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."
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