Former Secretary of State and one time Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had some choice words for President Obama in regards to his foreign policy. In aninterview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton slammed her former boss, saying his slogan of “Don’t do stupid stuff” was “not an organizing principle” for foreign policy. “Great nations need organizing principles,” she said, alluding to a more interventionist approach to conflicts in the Middle East and around the world.
Specifically, Clinton highlighted the following:
“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad – there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle – the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”
Clinton’s solution is of course, more military engagement in the region – the exact prescription that got the US bogged down in two un-winnable wars in the Middle East in the first place. And let’s not forget that Clinton did her part in promoting both wars, voting to go into Iraq, then refusing to acknowledge her mistake until years later, despite the overwhelming, almost immediate evidence that was one of the worst strategic disasters in US history.
To put it bluntly: If you voted to go into Iraq, you have next to no credibility when it comes to foreign policy.
Hillary Clinton alienated much of the left in her bid to beat Obama in 2008, partly because of her stance on Iraq, and she’s only experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent times after showing she was a team player as Secretary of State and playing nice with the President in public. But behind the scenes, it is standard Washington gossip that she has little time for the President and considers him weak and ineffective.
And that has always been the problem with Clinton. She has never understood quite how clever Obama is, or how strong. Clinton did not understand that his patience and refusal to react was the perfect antidote to her ‘fight every fight’ strategy that saw her pivot from one disaster to the next during her campaign. Great leaders win wars, while good ones can only win battles. That’s why an unknown African American from Hawaii beat one of the most formidable political machines in history. And it’s why Hillary Clinton still can’t figure it out.
Just as Obama played the long game against Hillary, he is doing the same in the Middle East. While the usual slew of beltway hacks and war hawks are lining up to accuse the President of being weak in the face of re-surging tensions in the Middle East, Obama has fastidiously kept his cool and stuck to a policy of cautious disengagement. While Obama hasn’t fully stopped military operations, he has withdrawn the vast majority of troops in Afghanistan (with plans to completely withdraw in 2016), and ISIS strikes aside, the US is no longer militarily involved in Iraq. Obama has slowly transitioned from the neo con Bush doctrine of overtly projecting US military power around the world to the far more conservative, cautious approach that favors international cooperation and the limited use of force. Obama successfully pawned off the Syrian crisis to Russia, has favored talks with Iran, and has refused to take the lead in stopping Russian aggression in Crimea. While some may believe his actions have been weak, Obama is simply acknowledging a new reality that the establishment does not want to accept.
US engagement in the Middle East has created a disaster of epic proportions, and the US economy has barely recovered from the market collapse in 2008. The combined effect means that it simply cannot afford the insane expenditure of its already over-stretched military. The US spends more on its military than any other nation on earth, making investment in its own infrastructure and welfare state close to impossible.
If America wants to move forwards as a nation, its potential future leaders have to recognize its own frailty and give up their imperial ambitions. That means accepting it often has no role to play in conflicts in the Middle East, and can’t mete out ‘organizing principles’ as it sees fit.
While many on the left see Hillary Clinton as the natural choice for the Democrats in 2016, it is worth remembering her role in creating the mess we’re in now, and her inability to think in the long term. Clinton is no dummy, and obviously knew that Bush’s was lying about Iraq. But she calculated that voting for the war would benefit her politically, and it did – at least in the short term. As Iraq verges on collapse again, a full scale military intervention may well prevent it in the near future. But beyond that, it is an assured disaster, and one that Clinton seems incapable of seeing. Given her track record of being wrong on virtually every issue relating to Iraq, it would be nice to see a little humility when asked about the President’s policy, but that was never her style. And that is why she’ll be proved wrong again one way or the other.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.