Foreign affairs took center stage on the campaign trail last week as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz paid obeisance to wealthy Jewish-Americans at the hardline pro-Israel lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) while Bernie Sanders made his Israel speech at a campaign event on the same night. Trump and Cruz named their top foreign policy advisers. Clinton generally locked up the Democratic Party establishment on foreign affairs and national security, leaving Bernie Sanders…well, maybe Comrade Bernie will give me a call.
The terrorist attacks in Brussels gave Trump and Cruz additional opportunity to spew anti-Muslim venom when they were not spewing venom at one another in the contretemps around their wives in a Republican Party contest that plays like something scripted by the writers at Saturday Night Live or The Onion.
The candidate touts her foreign policy experience and accomplishments as secretary of state, when she
worked to restore America’s leadership in the world, after it was badly eroded by eight years of the Bush administration’s go-it-alone foreign policy…. from building a global coalition to impose crippling sanctions against Iran, to brokering a ceasefire in Gaza and protecting Israel, to supporting President Obama’s decision to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, and much more [emphasis mine]. (Clinton campaign website)
Along with her experience, Clinton has a reputation for preparation and attention to detail. She is without question a sharp cookie. During the 1992 presidential campaign I found myself thinking that it was too bad her husband was the candidate. She struck me as the more impressive of the two. Yet there is that vote on Iraq in 2002. (n.b., Fred Kaplan, Hillary Clinton Told the Truth About Her Iraq War Vote, for perspective and context that puts her vote in a better light without absolving her of responsibility for what turned out to put her on the wrong side of history, as they say). There is the email kerfuffle, blown up and milked by her enemies for all they can get out of it but nonetheless troublesome. It is not too much to ask what the heck she was thinking. While experience is important, it is not everything. As Bernie Sanders likes to remind us, judgment matters.
Parenthetical observation: Yes, even intelligent people can do things that leave us scratching our heads. My own resume is littered with poor choices and foolish moves that leave me scratching my head. On the other hand, I am merely your oft humbled scribe. Hillary Clinton wants your vote for president.
The Clinton campaign website and her speech to AIPAC stake out consistent neocon policy. Clinton equates Israeli interests with American security and strategic interests.
Since it was founded in 1948, Israel has become the largest single recipient of U.S foreign assistance — a total of $121 billion, almost all of which has been in the form of military assistance. (Journalist’s Resource).
Under a Clinton presidency, not only will this level of military aid continue, it will be ramped up. She requested increased military assistance for Israel every year of her term at State and promises more of the same to maintain Israel’s position as the dominant military power in the region. It is worth noting that Bibi Netanyahu credited “unprecedented” security cooperation between the two countries during her time as secretary of state.
If there is anything from Clinton to suggest that she will rebut the Netanyahu regime’s presumption that it should hold veto power over American policy in the Middle East, I have yet to find it. She could almost be running as the Likud Party candidate.
Alongside this embrace of Israel comes tough talk and saber rattling on Iran that would do Trump and Cruz proud. She pays lip service to diplomacy, yet emphasizes that her approach to the nuclear agreement with Iran will be “distrust and verify” while “bolstering deterrence and aggressively confronting Iran’s unacceptable [elsewhere labeled “malicious”] behavior in the region.” Her call to “condemn actions that set back the cause of peace” is one-sided, directed solely at Palestinians, ignoring the occupation, settlements, and other obstacles to peace from the Israeli side.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz
Trump and Cruz tell us they will achieve foreign policy objectives and provide for national security via torture and bombing carpets. It turns out that Cruz either does not know what the term “carpet bombing” means or does not care. He uses it because it makes for inflammatory rhetoric, a penchant for which he has in common with Trump. The difference is that Trump tends to be more effective.
Trump’s speech to AIPAC is riddled with inaccuracies and provocations. He repudiates the nuclear agreement with Iran and repeats the fabrication that the U.S. will “reward” Iran with $150 billion as part of the deal. “Trump’s statement makes it sound like we’re cutting Iran a $150 billion check. In reality, the money is already Iran’s to begin with, just frozen under the many economic sanctions levied against the country.” (Linda Qui, No, Donald Trump, we are not giving Iran $150 billion for ‘nothing’). He seems blissfully ignorant of Daesh’s antipathy toward Shi’a Muslims as he invokes the bugaboo of generic “Islamic terrorism,” ignoring Daesh’s vicious and widespread campaign against Shi’a Muslims, including the bombing of mosques and attacks against other civilian targets.
Trump has identified himself as his own primary resource on foreign policy. This is not reassuring.
In a fantasy world of foreign policy, we could be good friends with Putin. Principles get in the way of cozying up with dictators. So does information. But Mr. Trump has found a way around that. He simply has none. (Danielle Pletka, senior vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, quoted in Damian Paletta and Beth Reinhard, “Foreign-Policy Plans Get Sharper Focus”)
The line-up of foreign-policy advisors Trump named a few days ago did not impress.
“I don’t know any of them,” said Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a former official in the George W. Bush State Department. “National security is hard to do well even with first rate people. It’s almost impossible to do well with third rate people.” (Michael Crowley, Trump’s foreign policy team baffles Republican experts)
The Cruz team of Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, Elliot Abrams, and Lt. General Jerry Boykin may be even worse. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Gaffney one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes, a distinction he earned.
Gripped by paranoid fantasies about Muslims destroying the West from within, Gaffney believes that “creeping Shariah,” or Islamic religious law, is a dire threat to American democracy. In 1988, he founded the neoconservative turned anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy. He favors congressional hearings to unmask subversive Muslim conspiracies, and was even banned from far-right Conservative Political Action Conference events after accusing two of its organizers of being agents of the Muslim Brotherhood [emphasis mine]. (SPLC)
Ledeen is a former Reagan administration official involved in the Iran-contra affair who calls for regime change in Iran. Abrams is another Iran-contra alumnus. As part of the Reagan team, he also had his fingers in some unsavory anti-communist activity in Central America that included human rights violations and violations of international law. Abrams graduated to the Bush administration, where he played a major role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, of which he noted, “We recognize that military action in Iraq, if necessary, will have adverse humanitarian consequences.” (Adrienne Masha Varkiani, Meet The People Behind Ted Cruz’s Terrifying Foreign Policy Plan). Last but not least, Boykin is former undersecretary of defense for intelligence in the George W Bush administration and presently a senior executive at Family Research Council. Like Gaffney, he believes that American government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Col. Pat Lang offered this pithy assessment of the Cruz team:
Oddly, I know all these men. Where did I go wrong? Ah, too much time inside the Beltway!…
These four men collectively summon up images from the history channel, and they are not good images.
Cruz identifies Iran and ISIS (Daesh) as responsible for the worsening security climate, as if the two are allies instead of the mortal enemies they are. A Cruz administration would recognize an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and locate the U.S. embassy there, as would Trump. Like Trump, Clinton, and to a degree even Sanders, though Bernie’s take is more nuanced (in a more positive sense of this term than it is customarily given these days), Cruz posits an intimate link between Israel and U.S. national security issues. The opening of Cruz’s AIPAC speech sums up his stance:
“Let me say at the outset,” the Texas senator said as he took the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual gathering, “Perhaps to the surprise of the previous speaker [Trump], Palestine has not existed since 1948.”
Bernie Sanders has the twin advantages of offering a levelheaded alternative to both the neocon worldview and the Trump-Cruz collection of third-rate, vitriol-spewing, fear-mongering pinheads. By way of example, take these comments from his campaign website:
The U.S. must play a leading role in creating a two-state solution, which will require significant compromises from both sides. The Palestinians must unequivocally recognize Israel’s right to exist, and hold accountable those who have committed terrorist acts. The Israelis must end the blockade of Gaza, and cease developing settlements on Palestinian land. Both sides must negotiate in good faith regarding all other outstanding issues that stand in the way of a durable and lasting peace in the region. In the meantime, strict adherence, by all sides, to the tenets of international humanitarian law is necessary in order to avoid escalating the conflict yet again.
Sanders and the other candidates are united in calling on Sunnis in the region to take the lead in providing ground forces for the fight against Daesh. This is one of those common-wisdom numbers that sound good until inconvenient details get in the way. Col Lang pours cold water on the strategy:
The notion that a pan-Sunni armed force can be created for the re-conquest of Iraq and IS controlled Syria is a fantasy. Why? Answer: There are no Sunni dominated countries who either have the forces needed or who are willing to deprive themselves of the homeland presence of what are in essence internal security forces. The idea that Saudi Arabia with its puny actual combat power could be the core of such a force is known to be ridiculous by all with a modicum of actual knowledge of the region. Any such force would inevitably be a screen for the employment of major US ground forces to do the real fighting. The US citizenry will not accept such a thing. The US government appears to be living in a world of its own dreams and group think.
Sanders is good on principle, which is not to be taken lightly. However, there is nothing here or elsewhere to indicate that he has any more clue than anyone else as to how to bring about desired ends. Nor does he tell us who he might bring onto his team to implement his program.
A problem for Sanders is that Clinton has effectively locked up the foreign-policy establishment on the Democratic side.
One expert said the system helped ensure loyalty for Clinton by creating “the illusion of inclusion.”
“Even though you’re one of hundreds, you feel like you’re part of the team,” said one prominent think tank scholar. (John Hudson, Inside Hillary Clinton’s Massive Foreign-Policy Brain Trust)
Hillary Clinton is less likely than Trump or Cruz to do anything truly boneheaded in the international arena. She is more likely to be incrementally boneheaded. This is at best only somewhat reassuring. Her AIPAC speech could almost have been delivered by Trump or Cruz. That the qualifier is in order is some indication of just how far out where the buses don’t run one must venture to find the two Republican candidates and the latrines they are busy digging.
Sanders makes much of the vote on Iraq. He got it right. Clinton got it wrong. On that vote Sanders took a principled stand counter to public opinion and establishment wisdom He also failed to influence the debate. It is disturbingly easy to see this scenario playing out as a hallmark of a Sanders presidency.
There is more to the election that foreign affairs and national security. The candidates’ positions here leave me no more sanguine about the country’s prospects than their platforms on the domestic front. As I have said before, I wish I could feel better about Hillary Clinton. I wish I could be as enthusiastic for Bernie Sanders as others are. Part of my dilemma comes down to being persuaded by people like Molly Ivins and Tony Judt that politics is about fighting for incremental progress that will make a difference, maybe only a terribly small difference, but a real difference for the better in the lives of concrete, individual women, men, and children, and the never-ending struggle to keep even those modest gains from being rolled back.
Some friends on the left will not vote for Clinton under any circumstances, and perhaps would find reason not to vote for Sanders because he is not a real socialist. With them I differ on the grounds that a Republican president, whether Trump or Cruz or some variation more palatable to the Republican establishment, say, John Kasich or Paul Ryan, will do their best to roll back what incremental progress has been made during the Obama presidency, and more if they can pull it off, with a terrible effect on the lives of many people. Principles matter. They are not to be lightly put aside even on pragmatic grounds. Nor should they be allowed to paralyze us into inaction when at best they can be only imperfectly realized.
Maybe the challenge is to retain high-mindedness while accepting the necessity of incrementalism, to acknowledge that often we must settle for incremental change without settling for settling.
Quote of the Week
JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you had Ted Cruz saying, what we need to do is send more security into patrolling basically neighborhoods where Muslim Americans live.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I have spent the last week so repulsed by Donald Trump, I had forgotten how ugly Ted Cruz could be, but he reminded us this week. (PBS Newshour, 25 March 2016)
Ryan Beckwith, Read Hillary Clinton’s Speech to AIPAC, TIME, 21 March 2016
Ted Cruz: I could not find a transcript of Ted Cruz’s AIPAC speech and could not bring myself to watch to the youtube video. Those interested may refer to Katie Glueck’s Politico account of the speech listed below under Articles and Commentary.
Bernie Sanders Outlines Middle East Policy (just not at AIPAC)
Articles and Commentary
Juan Cole, Hillary Clinton goes full Neocon at AIPAC, Demonizes Iran, Palestinians, Informed Comment, 22 March 2016
Michael Crowley, Trump’s foreign policy team baffles Republican experts, Politico, 21 March 2016
Katie Glueck, Cruz courts AIPAC, swiping Trump in process, Politico, 21 March 2016
John Hudson, Inside Hillary Clinton’s Massive Foreign-Policy Brain Trust, Foreign Affairs, 10 February 2016
Human Rights Watch, US: Endorse Goldstone Report on Gaza, HRW, 27 September 2009
Louis Jacobson, Ted Cruz misfires on definition of ‘carpet bombing’ in GOP debate, Politifact, 16 December 2015
Journalist’s Resource, U.S. foreign aid to Israel: 2014 congressional report, 2 March 2015
Fred Kaplan, Hillary Clinton Told the Truth About Her Iraq War Vote, Slate, 4 February 2016
Pat Lang, Two Systems, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 18 March 2016
Lang, The Cruz Team: Abrams, Gaffney, Boykin and Ledeen, SST, 19 March 2016.
Lang, In Re Syria, SST, 10 February 2016
Damian Paletta and Beth Reinhard, “Foreign-Policy Plans Get Sharper Focus,” Wall Street Journal, 18 March 2018 (available online by subscription only)
Ed Pilkington, Ted Cruz campaign’s anti-Muslim propagandists called ‘terrifying’, The Guardian, 25 March 2016
Linda Qui, No, Donald Trump, we are not giving Iran $150 billion for ‘nothing’, Politifact, 17 March 2016
Southern Poverty Law Center, About Frank Gaffney Jr.
Conal Urquhart, The Goldstone report: a history, The Guardian, 14 April 2011
Adrienne Masha Varkiani, Meet The People Behind Ted Cruz’s Terrifying Foreign Policy Plan, ThinkProgress, 17 March 2016
David :: Mar.26.2016 ::
House Red: Politics & Current Affairs ::
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