The Obama administration is now facing a real test of its resolve in Iraq. The depressing but utterly predictable resurgence of Sunni Jihadism in a country broken in 2003 and never put back together again by the “surge” has been so successful and the Iraqi government so weak that even Kurdistan is now at risk. The policy now is to do enough – but no more – to keep the Kurds in the game, keep the Yazidis on planet earth and push the Iraqis in Baghdad to get real. I felt queasy when the president announced this intervention and feel queasier two days later. Even though attempted genocide creates a uniquely grave crisis, as soon as the US is committed militarily to an open-ended endeavor in that country, and is in any way dependent on the Iraqis to take the lead, then we are at the mercy of that country’s profound dysfunction once again. It is quicksand. One foot in and you start sinking.
Or you can think of Iraq as perhaps the least reformable of all welfare dependents. Chronically divided, disintegrating yet again at a particularly explosive moment in Middle Eastern madness, it will always seem on the brink of some disaster or other. The temptation to go in again – especially since we gave it tens of thousands of corpses and years of trauma to add to its chaotic polity – is great. And Obama’s signature achievement so far has been his steadiness in resisting that vortex, in defusing Jihadism rather than giving it yet more reason to be inflamed, in being that rare president capable of internalizing what most Americans want – rather than what Sunday talk show blowhards demand.
He still has a chance to do that – but it will be much, much tougher now. Give the hegemonists some blood in the water, and they will soon swarm, demanding more war, and more meddling. You can see that dynamic in the idiotic ravings of John McCain who wants a full-scale war against ISIL – or in the classic scare tactics of Butters, with the inane idea that we have to fight them over there or they will come here. It is madness as strategy – madness that already created catastrophe. But no one responsible for that catastrophe in Washington was ever held accountable – they’re doing their damndest right now to make sure war criminals are white-washed as well – and so their ability to snap back right to 2003 is intact.
And the greatest throwback to 2003 in this respect is Hillary Clinton. So far as one can tell from her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, there is no daylight between her and John McCain or even Benjamin Netanyahu – but a hell of a lot of space between her and Barack Obama. The interview confirms my view that she remains neoconservatism’s best bet to come back with bells on. It appears, for example, that her boomer-era pabulum about foreign policy on the Jon Stewart show – “We need to love America again! – was not an aberration. She actually means it. And once we believe in ourselves again – don’t look at that torture report! – it will be back to the barricades for another American century of American global hegemony. And why not start in Syria and Iraq? I mean: she’s already hepped up about the threat of Jihadism – and what could possibly go wrong this time? If only we believe in America!
You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward. One issue is that we don’t even tell our own story very well these days.
Just forget that this country destroyed its military deterrence and its moral authority by the war that Clinton favored and has never fully expressed remorse for. Forget the trillions wasted and the tens of thousands of lives lost and the brutal torture we authorized and the hapless occupation that helped galvanize Jhadism, let’s just feel good about ourselves! And do it all again!
And so try and find a real difference between John McCain and Hillary Clinton on these topics. It’s certainly the same “fight them over there so we don’t fight them over here” fear-mongering:
One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.
Well, actually, their raison d’etre is not to be against the West. Right now and for the foreseeable future, it is about defeating the apostates of Shia Islam and wimpy Sunni Islam. It’s about forcing other Muslims to submit to their medieval authority – with weapons left behind from the last American interventionist project. The West for these Jihadis is a long, long way away. But not for Clinton or for McCain who see every struggle anywhere as involving the US because … America! And that’s when you realize how fresh Obama was and how vital he has been – and how in foreign policy, a Clinton presidency is such a contrast to his.
Among those most eager for a return of the past is, of course, Benjamin Netanyahu. And you see in the interview with Goldberg how closely Clinton’s views mirror his. She hits every single neocon talking point: the Israelis have no responsibility for the killing of hundreds of children because “there’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict … So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.” That’s almost a paraphrase of the Israeli prime minister or Joan Rivers (take your pick of the nuance artists). And Clinton even backs Netanyahu’s recent dismissal of a two-state solution! Yep: she’s not just running to succeed Barack Obama, there are times in the interview when it seems she’s running against him:
“If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over [West Bank] security, because even if I’m dealing with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience.”
Again, you see how fresh Obama was. And what more could the entire neocons wish for? Oh wait: yes! They can also get their most cherished of dreams – a new war on Iran! Listen to Clinton parrot every AIPAC trope:
“I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment,” Clinton said. “Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.” When I asked her if the demands of Israel, and of America’s Arab allies, that Iran not be allowed any uranium-enrichment capability whatsoever were militant or unrealistic, she said, “I think it’s important that they stake out that position.”
Clinton’s position is Netanyahu’s. And that’s important to understand. If you want a United States with no daylight between it and any Israeli government, whatever that government may do, vote for Clinton. If you want someone who believes the Libya intervention was the right thing to do, vote for Clinton. If you think America’s problem is not torture or drones or destabilizing occupations or debt but that we don’t tell the world how great we are enough, then vote for Clinton. If you really long for 2003 again, vote for Clinton.
She may be the only option – if the GOP nominates a full-bore pro-torture neocon. But isn’t it amazing that after the catastrophes of the Bush-Cheney era, both parties could effectively be running neocons for the presidency in 2016! Welcome to Washington – where the past is always present, amnesia is a lubricant, and the leading Democrat is running as a neocon. That change you could believe in? Not if Washington has the final say.