If you live outside the United States, let me begin by saying that I am very sorry for what is about to happen. Despite the damage that the Republican Party and their right-wing fellow travelers have done to this country and, worse, to the rest of the world, it seems the American public is once again leaning in their direction. The Democrats may still be the lesser of two evils, but that is becoming less of a comfort all the time.
Eight years under the presidency of Barack Obama will hardly be looked back at as a triumph for working people anywhere, including the United States. His foreign policy, which still may look good compared to his predecessor, has hardly convinced anyone that America now stands as a helpful citizen in the world. But, my friends, it could be worse. And apparently it will be. That’s why I started with an apology.
This coming November, the last congressional election of the Obama presidency will take place. The Republicans already have a clear majority in the House of Representatives, and while polls show Democrats making small gains, there is virtually no danger at all of those gains being sufficient for the House to change hands, or even come close to it. In the Senate, Democrats currently control 55 out of the 100 seats, but there are many seats being contested in this election and most projections have the Republicans gaining an additional 5-7 seats. So, both houses of Congress will be in Republican hands if these projections turn out to be true. Even if the Democrats manage to hold on to the Senate, their majority is likely to be razor thin, so Republicans will be able to exert much more influence, to both block every piece of legislation they can, and, when they can find a Democrat or two who will work with them, to advance their own initiatives.
Obama is likely to spend the last two years of his term with a Congress that is even worse than what he’s had, and that is saying something. And then he will be gone, and that is why I felt the need to apologize. Because as things look right now, I will be holding my nose in 2016 and voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton as Obama’s successor.
The vote will, of course, be a function of what I think will do the least harm. But when that much harm is “the least”, it bodes ill not just for the United States, but the whole world. In 2016, it is eminently possible that Congress will be fully controlled by right wing extremists who will make Ronald Reagan look like a Communist college professor. And, when it comes to foreign policy, the Republicans seem to be reading from the same playbook that reduced Iraq to rubble and turned even the most starry-eyed supporters of the United States against us.
The Democrats offer no one that is all that much better. There may yet be another Obama type lurking out there, ready to surprise the political world with his or her meteoric rise. But if not, the early field of Democrats doesn’t seem to differ much from Clinton on foreign policy, and that should scare everyone.
Excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s new book, Hard Choices have been drawing a lot of attention. She doesn’t seem to be coming off as a mastermind of foreign policy. Instead, the pieces of the book seem mostly focused on throwing her former boss, Obama, under the bus while painting herself, naturally, in the shining light that only hindsight can provide.
Clinton gives the obligatory “regret” for her vote to attack Iraq, joining a long line of former members of Congress who voice such misgivings long after it has any relevance. But she spends much of her time challenging Obama’s policies in ways that demonstrate all too clearly how dangerous she will be in the President’s office.
On the matter of the revolution in Egypt in 2011, she paints Obama and those who agreed with him as having been caught up in romantic “drama and idealism” in contrast to Clinton and her allies’ “realism.” Never mind that there was little the United States could have done to “transition” Mubarak out—which, actually, was what the Egyptian people did. No, Clinton means installing a new government to replace Mubarak. According to the Associated Press, “Clinton says she didn’t want the U.S. to be seen as pushing a longtime partner out without a clear picture of the future for regional allies such as Israel and Jordan.”
Well, it so happens that was precisely what Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham were urging, and for exactly the same reasons, although in reality, it was Israel and Saudi Arabia that were the primary countries of concern. Clinton, no doubt wanting to mention an Arab ally along with Israel, chose to point to Jordan rather than bring up the thorny (to American liberals) issue of the close U.S. friendship with the Saudi monarchy. In the end, Egypt’s long and winding road has reached Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is either just the man she would have wanted or someone much like him. In other words, a new Mubarak who isn’t named Hosni Mubarak.
Obama, for his part, was typically weak about his support for Egyptian democracy and, in the end, seemed quite gratified with the Egyptian military seizing control of the country once again. But he at least paid lip service to the idea that the people of Egypt should be allowed to decide their own course. Clinton showed only disdain for the concept, while worrying about what Saudi sheikhs, Jordanian monarchists and Israeli right-wingers would think if the U.S. supported something as radical as Arab democracy.
On Syria, Clinton wanted to “arm and train” what she calls “moderate Syrian rebels,” and coordinate their actions with “regional partners.” That translates into arming and training the fighters that Saudi Arabia and Jordan were supporting in Syria. Those groups are far from universally moderate, and U.S. involvement in such a manner is highly unlikely, in any event, to have turned the military tide. This was one of the main issues Saudi Arabia was so upset with Obama over last year.
Clinton is not referring here to the Free Syrian Army, which was the group Obama rhetorically supported and which was certainly more secular and Western-oriented. But there were no regional partners to coordinate with regarding the FSA, so she is referring instead to the Islamic Front, which is Salafist and considers violence as a legitimate means to install an Islamic regime in the Arab world. They are, to be sure, much less radical than al-Qaeda or ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), and that seems to be good enough for Clinton, who has apparently learned nothing from the results of our arming and training the Afghan Mujahedeen in the 1980s. Nor is there any consideration to the notion that maybe someone should have supported the initial protesters in Syria, who were non-sectarian, non-violent and composed of a broad base of Syrians. Had those people been supported from the beginning, rather than seeing everyone wait to find out who they could give guns to, things in Syria might be very different.
Then, of course, there is Israel, a subject on which Obama has made himself an easy target. But Clinton makes sure to parrot the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the root of the problem was a “tactical error” by Obama in calling for a settlement freeze in 2009. The problem with that, according to Clinton, was that it hardened Abbas’ position. This is precisely what Netanyahu said, and what Obama’s right-wing critics domestically said as well.
It may not matter that much going forward now that the US-led peace process has imploded. But Clinton here demonstrates that she is quite ignorant of Palestinian politics. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was facing massive popular pressure to stop negotiating while Israel continued to expand its settlements. It was Obama that was responding to that reality on the ground, not Abbas following Obama’s lead. Many in the peace camp, even the Oslo camp, understood this. Clinton, who has repeatedly demonstrated ignorance about foreign politics, places herself outside of both.
Her ignorance was on even grander display at the height of the crisis over Crimea, when she compared Russia’s actions there to those of Hitler’s Germany. Not only was this simply an invalid comparison, but coming as it did from Obama’s former Secretary of State and a prominent Democrat, it greatly increased pressure on the White House to do something stupid, something which could have needlessly escalated the confrontation. That episode exemplified just how dangerous Hillary Rodham Clinton is.
And yet, as things look now, I’m going to vote for her because there are no better options available (I won’t vote for third party candidates until such a vote can materially impact even incremental change in the system.) One reason Clinton is still better than others is simply her gender. A woman in the White House does matter. Not because I believe the myth that women in power would act dramatically differently from men (just look at Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Sarah Palin, among others); but rather, as with Obama and race, it still matters that we open up these possibilities for those to whom they have historically been closed.
Clinton will at least be better on domestic politics. She will defend a woman’s right to choose, will try to marginally boost education, and is likely to oppose the worst excesses of the radical gun movement that has garnered enormous power, even by their standards in recent years.
Obama is often portrayed as a liberal, and is not infrequently accused of being a “socialist.” These notions say a lot more about how far to the right American political ideology has drifted in the last 35 years than anything else. In fact, Obama is not particularly liberal. He is a centrist in terms of domestic programs. He is not unwilling to spend, he is not unwilling to tax. But in fact, spending under Obama rose far less than it did under Bush and taxes for the vast majority of Americans are the same or lower. On the other hand, corporate taxes are also very low, albeit not as low as they were under Bush. By virtually every economic indicator, Obama has not been anything like what the right portrays him as.
Clinton will be little different. Her husband pioneered the process of a Democratic president taking the ideas of Ronald Reagan (specifically, in Bill Clinton’s case, welfare reform) and making them his own. By comparison to today’s Republican Party, Reagan’s policies are indeed liberal, and that is a horrifying thought. So, a Clinton will be the lesser evil, again. I’ll vote for her, and she will side with rightists, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists (a group that Clinton is a major figure in) more often than Obama has. That will be a disaster for the rest of the world. And for that, I apologize in advance.
Photographs courtesy of Ashley Adcox. Published under a Creative Commons license.