Magazine August 1, 2016, Issue

Foreign-Policy Failure

(Roman Genn)
At State and before, Clinton showed herself unsuited to be commander-in-chief.

Many veteran Republican foreign-policy hands have expressed alarm at the prospect of a President Donald Trump. Some, including leading “realists” such as Brent Scowcroft and “neoconservatives” such as Robert Kagan and Max Boot, have gone so far as to say they’d vote for Hillary Clinton. Others, including Mitt Romney, have more subtly suggested that she’d be the lesser of two evils. They should look closer at her record.

It’s not hard to see why neoconservatives, in particular, would see Hillary as in some ways a kindred spirit philosophically. While the term is often misused, the neoconservative foreign-policy school rests on two main pillars. First, neoconservatives are internationalists who believe that projecting American power and influence (militarily and otherwise) out into the world to shape events before they reach our shores will benefit the United States and the world at large. Second, neoconservatives are American exceptionalists who believe that spreading “the American way” (democracy, the rule of law, and civil, political, and economic liberties) increases the likelihood of a world with more U.S. allies, fewer U.S. enemies, fewer wars, and fewer of the conditions that breed terrorism.

Viewed from a distance, Hillary’s hawkish internationalist instincts would seem to place her close to the neoconservative camp, if not quite inside it. She was the chief architect of America’s most recent war (the 2011 air campaign to topple Moammar Qaddafi’s government in Libya), a moving force behind her husband’s 1999 Kosovo War, and a provider of crucial bipartisan cover for the Bush administration’s Iraq War. Her views on trade, immigration, U.S. alliances, and the U.S. role in multinational organizations mark her as much more internationalist than Trump. Her opponents in the Democratic primaries of 2008 and 2016, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, respectively, often criticized her for being too hawkish.

But even at the big-picture level, it’s apparent that Hillary has often sided with transnational progressives — who see international organizations as a restraint on, not a complement of, U.S. power and independence — over American exceptionalists. One of her first major decisions as secretary of state was to have the U.S. join the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the Bush administration had boycotted on the grounds that it gave oppressive states such as Sudan and Zimbabwe a platform from which to attack Israel and deflect attention from their own abuses. She has pushed for a variety of international agreements that intrude on domestic policy: climate-change accords (she cites a 2009 Copenhagen summit as a major accomplishment), the U.N. Conventions on the Rights of the Child and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a U.N. small-arms-treaty process that was criticized as backdoor gun control. She even subjected the U.S. to a U.N. human-rights review. Even when these efforts have been modest and halting, they have illustrated that transnational progressive activists that no Republican administration would tolerate would have a foothold in a Hillary Clinton administration.

When one looks beyond her broad instincts to the details of how she has actually handled and implemented foreign-policy decisions, it is clear that Hillary Clinton would be a terrible commander-in-chief. Take Iraq: Why did then-senator Clinton support the war? The New York Times suggested in 2007, based on “dozens of interviews with advisers to Clinton and with past and present senators and their aides,” that it was her fear of gender politics: “Clinton knew she could never advance her career — or win the presidency, especially — if she didn’t prove that she was tough enough to be commander-in-chief. Female candidates, it’s presumed, have often suffered as a result of the stereotype that they could never be as strong as men.” Yet despite basing most of her arguments for war on intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction (WMD), she apparently did not even read the National Intelligence Estimate, reportedly because she had only ten days to tackle its 90 pages. Fear of being outflanked in domestic politics continued to pervade her decision-making as the war progressed. Former defense secretary Robert Gates, who served with her in the Obama cabinet, recounted in his memoirs a meeting at which “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary.”

Or consider Libya. The Arab Spring was in theory a great opportunity to test neoconservative principles about the benefits of removing anti-American tyrants in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Qaddafi was no friend to the United States, so removing him would be no loss, right? But even many Republican hawks who sympathized with the idea of supporting Qaddafi’s ouster opposed the war in practice. Qaddafi had been defanged in late 2003, when he surrendered Libya’s WMD program, and — unlike Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War — he hadn’t been a significant source of mischief since. The U.S. also had little reliable intelligence on who might replace Qaddafi. The administration’s failure to consider what would come next facilitated the weakness, internal strife, and rising Islamist influence in Libya that led to both the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and the civil war that wracks the country to this day. Notably, the volume of Clinton’s e-mails on Libya dropped off precipitously in 2012 as the intervention produced embarrassing and increasingly dangerous results for the State Department’s people on the ground, culminating in the September 2012 atrocities in Benghazi. Hillary’s response to those deaths was to go into political damage-control mode.

E-mails released by the House Select Committee on Benghazi strongly suggest that political calculation — and worse — was instrumental in Clinton’s decision to push for war in Libya. During the run-up to the war, she maintained a correspondence with close political adviser and longtime Clinton-family confidant Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal peppered Hillary with advice and suggestions, often joining her staff in emphasizing opportunities for her to burnish her political profile. He also shared the products of his amateur intelligence network, which extended to conspiratorial musings about the French joining the Libya War to stop Qaddafi from launching his own gold-backed pan-African currency to compete with the French-backed CFA franc. Hillary evidently valued Blumenthal’s input, often forwarding his e-mails to her staff. On one occasion, she instructed them to collect and circulate his e-mails as if they were her own memo; on another, she asked Ambassador Chris Stevens to read and respond to Blumenthal’s e-mails. When Blumenthal suggested a no-fly zone over Libya, Hillary forwarded the suggestion to her top deputy, then promised Blumenthal the next day that she was taking the suggestion to the U.N. Security Council. She apparently did not mind that Blumenthal’s concern with Libya was nakedly self-interested: He and his “intelligence sources” had a private military-contracting business, Osprey Global Solutions, that he hoped to market to the new Libyan government. Despite knowing this, Hillary wrote to her deputy, at Blumenthal’s suggestion, that “the idea of using private security experts to arm the opposition should be considered.” Keep in mind that Hillary was attending diligently to Blumenthal at the same time that she was denying her ambassador’s repeated requests for additional protection.

Then there are Hillary’s relationships with America’s great-power rivals, China and Russia. She famously got off on the wrong foot by presenting Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov with a Reset button that actually read Overcharge in Russian. That was poor staff work, but also a humiliating bit of groveling before a regime that’s obsessed with projecting strength. At the Copenhagen climate summit, she and President Obama were “hunting” (her own word) for the cloistered Chinese delegation in order to beg them to sign an agreement. The lead Chinese negotiator described the toothless pact that resulted as “not an agreed document” and “not formally endorsed or adopted.” Yet the Obama administration dutifully promised to contribute to the $100 billion public-private “Green Climate” fund backed by “developed nations” (read: not China) — a promise to which Congress would never have agreed. Anyone with a modicum of negotiating experience knows that the willingness to sign anything, no matter the terms, signals desperation.

Finally, of course, consider Hillary’s hosting of classified information on her private “home-brew” e-mail server, a grossly reckless practice that likely exposed national-security secrets to the prying eyes of America’s enemies. Hillary’s conduct shows clearly that she was far more worried that Republicans would see her e-mails than that Russia or China would do so.

Hillary Clinton may well be less prone to rhetorical misadventures, and have more philosophical common ground with some of the Right’s foreign-policy factions, than Donald Trump. But her record is full of giant red flags suggesting that she would be a commander-in-chief obsessed with her domestic political image, grossly negligent of basic security, uninterested in follow-through, weak in the face of strong adversaries, and willing to sell out American interests to profit her friends or give political power to her allies.

– Mr. McLaughlin is an attorney in New York City and a National Review Online columnist.

Dan McLaughlin is an attorney practicing securities and commercial litigation in New York City, and a contributing columnist at National Review Online.

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