According to the New York Times’ Peter Baker, “In this summer of global tumult, the debate in Washington essentially boils down to two opposite positions: It is all President Obama’s fault, according to his critics; no, it is not, according to his supporters, because these are events beyond his control.”
Mr. Baker entirely misses the point. The global tumult is, largely, Mr. Obama’s fault because he has so drastically reduced America’s influence that events are beyond his control. That has become so obvious that even Hillary Clinton understands.
President Obama is extremely sensitive to criticism of his foreign policy, as one would expect given his multifarious failures. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton had her presidential campaign reined in last week when she dared criticize Obama’s policy. She contended, in an interview with the Atlantic magazine, that Obama’s failure to support “moderate” Syrian rebels created a vacuum that enabled the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has — so far — been able to seize about half of Syria and a third of Iraq.
Obama responded by calling her criticism “horse****,” which it resembles closely.
Clinton’s memoir of her State Department daze, Hard Choices, does say that she advocated strongly for arming the Syrian rebels, or at least the good guys among them (of which there were none.) But Clinton’s position was as variable as the weather. Her book says that after she left the State Department, on September 9, 2013 for those who are following the facts, she visited Obama and told him it was crucial to pursue a diplomatic resolution to the Syria conflict, which is a far cry from military support for the rebels.
Clinton wants to divorce herself from Obama’s foreign policy and be seen stronger and more decisive. Her problem is that she, almost as much as Obama, is the architect of the foreign policy that has alienated our allies, encouraged our enemies, and left a power vacuum where once a superpower stood. And we need to remember how alien to principle Clinton has proven herself. In Robert Gates’s memoir of his time as secretary of defense, he writes that “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary.”
Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices is one of those books that a lot of people buy but almost no one reads. (I have done so, dear reader, to save you the considerable chore of slogging through it.) The book is half Winston Churchill and half Woody Allen. Churchill once said that history would be kind to him because he intended to write it. Mrs. Clinton’s book, as we expected, spins the record of her term as secretary of state in a way calculated to demonstrate her success. But she gauges that success by comedian Woody Allen’s standard: he said that eighty percent of success is just showing up.
If that were the right measure, Hillary Clinton would have been our most successful secretary of state. According to the book, she logged about one million miles in pursuit of American diplomacy. She showed up almost everywhere and talked to pretty much every world leader and wannabe. But for all her effort there’s precious little evidence that anyone was persuaded by her ideas. Most weren’t, except for President Obama for whom she, as secretary of state, was the most important foreign policy adviser.
Curiously — well, not really — Clinton leaves us in the dark about the positions she took on several of Obama’s key foreign policy decisions. Before Obama decided on military action against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, she writes, then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates tried to convince Obama that America had no national security interest in Libya. Gates was right and Obama’s intervention was a major mistake. Clinton recounts the debate but she never tells us whether she was for or against the Libya intervention.
We should never use military force unless a vital U.S. national security interest is at stake, and there wasn’t in Libya. Clinton says she accepts responsibility for the 9-11-2012 loss of American Ambassador Stevens and three others in what she finally admits were terrorist attacks. But, in the Benghazi chapter, she slides into blaming the obscure anti-Muslim video that she, Susan Rice, and the president all blamed for the attacks. The fact is that all of them knew that the attacks were carefully planned terrorist attacks at the time they blamed the video.
Clinton is just as slippery in recounting the decision to surge troops into Afghanistan in 2009. At one point, she says the president wanted to hear the opinion of each member of his national security team, of which Clinton was one. But, again, Slippary doesn’t tell us where she stood.
Clinton’s record of failure doesn’t stop there. When she visited with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the only time she got his attention was when she asked him what he was doing to save the Siberian tigers from extinction. She admits being “disappointed” by the failure of the so-called “reset” of relations with Russia. But it’s more than a disappointment to the nations that have been invaded and threatened by Russia since.
Another failure, glossed over in the book, came when the Syrian civil war erupted. At one point in 2012, she talked with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Syria. When he asked her, “But what is the endgame,” she had no answer, or at least her book leaves out any response she may have made.
The failures go on and on. Clinton writes that she tried to stop the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. All she succeeded in doing was angering our allies. When Obama was announcing his “pivot to Asia,” Clinton met with her Chinese counterpart who told her, “Why don’t you ‘pivot’ out of here?”
The bounties of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy continue to be visited upon us. Libya is now a terrorist haven. Their apologists continue to say we can “save” Libya, as two did in the Washington Post yesterday. (They say that an international effort under the UN could save Libya from itself, using Yemen as a model. Yemen, by the way is pretty much a wholly-owned subsidiary of al-Qaeda, not a model of success.)
Those bounties are flowing to Ukraine in the form of Russian tanks and other military vehicles as well as about 1,200 Russian-trained reinforcements of the Russian-backed insurgency. At this writing, a 280-vehicle Russian convoy is awaiting inspection at the Ukrainian border. In short, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues. Obama’s silence is thunderous. Hillary’s silence is equally telling for someone posing as a stronger, more expert handler of such crises. If she were serious about criticizing Obama’s policy, she’d be talking about how we should be sending military aid to support the Kiev government against Russian imperialism. But she won’t.
(Further evidence of the consequences of the Russian “reset” failure is the statement by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that he wants to model Hungarian society after Russia, China, Turkey, India, and Singapore.)
Hillary’s silence on ISIS is just as significant. At this point, we are still conducting isolated small air strikes against some ISIS forces. Those air strikes are insignificant because they aren’t intended to inflict major damage on ISIS.
ISIS is operating unlike most terrorist forces. A large part of its assets are captured American tanks and armored vehicles. What we should be doing is parking a reconnaissance satellite over Iraq and putting a couple of AWACS and JSTARS (Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System) aircraft in Iraqi skies to manage a serious air offensive against ISIS. No ISIS vehicle should be able to move without being destroyed.
We can do this, but Obama won’t. Hillary won’t advocate any serious effort against ISIS or the Russian insurgency in Ukraine because she wants Obama’s political base to become hers. And because she believes in his policies, which she helped create.
As eager as Clinton is to prove herself different from Obama, she cannot. Anyone who reads her book will conclude that a Hillary Clinton foreign policy would be indistinguishable from Obama’s.