Reprinted from Dispatches From The Edge
"They sent forth men to battle.
But no such men return;
And home, to claim their welcome...
Comes ashes in an urn."
Ode from "Agamemnon" in the Greek tragedy the Oresteia by Aeschylus
Aeschylus -- who had actually fought at Marathon in 490 BC, the battle that defeated the first Persian invasion of Greece -- had few illusions about the consequences of war. His ode is one that the candidates for the U.S. presidency might consider, though one doubts that many of them would think to find wisdom in a 2,500-year-old Greek play.
And that, in itself, is a tragedy.
Historical blindness has been much on display in the run-up to the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. On the Republican side, candidates were going to "kick ass" in Iraq, make the "sand glow" in Syria, and face down the Russians in Europe. But while the Democratic aspirants were more measured, there is a pervasive ideology than binds together all but cranks like Ron Paul: America has the right, indeed, the duty to order the world's affairs.
This peculiar view of the role of the U.S. takes on a certain messianic quality in candidates like Hillary Clinton, who routinely quotes former Secretary of State Madeline Albright's line about America as "the indispensible nation" whose job is to lead the world.
At a recent rally in Indianola, Iowa, Clinton said that "Senator [Bernie] Sanders doesn't talk much about foreign policy, and, when he does, it raises concerns because sometimes it can sound like he really hasn't thought things through."
The former Secretary of State was certainly correct. Foreign policy for Sanders is pretty much an afterthought to his signature issues of economic inequality and a national healthcare system. But the implication of her comment is that she has thought things through. If she has, it is not evident in her biography, Hard Choices, or in her campaign speeches.
Hard Choices covers her years as Secretary of State and seemingly unconsciously tracks a litany of American foreign-policy disasters: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, and the "Asia pivot" that has dangerously increased tensions with China. At the heart of Hard Choices is the ideology of "American exceptionalism," which for Clinton means the right of the U.S. to intervene in other countries. As historian Jackson Lears, in the London Review of Books, puts it, Hard Choices "tries to construct a coherent rationale for an interventionist foreign policy and to justify it with reference to her own decisions as Secretary of State. The rationale is rickety: the evidence unconvincing."
Clinton is undoubtedly an intelligent person, but her book is remarkably shallow and quite the opposite of "thoughtful." The one act on her part for which she shows any regret is her vote to invade Iraq. But even here she quickly moves on, never really examining how it is that the U.S. has the right to invade and overthrow a sovereign government. For Clinton, Iraq was only a "mistake" because it came out badly.
She also demonstrates an inability to see other people's point of view. Thus the Russians are aggressively attempting to re-establish their old Soviet sphere of influence rather than reacting to the steady march of NATO eastwards. The fact that the U.S. violated promises by the first Bush administration not to move NATO "one inch east" if the Soviets withdrew their forces from Eastern Europe is irrelevant.
She doesn't seem to get that a country that has been invaded three times since 1815 and lost tens of millions of people might be a tad paranoid about its borders. There is no mention of the roles of U.S. intelligence agencies, organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy, and of openly fascist Ukrainian groups played in the coup against the elected government of Ukraine.
Clinton takes credit for the Obama administration's "Asia Pivot" that "sent a message to Asia and the world that America was back in its traditional leadership role in Asia," but she doesn't consider how this might be interpreted in Beijing. The U.S. never left Asia -- the Pacific basin has long been our major trading partner -- so, to the Chinese, "back" and "pivot" means that the U.S. plans to beef up its military in the region and construct an anti-China alliance system. It has done both.
Clinton costumes military intervention in the philosophy of "responsibility to protect," or "R2P," but her application is selective. She takes credit for overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, but in her campaign speeches she has not said a word about the horrendous bombing campaign being waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. She cites R2P for why the U.S. should overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but is silent about Saudi Arabia's intervention in Bahrain to crush demands for democracy by its majority Shiite population.
Clinton, along with Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and Susan Rice, the Obama administration's National Security Advisor, has pushed for muscular interventions without thinking -- or caring -- about the consequences
And those consequences have been dire...
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