If you take seriously the premise that US military power is a force for international stability and global good, then a number of events over the last two weeks ought to give pause for thought. In Kosovo, nearly 16 years after NATO bombed Yugoslavia, UNCHR reported that 10,000 people had filed for asylum in Hungary in a single month, and as many as 20,000 Kosovars are leaving the country each month to escape poverty, corruption and unemployment.
In Libya, the executions of Coptic Christians carried out by ISIL raise the prospect of the disintegration of Libya into a ‘Somalia on the Mediterranean’. In Afghanistan the United Nations Assistance Mission (UNAMA) announced that civilian casualties last year reached a new record. That’s on top of the still ongoing implosion of Iraq, and Syria, and Ukraine, where the US has pursued less visible ‘regime change’ policies with no less catastrophic results.
In a sane and healthy democracy this legacy of civil war, state collapse, chaos and violence ought at the very least to raise an urgent debate about the strategic viability of militarism as a foreign policy instrument.
But there is little evidence of any such criticism and self-analysis in the two frontrunners for next year’s presidential elections. Astonishingly – and depressingly – America is facing the prospect of a contest between members of the two families that governed America from 1989 to 2009, and which also presided over some of the disasters we are now witnessing.
Let’s start with Hilary Clinton, who was last year voted the ‘most admired woman in America’ for the thirteenth year in a row, for reasons which are certainly not clear to me at least. After all, we are talking about a woman who lied – sorry ‘misspoke’ – about coming under sniper fire in Tuzla in order to boost her presidential prospects. Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq War, and she was a strong supporter of the bombing of Libya – even to the point of chortling happily when she heard that Gaddafi had been sodomized with a knife and shot dead.
You don’t have to like Gaddafi to observe that such behavior is a little…undignified, and more appropriate for a sociopath than a stateswoman. But Clinton is tough and wants American to know how tough she can be. She is a big fan of drones, which she says have taken ‘dozens of senior terrorists off the battlefield.’ She promised back in 2008 that America would ‘totally obliterate’ Iran if it carried out a nuclear strike on Israel – something that there is no evidence Iran has any capability to do or intention of doing.
And even as Libya was visibly falling apart she still wanted to bomb Syria. In an interview with one of the most well-known Zionist hawk journalists Jeffrey Goldberg she repeated the canard that the rise of ISIS was due to Obama’s failure to support ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels. She also defended Netanyahu over last year’s massacre in Gaza, claiming that ‘Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets’ and blaming the ‘intense international focus’ on the war on anti-Semitism and Hamas’s ‘stage-managing’ of the conflict.
Asked if Israel had done enough to prevent the deaths of children and other innocent people she waffled ‘ that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position’ and suggested that ‘ the anguish you are privy to because of the coverage, and the women and the children and all the rest of that, makes it very difficult to sort through to get to the truth.’
It is, if you have no interest in getting to it in the first place. Clinton distanced herself from Obama’s more cautious foreign policy, declaring that ‘Great nations need organizing principles, and “not doing stupid stuff” is not an organizing principle.’ She appeared to delineate a vague new version of Cold War ‘containment’ policy towards a jihadist threat that she compared to communism and fascism, and declared her ‘organizing principle’ as ‘peace, progress and prosperity.’
So what’s the difference between her and her possible opponent? Not too much really. Yesterday the ghastly Jeb Bush declared his foreign policy aspirations to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs and they are pretty much what you might expect from a man whose policy team is filled with the dregs of his brother’s advisors including men like Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Hadley, who in a sane world would never be allowed any way near public office again.
Bush declared himself to be ‘his own man’ and attempted to distance himself from the ‘mistakes’ that took place on his sibling’s watch. But he then repeated the same lie that his brother – and Tony Blair – has told so many times – that ‘ Using the intelligence capability that everybody embraced about weapons of mass destruction was not — turns out not to be accurate.’
The ‘mistakes’ were only due to the failure to provide security after ‘taking out’ Saddam Hussein. Apart from that, all good, especially the ‘surge’ which Bush calls “one of the most heroic acts of courage politically’ were it not for the fact that Obama ruined it – by observing the terms of the status of forces agreement that Bush had established – thereby creating ‘ a void’ that gave rise to ISIS.
Well actually there was no void. There was a massive, well-trained and well-equipped Iraqi army whose officers were so corrupt that they didn’t want to fight. But never mind, let’s continue the dream. Where his brother wanted to ‘smoke out’ Osama bin Laden, Bush wants to ‘take out’ ISIS. Like Clinton, he was at pains to declare his undying love of Israel. He wants a new sanctions bill to prevent Iran implementing a nuclear enrichment program that would ‘endanger Israel.’
Like Clinton, he wants foreign policy with a principle, which he calls ‘liberty democracy’, which should be ‘ backed up by the greatest military force in the world’ and supported by big increases in defense spending.
Nowhere in either of these two is there the slightest evidence of critical thinking, or any awareness that the policies they advocate might actually have produced even worse outcomes than the problems they were supposedly intended to solve. One of the reasons why Obama won the presidency and wrecked Clinton’s aspirations was because he was able to give the illusion of a radical departure from the rabid militarism of his predecessors.
Neither Clinton nor Bush are offering any such illusions. And their endorsement of militarism isn’t just a personal quirk, the results of too much political inbreeding through all these years of dynastic continuity. Its worse than that. The hawk v. hawk competition that now beckons is a testament to an imperial consensus in Washington that is impervious to any evidence that contradicts its own assumptions, and which continues to believe like Madeleine Albright, that America is the ‘indispensable nation’, when it really isn’t.