Hillary Clinton’s appointment as the third woman U.S. secretary of state is likely to deepen the crisis of the once-venerable institution at Washington’s Foggy Bottom, to which her two female predecessors have contributed in different ways.
Madeleine Albright will be remembered for her hubris, coupled with studied callousness. (“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”) Asked on 60 Minutes about the death of a half-million Iraqi children, she promptly responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” Her crowning glory was her premeditated 1999 war in the Balkans. (“The Serbs need a little bombing.”) Her State Department contributed to Bill Clinton’s doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.”
Condoleezza Rice, who is less evil and more obtuse, will be remembered for nothing. She was an auxiliary tool of the Bush-Cheney team, with all key decisions made elsewhere.
Mrs. Clinton will try to rebuild the relative importance of the department, but her labors will not be for the better. Her appointment to the Obama administration, the most significant among several major figures from the Clinton era, belies Obama’s rhetoric of “change” when it comes to foreign affairs. There will be tectonic shifts, cultural and moral, at home. The established premises of an imperial presidency—which in world affairs inevitably translates into a justification for global interventionism—will not change.
Once it is accepted that Obama’s primary interest lies in an irreversible redistribution of power and money at home, it ceases to be surprising that he chose Hillary Clinton as his chief diplomat. Allowing her to indulge in some global grandstanding is acceptable to him, if that means the Clintons will not stand in the way of his domestic agenda. That Mrs. Clinton is instinctively opposed to any traditional understanding of diplomacy became obvious during the primary campaign, when she accused Obama of “naiveté” for saying he was willing to sit down with the leaders of Iran, Syria, and North Korea.
With Robert Gates staying at the Pentagon and Jim Jones as Obama’s national security advisor, there will be a lot of continuity in U.S. foreign policy, not only with the 1990’s but with recent years. In Mrs. Clinton’s case there will be more lies, the hallmark of the family. During the primaries she listed a number of foreign-policy accomplishments based on her husband’s legacy. She claimed that in Macedonia she “negotiated open borders” to Albanian refugees from Kosovo, although the crossings were opened days before her arrival in May 1999. She repeatedly invoked her “dangerous” trip to Bosnia in 1996, although the Bosnian war had ended six months earlier and video footage shows smiling schoolchildren greeting her in Tuzla.
In the same spirit Senator Clinton declared, in late 2002,
Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members. I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no mistake about our national unity and for our support for the president’s efforts to wage America’s war against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.
Hillary Clinton says that she has had second thoughts since that time, and a year ago she declared in Foreign Affairs that “US troops should be brought home.” During the primary campaign, however, she was markedly less willing than Obama to commit to a withdrawal timetable. The woman who voted to authorize the Iraq war, and who parroted the lies used to justify it, cannot be expected to clean up the mess created by that war. It is more likely that she will advocate a downsized and effectively open-ended U.S. occupation of Iraq.
In Afghanistan, Mrs. Clinton will seek greater troop deployments and an escalation of military activity. Last April, she sounded like John Mc-Cain: “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran” (if Iran attacks Israel). “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally [sic] obliterate them.” She will negotiate with the mullahs, however, if Tehran’s tacit support is considered necessary for the achievement of her major ambition: a breakthrough in the Middle East.
Bill Clinton came closer than any other U.S. president to brokering an Arab-Israeli peace, and insiders say that Hillary will place this issue at the top of her agenda. She is a favorite of the pro-Israel lobby, however, and it is unclear what she can offer, or do, in 2009-10 that was not offered or tried at Camp David a decade earlier. A Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a recognition of Israel’s right to exist, security guarantees, and diplomatic recognition is distinctly déjà vu. She will need to present a fresh formula, but to make it viable she will have to start by rephrasing her stated support for an “undivided” Jerusalem.
The misnamed “War on Terror” is the weakest spot in Barack Obama’s global agenda, and Hillary Clinton will do nothing to rectify the problem. Alone among leading contenders of either party, she has no section on her website devoted to fighting terrorism and had very little to say on it during the campaign. “We know we need global coalitions to tackle global problems like climate change, poverty, AIDS, and terrorism,” she declared, hinting at her priorities. To confuse a natural phenomenon, a human condition, and a lifestyle-inflicted disease with the most tangible real and present threat to Western civilization would be remarkable in any prominent public figure. In view of Mrs. Clinton’s appointment it is alarming.
That she does not understand the phenomenon of jihad was evident during her U.S. Senate campaign; on at least two occasions she hosted receptions organized by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a group that has promoted the activities of Hamas, Turkey’s fundamentalist Welfare Party, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Mrs. Clinton had to return $50,000 received from MPAC (a sizable voting bloc in New York was at risk!), but she justified her contacts by claiming she was trying “to promote a framework for peace” that included “lines of communication to many different groups and many different individuals.”
Her “framework for peace” in the Balkans is the same as her husband’s: unqualified support for Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo against their Christian neighbors. In Hillary’s Choice, Gail Sheehy recalls that Hillary pressed Bill to start the Kosovo war in 1999. When he expressed concern that bombing could have undesirable effects, including the prospect of rising civilian casualties, Hillary persisted: “I urged him to bomb. You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?” To this day she sees the U.S.-led NATO aggression against Serbia as a good war. In her Senate speech before the vote on the Iraq war, she pointed approvingly to her husband’s decision and drew parallels to the Bush administration’s rationale for removing Saddam from power.
Hillary Clinton appears to be less Russophobic than some of Obama’s advisors, notably Zbigniew and Mark Brzezinski. She has criticized the Bush administration’s “obsessive” focus on “expensive and unproven missile defense technology,” the deployment of which in Poland and the Czech Republic is a key point of contention between Washington and Moscow. She favors a further reduction in both sides’ nuclear arsenals and supports U.S. Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. On the key issue of NATO enlargement, however, both she and Obama will continue the Bush administration’s flawed policy of seeking membership for Ukraine and Georgia.
That Obama’s foreign policy may follow the neoliberal-hawkish Democratic tradition became apparent with the selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate and the appointment, soon after the election, of Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Both were enthusiastic supporters of the war against Yugoslavia in 1999.
The Clintons’ disregard for old international norms and mechanisms for the protection of national liberties was as revolutionary on the global scene as Obama’s presidency will be domestically. In that sense Hillary Clinton’s appointment may reflect Obama’s understanding that they are partners in a project to transform reality to fit their ideological preferences. At a less lofty level this decision may prove to be Obama’s first major blunder. It is difficult to imagine anyone keeping the Clintons under control for an extended period of time. Obama has made himself hostage not only to Hillary’s inevitable games and whims but to the future conduct of her husband.
Bill Clinton made his comeback in September 2005, when he assembled 800 prime ministers, kings, and other worthies to launch the Clinton Global Initiative to address “poverty, global warming, religious conflict and better governance.” There are 208,000 donors to the William J. Clinton Foundation, which covers the Global Initiative as well as his presidential library. The list includes such controversial associates as Frank Giustra, the Canadian billionaire who went with Bill Clinton to Kazakhstan and subsequently obtained a $425 million mining contract there. Even as his wife was negotiating the Cabinet deal with Obama in late November, Clinton was in Kuwait giving a half-million-dollar speech on the global financial crisis, compliments of the host country’s national bank.
Hillary’s ambition is another ticking time bomb. She is smiling now, but she detests the man who stole the nomination she regarded as rightfully hers. There will never be a relationship of trust and confidence between them.
“Two of the nation’s greatest secretaries of state in the modern period, Dean Acheson and Henry Kissinger, were not personally close but were intellectually bonded to their presidents,” notes Walter Isaacson, coauthor of The Wise Men, a book about America’s postwar foreign-policy establishment. The comparison is not apt. Neither Acheson nor Kissinger were presidential hopefuls. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, sees herself as destined to be the first woman president. If the attainment of that goal demands undermining the first black president, she will do it.
With Obama in the Oval Office and Hillary Clinton at State, America is less likely than ever to rediscover a world in which she will be secure and free, and will not threaten the security and freedom of others. This government is incapable of pursuing foreign-policy strategies founded on the notion of America as a real nation, because the chief executive wants to turn her into a very different nation.