Hadassah Rodham Clinton?

U.S. Hosts Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

If she’s elected, Aaron David Miller predicts that the second President Clinton will bring a quick thaw to American-Israeli relations:

Given the lack of competition, unless he stumbles badly, Netanyahu may well outlast Obama. And that brings us to the matter of Hillary Clinton. Those of you looking for a new sheriff in town — one who is willing and able to teach those Israelis a lesson, cut them down to size, and make it clear to them as Bill Clinton, who exploded in frustration following his first meeting with Netanyahu in 1996, did when he said, “Who’s the fucking superpower here?” — best lay down and lie quietly until the feeling passes.

That’s not Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, she conceded in her book Hard Choices that she was never comfortable playing the bad cop with Netanyahu to Joe Biden’s more even-tempered good cop. And yet, she has some natural advantages that would help mitigate some of the gratuitous tensions that have made an already tough relationship tougher and perhaps lay the groundwork for more productive cooperation. Should she become president, on one level, better ties with Israel are virtually guaranteed.

But while a more accommodating White House would be a boon to Netanyahu’s government, Larison stresses that it won’t exactly be good news for anyone else:

Miller’s main argument is that Clinton will probably manage the relationship with Israel more successfully than Obama has. That could be true, but it is worth noting that in practice this “better” management will be little more than endorsing and backing whatever the Israeli government does. Obama has occasionally, briefly put a little bit of pressure on Israel to maybe modify its most obnoxious policies ever so slightly, and the relationship is at its lowest nadir in twenty years and Obama is reviled for his supposed “hostility” to the country. The Bush approach was to enable and excuse almost everything that the Israeli government did or wanted to do, and Clinton seems interested in imitating Bush’s example.

(Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the first day of direct trilateral negotiations about a Middle East peace plan in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State on September 2, 2010. By Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A Much-Doubted Detente


President Obama arrived in Burma today for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia summits. Given how the country has backslid on reforms since Obama’s groundbreaking visit two years ago, his return highlights how the rehabilitation Burmese junta didn’t quite go off as planned:

Skeptics warned at the time that the presidential visit and the relaxation of most U.S. sanctions were mistakes because they gave Myanmar’s military leaders too much of a reward for the changes they’d made and diminished U.S. leverage going forward. “Two years after that trip, there have not been a lot of big changes. There has been a lot of backsliding and a lot of inertia,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. “Once the bulk of the financial sanctions were lifted, right after that, reforms began to stall, which is why we urged them not to do it in one go.” After that push in 2012, he said, “There was very little motivation for [the generals] to continue to move.”

One former senior administration official recalled that “there were plenty of arguments about how and when to lift a set of sanctions” to encourage the government’s opening. Now, despite the easing of financial and investment sanctions and the president’s and secretary of state’s visits, he acknowledged that “some of those things have actually gotten worse in the last year,” with officials in Myanmar not allowing a “real opening of the political process” and having done a “horrendous job in their treatment of the Rohingya minority.”

The stalling of the reforms also puts a pallor on Hillary Clinton’s legacy in the State Department, of which the opening of Burma was supposed to be a bright spot. Thomas Maresca reminds us of the continuing plight of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, some 140,000 of whom are living in squalid displaced persons camps while another 100,000 or so have fled to neighboring countries:

“The problems facing the Rohingya are among the most desperate human crises in Asia today,” said Murray Hiebert, deputy director of Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “With thousands of Rohingya fleeing on boats for Thailand and Malaysia, this problem stretches far beyond the borders of Myanmar.”

In Baw Du Pha, the camp where [Ousman] Gani is confined, families share 10-by-10-foot rooms and subsist almost entirely on rations of rice, chickpeas, salt and palm oil delivered by the United Nations World Food Program. Health care is at a crisis level ever since the Myanmar government expelled the aid group Doctors Without Borders in February, accusing it of favoring Muslims. Death and illness have become grimly commonplace around the Baw Du Pha camp. Noor Jahar, a widow, showed visitors empty medicine packets and photos of her daughter, Sham Sida, who died in April after treatment for her tuberculosis ran out. Others in the camp said 11 children have died in the past month from diarrhea caused by lack of sanitation and clean drinking water.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy, Obama himself acknowledges Burma’s backsliding, but says he plans to put more pressure on the government regarding reforms:

My message to the government … will be that it has a responsibility to ensure the well-being of all the people in the country, and that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all people are respected. This is one of the most basic duties of any government. Victims deserve justice, and the perpetrators of crimes and abuses must be held to account in a credible and transparent manner. At the same time, every person has a role to play in Burma’s renewal. For example, much of the violence against the Rohingya and other Muslim communities in Rakhine State is being committed by local residents, but the government has a responsibility to work with the people to improve the humanitarian situation, and to address the underlying challenges. That’s why, when I spoke at the University of Yangon two years ago, I spoke directly to the people of the country about the importance of tolerance and the inherent dignity we all share as human beings. All of us in our own lives have to be vigilant aside bias and prejudice. Burma, like all nations, will be stronger and more successful if it draws on the strength of all of its people. Its remarkable diversity should be seen as a strength, not a threat.

(Photo: Burma President Thein Sein (R) walks with US President Barack Obama after the latter arrived at the Burma’s capital Naypyidaw on November 12, 2014. By Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images)

The Empire Is Striking Back

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 Hillary Clinton Awarded The 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prizedays 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 mccainmariotamagetty.jpgaccountable – 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 Benjamin Netanyahu Chairs Weekly Israeli Cabinet Meetingevery 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.

Dissents Of The Day

Several readers jump on this quote of mine:

“Clinton’s developing a new formula for politics: stand for nothing but winning power. And the Democrats seem perfectly happy with it.” Perfectly happy? No. Accepting of reality? Trying to be.

There’s no new formula here. It’s just Machiavellian. Ask yourself: Why on earth would Hillary stake out a position in favor of some philosophy, doctrine, or model that she plans to sell us on?  One that already has its legions of paid detractors?  A nice, book-length box into which she can spend 8 years cramming the world?  Instead she takes on the unsexy and, obviously, less academically palatable task of judging the world as it is: a 3D chess game where the rules change constantly.

Labeling and categorizing reality based on something you read is just another ideology. I don’t think Hillary stands for “nothing” because she’s not into that game. I think she stands for enlightened self-interest, as expressed through a desire to see America win those games in which she chooses to engage, to the greater glory of, of course, herself.

The question should not be, “Is Hillary Clinton a moral leader?” The question should be, “Is Hillary Clinton America’s best bet to lead in a post-moral world?”

It’s not craven, cynical, or even strictly selfish of her.  It’s her acknowledgement that we live “after history.”  It’s intuitive, I think.  It’s that bedrock Clinton talent of fingering the wind.  Is she right?  She’s a better bet than Ted Cruz, or some other deluded hack.


While I’m personally horrified by the prospect of Hillary Clinton running for president, her policy vacuity may be the only thing I don’t hold against her. You write, “Clinton’s developing a new formula for politics: stand for nothing but winning power. And the Democrats seem perfectly happy with it.”

In other news, the sun rises in the east and the sky is blue. Vacuous standard-bearer candidates are the norm, not the exception, in American history. And rightly so: Prior to WWII, the president had so little real power that his personality only mattered in the most unusual of crises. (Which is to say, Washington and Lincoln.) People usually voted the party, not the man. And since WWII, the executive branch has become so large that while the more powerful president’s personal gifts and faults matter more than formerly, the hundreds of appointed bureaucrats drawn from his party’s activists matter much more to most policy questions than does the president himself. Or herself. So people today should vote the party, not the man, and public opinion research suggests that in the main they do so.

Historically, a candidate who stands for something usually loses his party’s nomination to a candidate whose policy vacuity makes him an empty vessel for voters to fill with their own preferences. American parties usually nominate Zachary Taylor, not Henry Clay. “Availability” was once the polite term for the virtue of being a supposedly electable policy cipher. Abraham Lincoln was “available,” as were Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton. As were Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman when nominated for vice president.

In the modern era, only Goldwater, McGovern, and Reagan stand out as true policy candidates (Obama had much the effect of a policy candidate, but his stated policy disagreements with Hillary in 2007-08 were minuscule. Perhaps call Obama a “biography” candidate, alongside Kennedy.) All other major nominees were “available” – to the extent that they had any known strong policy commitments, they were nominated in spite of them, not because of them.

So, Hillary Clinton. Vacuous? Yes. Troublingly so? Not in the context of American politics and history.

The trick, ultimately, is not demanding that every presidential candidate be a policy genius. The trick is reducing the reach of executive authority so that the vacuous mediocrities we tend to elect can do less harm. If we had given George W. Bush the powers and duties held by Rutherford B. Hayes, the world would barely have noted his time in office.

Another piles one:

I was a very strong supporter of Obama from as soon as he gave that speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, and now I’m perfectly happy with electing Hillary Clinton as a Democratic President who stands for nothing. Why?

Two reasons: first, because I just want Hillary to maintain what Obama has achieved. I don’t believe she could have passed the stimulus or the ACA or even Dodd Frank, but he did. Now she can keep the Republicans from dismantling those and flushing the country down the toilet like they did under the Bush administration. She also doesn’t need to stand for anything to elect liberal justices to the Supreme Court who will begin to undo the current court’s disastrous decisions on guns, corporate speech, and women’s rights. He didn’t get immigration reform or cap-and-trade, and neither will she against a group of Republican Know Nothings.

Which brings me the second reason I want her: the first female President will probably win big, and losing three (or four!) consecutive elections against rising demographic odds and twelve (or sixteen!) years of obstruction and no new ideas will eventually bring about the implosion of the current Republican party, which is focused only on taxes and abortion, and the recreation of a Republican party that can compromise again. Obama did the heavy lifting on the liberal agenda as much as can be done, and frankly I don’t want the Democrats to go all Elizabeth Warren off the deep end, with post office banks and $15 minimum wages. All I want is someone to put liberals on the Supreme Court and wait for the Republicans’ own bile to wear them down to nothing. And who better to do that than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

That Time The Clintons Ran Out Of Money, Ctd

Following her tone-deaf claim that she and her husband were “dead broke” when they left the White House, Alec MacGillis posits that Clinton’s wealth will be an issue if and when she runs for president:

Even before Clinton’s clumsy answer to Sawyer, it wasn’t hard to predict that the Clintons’ relentless quest for great wealth in the years since they left the White House was going to loom as one of the main areas of scrutiny should Hillary make a second bid for president. Bill Clinton’s pursuit of riches, and the company he was keeping in that endeavor, was an issue when she ran in 2008, and in the years since, Hillary herself has joined the chase, giving $200,000-and-up speeches to Goldman Sachs (twice) as well as humbler venues such as the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (really.) The couple’s net worth is now estimated to be as high as $50 million and they spent last summer living in a $200,000 per month mansion on the Hamptons [seen in the above tweet, which has the incorrect year].

Americans are famously slow to begrudge successful people their good fortune. Still, the country is getting more sensitive to the winner-take-all trends benefiting the top one percent (and top-tenth of the top one percent that the Clintons qualify for), and it will be very interesting to see how candidate Hillary Clinton reconciles her family’s fabulous wealth with her and her husband’s explicit attempt to fit their rhetoric (and the mixed economic legacy of the Clinton administration) into a more populist frame.

In fact, Yglesias remarks, the amount of debt the Clintons accrued in the late ’90s was not at all a sign of penury. Quite the contrary:

You need to be really rich to go that deeply into debt.

Nobody would lend a normal person $10 million or anything remotely in that vicinity. A similar problem arises when you try to compile a list of the poorest members of congress. Instead of having the lifestyles of actual poor people — or even actual middle class people — the members of congress with the lowest net worths are guys like David Valadao with negative $4.10 million to his name (a result of his families’ business interests in dairy farming) or Alcee Hastings who’s $2.23 million in debt (related to legal fees).

The story with the Clintons is that they left office millions of dollars in hock to various law firms. But this wasn’t some random financial misfortune that could have happened to anyone. If you found yourself in legal hot water, you wouldn’t possibly be able to hire the Clinton’s lawyers. No firm would let you run a multi-million dollar tab. The reason the Clintons were able to get away with it is that it was always obvious that Bill had enormous post-presidential earnings potential.

Despite her “dead broke” gaffe, Michael Hirsh sees inequality as Clinton’s best option for a campaign theme:

[N]owhere is Hillary less defined as a candidate than on economic policy. There is good cause for that lacuna: Upon being named President Obama’s secretary of state in late 2008, Clinton quite properly kept herself out of domestic-policy issues. She had a free pass from the biggest economic debates of the era, whether on the bank bailouts, the president’s nearly $800 billion stimulus package, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, Obamacare or the sluggish housing recovery. And yet it is on economic policy—not on foreign policy, on Benghazi, her broader record as secretary of state or even her now-ancient votes as the senator from New York—that she is most likely to build her case for the Oval Office in an era of a chronically wayward recovery and runaway inequality.

To make that case, according to some people familiar with Clinton’s thinking, she is likely to argue that she was often well ahead on those issues the last time she ran for president in 2007—that in fact she was often to the left of the more centrist Obama, who as president has regularly upset his own liberal base for what is perceived as a moderate, Wall Street-friendly response to the financial crisis.

“She was talking about inequality before inequality was in vogue,” says Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a longtime close aide and adviser to Clinton.

Meanwhile, John Dickerson suggests that Clinton ought to worry more about being dishonest than out of touch:

The danger for Clinton is that the “dead broke” comment will not be seen as a tone-deaf slip-up about personal wealth but as an effort to create a false story when confronted with the uncomfortable fact that she and her husband have made a lot of money fast. (That Clinton resorted to such a clumsy dodge gives you some sense of how uncomfortable she is with the topic.) The misstatement will be irresistible for her opponents who want to lampoon Clinton and press on the trust issue, which is the one that hits voters in the gut.

Hillary The Indispensable?

Douthat’s Sunday column proclaimed Clinton the only thing holding the Democratic party together, pointing to Obama’s dwindling approval ratings and the party’s “ramshackle” coalition of constituencies:

If her party is Austria-Hungary, she might be its Franz Josef — the beloved emperor whose imperial persona (“coffered up,” the novelist Joseph Roth wrote, “in an icy and everlasting old age, like armour made of an awe-inspiring crystal”), as much as any specific political strategy, helped keep dissolution from the empire’s door …  But without her, the deluge.

I found it a sprightly piece – and certainly a helpful reminder of how Clinton’s ascendancy has marginalized many other potential Democratic leaders. But I tend to agree with Larison, that the diversity of the Democrats’ Austrian-Hungarian empire is a strength, not a weakness:

The Democratic Party has long been “a sprawling, ramshackle and heterogeneous arrangement,” but that hasn’t stopped it from winning the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.

It cobbles together majorities by being “sprawling” and “heterogeneous,” and doesn’t depend on a particular nominee to do this. The extremely narrow margin of Bush’s re-election in 2004 points to this. Democrats have a coalition of competing, sometimes opposing interest groups and constituencies, but then they usually don’t pretend to be anything other than that. One of the stranger conceits that many Republicans have about their party is that it is a so-called “real party”: it supposedly represents some coherent set of beliefs that makes it substantially different from being an “incoherent amalgam” of interest groups. Perhaps because Democrats don’t try to paper over the contradictions and tensions in their coalition as much, they are able to appeal to a wider variety of voters than their opponents.

Danny Vinik reminds Ross that the Republicans’ policy problem is much more damaging than the Democrats’ lack of an alternative to Hillary:

Whether you like his policies or not, Obama has governed. The same cannot be said of the GOP. For instance, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has often written, House Republicans are unable to pass any type of immigration reform, because they cannot agree on what it should look like. Republicans never had any jobs agenda to help us recover from the financial crisis. On health care and tax reform, political promises have made it almost impossible for them to propose conservative ideas. Americans have not greeted Obama’s policy platform with cheers, but they recognize the dearth of policies in the current GOP agenda.

And I’m not sure that even the best collection of reform conservative ideas, even if they get a chance to be enacted, has a real appeal to voters. Ross responds by looking on the bright side:

The recent springtime for reform conservatism may be just a few shoots in a barren field … but that’s still more shoots than at this time four years ago, and nearly everything that’s pushed through the ground, whether it’s been Mike Lee or Dave Camp on taxes or Marco Rubio on the safety net or various senators on health care reform, would have been an improvement on the party’s non-message in 2012. The roster of presidential hopefuls may not be as impressive as it looked before Chris Christie’s scandal and Marco Rubio’s immigration reform detour … but we’re still very unlikely to see a replay of the “9-9-9″/Bachmann Overdrive nonsense, and much more likely to see a group of plausible nominees having a relatively-serious debate.

At some point, you’ve got to admire his optimism. But I’ll tell you this: the Republicans will have a far more interesting primary race than the Democrats. And while that can be bad news at times, it will ensure that the GOP is front and center on the question of “change”. What they don’t have yet is a candidate to pierce through the clutter, or a policy proposal that can address real problems and win wide support. Absent that, it will be ressentiment and Clinton-hatred all over again. Can’t wait.

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)

Between Iraq And A Hard Choice

Unrest in Iraq

In her campaign book Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton offers a mea kinda culpa on her vote in favor of the Iraq War:

According to CBS News, which obtained a copy of her book, she says: “I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

Note the lack of an outright apology – or a broader statement about the appalling human cost of that wrong call. And that’s particularly worth pondering as Iraq returns to the entropy of endless, sectarian warfare in the wake of the US invasion and occupation. Civilian deaths doubled in 2013 and show no signs of abating. Larison looks at Clinton’s broader instincts in foreign policy and remains unimpressed:

One might think that a supposedly chastened Iraq war supporter would be considerably more skeptical about pursuing regime change overseas or more reluctant to support the use of force after having erred so badly on the biggest foreign policy vote of her Senate career, but that hasn’t happened. In every internal administration debate, Clinton sided with the hawks that wanted the more aggressive policy, and this also conveniently aligned her with whatever the purveyors of conventional wisdom in Washington thought ought to be done.

Her explanation that she cast that vote “in good faith” troubles Beinart, who interprets that to mean that she probably didn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMDs:

Would reading the classified NIE have changed Clinton’s vote? Maybe not. Even after reading the classified version, Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein still voted to authorize war. And some intelligence analysts familiar with the classified NIE claim it was a biased, shoddy document that, like its unclassified cousin, bent over backward to prove that Iraq was pursuing WMD. Perhaps most importantly of all, Clinton’s own national-security confidantes—including Iraq expert Kenneth Pollack—believed the WMD claims. It’s hard to imagine she would have overruled them, even if the classified NIE had given her pause.

Still, Clinton’s failure to read the document means her book’s claim that she “made the best decision I could with the information I had” is probably untrue. … How could someone renowned for doing her homework have failed to do so on the most important vote of her Senate career? Clinton’s Iraq apology notwithstanding, it’s a question worth asking if she runs for president again

To which Larison drily replies:

For someone in Clinton’s position in 2002, there was nothing easier than to fall in line with other liberal hawks and vote yes. There was no incentive for her to “do her homework” and probably not much interest, because it was taken for granted among all “serious” people in Washington that Iraq still had WMD programs and that Hussein had to be removed from power. This is what makes Clinton’s preferred phrase of “hard choices” so laughable: on the most significant foreign policy vote she cast as a member of Congress, Clinton took the easiest way out.

PM Carpenter asks what took her so long to admit this:

To this day I’m perplexed at how such a mighty political machine as Clinton’s could have got so much so wrong.

Hillary’s Iraq war vote was not, politically speaking, what she got wrong. It’s a sad reality–always has been, always will be–that all too many pols are willing to sell others’ lives for an ephemeral bit of a jingoistic self-bump. Hillary scarcely invented cold-heartedness. No, politically speaking, what she got wrong, what she utterly misread, was 1) the potential power of the opposition (Obama) and 2) the deep current of antiwar temperament in her own party and 3) the price she’d pay for refusing to admit error, as, it seems, she’ll do next week upon release of her memoirs.

That’s a lot to get wrong, which is worrisome. The long delay in getting it right is also worrisome. But at least it’s a start.

(Photo: According the spokesperson of Fallujah General Hospital, Wissam al-Issawi (not seen), 4 bodies and 5 people, injured in an operation staged by Iraqi forces to the civilian targets, are taken to the hospital in Fallujah, Iraq on June 8, 2014. A view of the attacked area is seen. By Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.)

That Time The Clintons Ran Out Of Money


In her interview with Diane Sawyer last night to plug her new book Hard Choices, Hillary claimed that she and Bill were “not only dead broke but in debt” when they moved out of the White House, and that the couple needed the millions of dollars they accrued in speaking fees to pay down those debts. Philip Bump fact-checks:

Clinton left the White House to head to the Capitol as New York’s junior senator in 2000, meaning that she had to file annual disclosures of how much she and her husband earned, owned, and owed. We took a look at those filings, via Open Secrets. And this is what the Clinton’s wealth looked like for the first four years after they left office in early 2001. We considered three things: what the Clintons reported as income on their taxes, what they reported as assets in Hillary Clinton’s mandated disclosures, and what was listed as being owed. The disclosures only give broad boundaries for the value of the assets owned, so the true value of their assets lies somewhere within the dark-red bar.

So, yes, it is technically true the Clintons left office in debt. But, a year later, the couple’s assets had soared. And, as was reported at the time, the Clintons’ debt was entirely gone by the end of 2004 — well before Hillary Clinton left the Senate and well before she left her position as secretary of state.

Indeed, Zeke Miller adds, by the time she left the Obama administration last year, Hillary was a wealthy woman even without her husband’s millions:

While the former first family’s precarious financial situation in 2001 was well known, the situation was very different when Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State in early 2013. She had reported on an government financial disclosure form assets in the millions, including between $5 million and $25 million in cash—meaning she left the State Department with at least $5 million in the bank, before her speaking gigs started and before she made millions more from her new book Hard Choices. Last year CNN calculated that the former President has taken in more than $106 million on the speaking circuit since leaving office in 2001. In fact, in their first year after leaving the White House, the Clintons earned a combined $16.1 million—the bulk of it coming from the former president’s speaking and author fees.

The inevitable walk-back arrived this morning:

“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton said in a live interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I want to use the talents and resources I have to make sure people get the same chances.” Host Robin Roberts asked Clinton if she can understand why people are questioning why she’d describe her family’s finances as a struggle.

“Yes, I can, but everything in life has to be put into context. As I recall, we were something like in $12 million in debt,” said Clinton, adding that she soon entered the Senate and couldn’t do much to help reverse that at the time.

Clinton’s Other Apology

It’s more emphatic, more convincing and less tortured than her pirouetting on the Iraq war – and it’s on her 2008 campaign:

[I lost] I think because I really didn’t have a good strategy for my campaign. I didn’t plan it the right way … As a candidate who was already so well known … I don’t think I ever said, ‘Yes, you may have known me for eight years, but I don’t take anything for granted. I have to earn your support.’

It’s a pretty clear admission that she expected to be coronated last time around. Which means she might not be so cocky this time around. Might.