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Is Hillary Clinton a Neocon-Lite?

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Source: Consortium News

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 1, 2011, watching developments in the Special Forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Neither played a particularly prominent role in the operation. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
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Most Democratic power-brokers appear settled on Hillary Clinton as their choice for President in 2016 -- and she holds lopsided leads over potential party rivals in early opinion polls -- but there are some warning flags flying, paradoxically, hoisted by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his praise for the former First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State.

On the surface, one might think that Gates's glowing commendations of Clinton would further burnish her standing as the odds-on next President of the United States, but strip away the fawning endorsements and Gates's portrait of Clinton in his new memoir, Duty, is of a pedestrian foreign policy thinker who is easily duped and leans toward military solutions.

Indeed, for thoughtful and/or progressive Democrats, the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton could represent a step back from some of President Barack Obama's more innovative foreign policy strategies, particularly his readiness to cooperate with the Russians and Iranians to defuse Middle East crises and his willingness to face down the Israel Lobby when it is pushing for heightened confrontations and war.

Based on her public record and Gates's insider account, Clinton could be expected to favor a more neoconservative approach to the Mideast, one more in line with the traditional thinking of Official Washington and the belligerent dictates of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As a U.S. senator and as Secretary of State, Clinton rarely challenged the conventional wisdom or resisted the use of military force to solve problems. She famously voted for the Iraq War in 2002 -- falling for President George W. Bush's bogus WMD case -- and remained a war supporter until her position became politically untenable during Campaign 2008.

Representing New York, Clinton rarely if ever criticized Israeli actions. In summer 2006, as Israeli warplanes pounded southern Lebanon, killing more than 1,000 Lebanese, Sen. Clinton shared a stage with Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman who had said, "While it may be true -- and probably is -- that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim."

At a pro-Israel rally with Clinton in New York on July 17, 2006, Gillerman proudly defended Israel's massive violence against targets in Lebanon. "Let us finish the job," Gillerman told the crowd. "We will excise the cancer in Lebanon" and "cut off the fingers" of Hezbollah. Responding to international concerns that Israel was using "disproportionate" force in bombing Lebanon and killing hundreds of civilians, Gillerman said, "You're damn right we are." [NYT, July 18, 2006]

Sen. Clinton did not protest Gillerman's remarks, since doing so would presumably have offended an important pro-Israel constituency.

Misreading Gates

In November 2006, when Bush nominated Gates to be Defense Secretary, Clinton gullibly misread the significance of the move. She interpreted it as a signal that the war was being wound down when it actually presaged the opposite, that an escalation or "surge" was coming.

From her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clinton failed to penetrate the smokescreen around Gates's selection. The reality was that Bush had ousted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in part, because he had sided with Generals John Abizaid and George Casey who favored shrinking the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Gates was privately onboard for replacing those generals and expanding the U.S. footprint.

After getting blindsided by Gates over what became a "surge" of 30,000 additional U.S. troops, Sen. Clinton sided with Democrats who objected to the escalation, but Gates quotes her in his memoir as later telling President Obama that she did so only for political reasons.

Gates recalled a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009, to discuss whether to authorize a similar "surge" in Afghanistan, a position favored by Gates and Clinton, with Secretary of State Clinton supporting even a higher number of troops than Defense Secretary Gates was. But the Afghan "surge" faced skepticism from Vice President Joe Biden and other White House staffers.

Gates wrote that he and Clinton...

"...were the only outsiders in the session, considerably outnumbered by White House insiders. ... Obama said at the outset to Hillary and me, 'It's time to lay our cards on the table, Bob, what do you think?' I repeated a number of the main points I had made in my memo to him [urging three brigades].

"Hillary agreed with my overall proposal but urged the president to consider approving the fourth brigade combat team if the allies wouldn't come up with the troops."

Gates then reported on what he regarded as a stunning admission by Clinton, writing:

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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