Hillary, The Neo-Neocon?

Hillary Clinton Awarded The 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize

Kim Ghattas paints Hillary Clinton as a secretary of state much more concerned than her boss with upholding American power and prestige around the world, and as her new book would have it, more realistic about the need to deal firmly with international threats:

Clinton was loyal and discreet, but within the confines of that loyalty, she sometimes chafed at Obama’s policy, perhaps never more so than over Syria. In Rabat in February 2012, we chatted after an interview that had focused on Syria’s revolution and Washington’s hands-off approach. She shook her head as she told me that Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran were all in, supporting Assad.

Her implicit question was: Where is the United States? We know now she was advocating internally for more robust support for the rebels, because she understood that America was leaving too much empty space for spoilers like Hezbollah to fill (there’s a separate debate to be had about whether it would have been the right policy). And with regard to dealing with Russia more directly, Clinton emphasizes in Hard Choices that she was more clear-eyed about Vladimir Putin than Obama, advising the president to turn down a summit with the Russian leader months before Obama ended up doing just that.

For me, it’s one fundamental worry about her: an instinct to meddle, and a barely reconstructed mindset about interventionism straight from the hubristic 1990s. Then there’s the question of Israel/Palestine and the settlements that continue apace. Aaron Blake pulls from the book one key foreign policy issue on which Clinton and Obama disagreed:

Clinton says that she differed with Obama on his push for a 2009 freeze on the construction of new Israeli settlements in disputed regions. Clinton suggests she wouldn’t have adopted such a hard-line stance and says that it increased tensions between the two sides. “I was worried that we would be locking ourselves into a confrontation we didn’t need,” she writes. Still, she says she toed the line as a loyal Cabinet secretary. “So that spring I delivered the President’s message as forcefully as I could, then tried to contain the consequences when both sides reacted badly,” Clinton writes.

The upshot: Obama’s occasionally rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no secret. This sounds like Clinton saying she’s a little less likely to rock the boat with the United States’ top ally in the region.

My fear is that this is tantamount to surrender to the Greater Israel lobby and to the entire project of Greater Israel. Thomas Wright praises Clinton for using her term at State to “shape the international order.” But Chotiner shrugs at her record:

It’s true that she put an admirable focus on women’s rights, and played a role in isolating Iran. But the Afghanistan surge didn’t seem to have a huge effect; Syria policy has been a failure, even if the alternatives were all bleak; Iraq has collapsed since our departure (again, good alternatives did not clearly present themselves); she was probably too cautious about the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, although that didn’t keep him in power; she backed the Libyan campaign, which currently must count as a mixed bag …

Still, even if you want to argue that Clinton had no huge successes, her tenure had no gigantic managerial failures either. Her competence has rarely been called into question by anyone except those on the extreme right still frothing at the mouth over Benghazi. (She could have handled the fallout more adeptly, it is true.) If it seems odd that her most high-profile job tells us so little about what sort of president she would be, remember that Obama’s Senate career told us very little about his presidency.

Here’s the record: support for the disastrous intervention in Libya and for getting involved in one side in the Syrian civil war. Christian Caryl notes that Burma isn’t the success story Hillary is trying to sell it as:

After the initial euphoria of Thein Sein’s early moves toward change, Myanmar has stagnated. Aung San Suu Kyi and her small group of pro-democracy colleagues sit in parliament, but they have little real power. Aung San Suu Kyi has launched a campaign to amend the current constitution, which was designed by the military to allow for a liberalization of national political life that would nonetheless leave it firmly in charge of the parliament and all the other national institutions that count. But so far the generals show no inclination to budge — leaving the pro-democratic forces little chance of fielding a viable candidate in next year’s presidential election. In a word: The military remains firmly in control. Democracy remains a theory.

Noah Millman hopes for a dovish opponent to challenge Hillary in the primaries:

Hillary Clinton is going to run as an extremely hawkish Democrat, because that’s who she actually is. This is not what the country needs, and probably not what the country wants, but it may well be what the country is going to get. If Clinton runs essentially unopposed in the Democratic primary, and faces a mainstream Republican in the fall, voters will likely have a choice between two hawks. …

There’s good reason, therefore, for voters who favor a more restrained foreign policy to hope that Clinton faces at least token opposition in the primaries focused primarily on that issue. Then there would at least be one forum where the topic would be raised, and raised seriously, for Clinton to address. In the best-case scenario, such opposition would get more press attention than it deserved, which would force Clinton to make some kind of gesture to placate the doves in her coalition.

I really don’t like that hawk-dove paradigm. The real paradigm should be between those who have fully absorbed the terrible lessons of the first decade of the 21st century and those who see it as a mere, unfortunate blip in the maintenance of American global hegemony. And it looks distressingly likely we have have a choice between two candidates who intend to return to the meddling, expensive and counter-productive past.

(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty)