeatedly referred to himself as a "friend of Israel."
Clinton even continues to defend Israel's decision to launch the devastating
2006 war on Lebanon even though an Israeli government report
released earlier this year acknowledged it was a major setback to Israeli security.
Senator Clinton has also aimed her militaristic
sights at Syria. In a typical example of her double-standards, she was a co-sponsor
of the 2003 "Syrian Accountability Act," which demanded under
threat of sanctions that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons
and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and
Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of chemical weapons and missiles,
not to mention Israel's sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons. (See my article,
The Syrian Accountability
Act and the Triumph of Hegemony.)
Included in the bill's "findings" were charges by top Bush Administration
officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous
WMD programs. Not only have most of these particular accusations not been independently
confirmed, they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had
made similar claims against Iraq that have since been proven false. Yet Senator
Clinton naively trusts their word over independent strategic analysts familiar
with the region who have challenged many of these charges. Her bill also called
for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria's expulsion from its non-permanent
seat Security Council for its failure at that time to withdraw its forces from
Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520.
This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since she defended
Israel's 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon that finally ended just
three years earlier which was in defiance of this same resolution, as well as
nine other UN Security Council resolutions. Nor had she ever called for the
expulsion of Morocco, Turkey or Indonesia from the Security Council when they
held non-permanent seats despite their violations of UN Security Council resolutions
regarding their occupations of neighboring countries.
Despite the fact that Syria is far weaker than it was 20 years ago when it
was being generously armed by the Soviet Union, Senator Clinton insists that
it is now "among the most difficult and dangerous [countries] in the world"
and that it somehow poses "direct threats to ... neighbors ... and far
beyond the region." She also offered her "strong support" for
Israel's unprovoked air strikes in northern Syria in September. She has echoed
the administration's charges that Syria is a major supporter of Hamas, even
though the bulk of the Islamist Palestinian group's foreign support has come
from Saudi Arabia and Iran, not the secular regime in Damascus. And, despite
Syria's longstanding opposition to Sunni extremists and Iraqi Baathists
the major components of the insurgency fighting U.S. forces in Iraq she
has also accused Syria of backing anti-American forces in that country.
In response to the Bush administration's ongoing
obsession with Iran, Senator Clinton's view is that the Bush has not been obsessive
enough. In a speech
at Princeton University last year, she argued that the White House "lost
critical time in dealing with Iran," and accused the administration of
choosing to "downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations"
as well as "standing on the sidelines."
She has insisted that "we cannot take any option off the table in sending
a clear message to the current leadership of Iran that they will not
be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons." Though going to war is still
very high on her list of options, apparently supporting a nuclear weapons-free
zone for the entire Middle East, normalizing economic and strategic relations
in return for eliminating Iran's nuclear weapons capability, and other possible
negotiated options are not.
In defending her vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she has claimed
that Bush "deceived all of us" in exaggerating the threat posed by
Saddam Hussein's regime. Yet, when it comes to the similarly exaggerated Iranian
threat, she has again repeated the Bush administration's talking points almost
verbatim. Indeed, as recently as last month she was insisting that "Iran
is seeking nuclear weapons," even though the consensus of the United States'
16 intelligence agencies was that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program back
Senator Clinton was the only Democratic member of Congress seeking the presidential
nomination to support the Kyl-Lieberman amendment which, among other things,
called on the Bush administration to designate
the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps the largest branch of the Iranian
military as a foreign terrorist organization. To designate a branch
of the armed forces of a foreign state as a terrorist organization would be
unprecedented and was widely interpreted to be a backhanded way of authorizing
military action against Iran. Indeed, Virginia Senator Jim Webb referred to
it as "Cheney's fondest pipe dream."
She initially justified her vote in part because of the Revolutionary Guard's
alleged involvement in Iran's nuclear weapons program, a position she has had
trouble defending since it was revealed such a program has not existed for at
least four years.
In language remarkably similar to her discredited rationalization for her 2002
vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she claimed that it was not actually
a vote for war, but simply to give Bush a means "to apply greater diplomatic
pressure on Iran." (Fortunately, Senator Clinton's position was too extreme
even for the Bush administration, which designated only the al-Quds Force
a sub-unit of the Revolutionary Guards which doesn't always operate with the
full knowledge and consent of the central government as a terrorist organization.)
She has also decried Iran's "involvement in and influence over Iraq,"
an ironic complaint for someone who voted to authorize the overthrow of the
anti-Iranian secular government of Saddam Hussein despite his widely predicted
replacement by pro-Iranian Shi'ite fundamentalist parties. She has also gone
on record repeating a whole series of false, exaggerated and unproven charges
by Bush administration officials regarding Iranian support for the Iraqi insurgency,
even though the vast majority of foreign support for the insurgency has come
from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and that the majority of the insurgents
are fanatically anti-Iranian and anti-Shi'ite.
Though Iran's threat to the national security of the United States is grossly
exaggerated, they are a far more powerful country today in terms of their military
prowess than was Iraq in 2002, when Senator Clinton supported invading that
country because of its alleged danger to U.S. national security. It would be
naïve, therefore, to ignore the very real possibility that, if elected
president, she would find reason to invade Iran as well.
Given Senator Clinton's militaristic foreign policy,
why are so many of her supporters apparently in denial of this unfortunate reality?
Part of the problem is that most of the public criticism of the former first
lady has been based on false and exaggerated charges from the far right, often
infused with a fair dose of sexism. As a result, many liberals become defensive
and reluctant to criticize her. Many also ironically start believing some of
the lies of the far right when they claim she is some kind of left-winger. There
is also an understandable nostalgia for the eight years of relative peace and
prosperity under her husband's administration after the horrors of nearly seven
years under President George W. Bush, which have made it easy to forget the
lesser but very real failings of President Bill Clinton.
There is also the fact that after 43 male presidents, the prospect of finally
having a woman as chief executive is understandably appealing. Yet, what's the
advantage of a female president if her foreign policies are still centered on
patriarchal notions of militarism and conquest? What would it mean to the women
of Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Lebanon and other countries who would suffer as a
result of her policies? Did the position of British women improve as a result
of the militaristic policies of their first female prime minister, Margaret
These are the kinds of questions, along with a critical examination of her
overall foreign policy record, that need to be considered by Democrats before
making Hillary Clinton their nominee for president.