One of the reasons many on the far left decided that Hillary Clinton should never become president was her supposed penchant for getting the US involved in wars abroad. The far left and far right now converge on this issue, with the Alt Right lauding president Trump’s bravery in submitting to Vladimir Putin and “stopping World War III”. Hillary Clinton, they argue, is a globalist who wanted nothing more than a nuclear war with Russia (because globalists want global war?). Those criticizing Trump’s relationship with Putin must by default want conflict with Russia, and anyone who believes the president colluded with Russia are projecting their desire for nuclear war.
I have written much about Clinton’s foreign policy hawkishness, particularly during her 2008 campaign against Obama, so it is a subject I am deeply familiar with. In comparison to President Obama, Hillary Clinton is certainly more hawkish — she believes in a muscular American foreign policy and the use of “smart force”. But Clinton’s hawkishness is only a matter of degree — when compared to the vast majority of Republicans, Clinton is a moderate who has a nuanced understanding of foreign policy. Clinton had deep reservations about the war in Iraq and voted to only give Bush the authorization to go to war, not to actually go to war — an important distinction that many leave out when discussing her record. While her vote was a colossal mistake, she has since acknowledged that it was a grave error on her part. It is worth noting that President Obama — an extremely pragmatic realist who was against the Iraq war — believed in her judgment and took her onboard as his Secretary of State to oversee US Foreign policy.
It is somewhat strange for me to be writing this in defense of Clinton — I have always preferred other Democratic candidates over her based on her foreign policy hawkishness — but this is a position based on actual research and knowing the difference between an ideologue who cannot be reasoned with and a politician whose policies I don’t agree with fully.
Being a non-ideological liberal means I look always for politicians who are open to changing their minds. Clinton was not perfect by any means, but she was capable of self correcting and has long expressed a desire to see a more peaceful world. Her support for US military intervention is not, I believe, born out of a desire to subjugate foreign nations and profit from their misery. As the Washington Post’s Michael Kranish wrote:
Once branded dovish because of her antipathy to the Vietnam War, Clinton had watched from her front-row White House seat what happened when presidential power was left unused as masses died in Rwanda and initially in the Balkans.
As she saw the benefits of intervention, her views of executive power expanded. She argued that a president should have latitude to launch military missions because, as she starkly put it in justifying her 2002 vote, “sometimes a president has to do what he thinks is right no matter what anyone else says.” She embraced an approach to military force that in many cases argued for using it — rather than regretting not doing so.
Clinton is no neocon (or “neoliberal” as the far left likes to say now) — and to claim otherwise is to defy the evidence.
This brings us to the myth about the war mongering centrists attempting to derail the Trump administration for the purposes of starting a new global conflict with Russia. The far left and far right have been hammering this conspiracy theory down their followers throats for years now, basing their evidence on the fact that Hillary Clinton supported the war in Iraq, centrist liberals are pro-free trade, and Obama was “just as bad” as George W. Bush etc etc. This evidence free world view is neatly summarized by the screeching Caitlin Johnstone who manages to encapsulate every stereotype imaginable about the irrational extremist left:
Americans were given a horrible choice between two historically awful candidates, and they chose the lesser of two evils. We were told that if Trump was elected America would be either a smouldering crater or a goose-stepping fascist dystopia where Muslims are kept in concentration camps by now, and yet seven months later the US is still pretty much the same everyday corporatist bullshit factory Obama left it. We’re all still praying for a miracle to save us from the ecocidal, omnicidal trajectory America’s unelected power establishment has had our planet on, but at least we’re still in the fight. That is likely a lot more than you‘d have been able to say for a war-loving, Russia-hating strategical imbecile with no sense of responsibility for her own behavior.
Breitbart.com also echoes this view and have lauded Trump for his bravery in refusing to hold Russia to account for hacking the US presidential election in 2016. To them, everything Trump does is justifiable as long as he isn’t increasing tensions with Russia — a strange preoccupation given they seem to have no problem with him threatening nuclear war with North Korea on twitter, insulting all of America’s major allies, and inflaming the Middle East by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. The peace loving Alt Right believes that only a US conflict with Russia is bad, not because Russia helped elect Trump to office, but because, well, who knows?
For anyone with the vaguest understanding of international relations and the power dynamics that characterize the modern world, it is abundantly clear that Russia is no match for the US and certainly no match for NATO. While Putin is a thug, he isn’t suicidal and would not dream of engaging the US and her NATO allies in any sort of armed conflict. It would be over before it began, and Russia would simply cease to exist. It is a power imbalance that is tremendously beneficial when it comes to maintaining global stability. Russia’s expansionist ambitions have been largely contained over the past few decade, and Eastern European countries who have long, brutal histories of engagement with the former Soviet Union have remained largely free from interference. However, with Trump in office working night and day to fulfill Putin’s foreign policy ambitions of splitting NATO and giving him the green light to continue annexing Eastern Europe, the world we live in is a far more precarious place.
Without a unified NATO and a United States willing to check Russian aggression, global peace is far harder to maintain. While the far left and far right believe aggressively containing Russia will provoke World War III, in reality, the opposite is true. Putin is a violent sociopath who only understands the language of force — if he is given latitude, he will take it. If he is allowed to expand his territorial ambitions, the global power balance will look far, far different in the near future and Russia could become a genuine threat to the EU and America. Putin is playing a long game of chess here, and his aim is to make Russia a world dominating super power again.
Liberals, centrists and sane conservatives have long recognized this and see the value in the modern international system dominated by progressive democracies. While Hillary Clinton may have wanted to protect this system too aggressively, her sentiment has always been correct. The post World War II order has been successful in preventing a global catastrophe for good reason. The international agreements and organizations set up have been instrumental in preventing strongmen from dominating the global system, putting the rule of law and mutually beneficial trade at the center of their agendas. It isn’t a perfect system by any means, but the far left and far right’s attempts to smash are inconceivably dangerous. With nothing to replace it with, it is just destruction for the sake of it.
We are witnessing what happens to a functioning democracy when a strongman gets elected and begins to tear down the institutions that gave him power. Putin will do the same, and only a show of pragmatic strength can stop him.
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.