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Hillary Clinton’s speech at the American Legion National Convention on August 31 was an exultant restatement of the two-decades-old doctrine of “benevolent global hegemony” justified by the dogma of American exceptionalism. She provided the blueprint for never-ending wars and crises wholly unrelated to any rational understanding of this country’s national interest.
“The United States is an exceptional nation,” she said. “I believe we are still Lincoln’s last, best hope of Earth . . . And part of what makes America an exceptional nation, is that we are also an indispensable nation. In fact, we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead.” She asserted that “we recognize America’s unique and unparalleled ability to be a force for peace and progress, a champion for freedom and opportunity” and that “our power comes with a responsibility to lead, humbly, thoughtfully, and with a fierce commitment to our values”:
Because, when America fails to lead, we leave a vacuum that either causes chaos or other countries or networks rush in to fill the void. So no matter how hard it gets, no matter how great the challenge, America must lead . . . [O]ur network of allies is part of what makes us exceptional. No other country in the world has alliances like ours. Russia and China have nothing close . . . At our best the United States is the global force for freedom, justice and human dignity.
Hillary Clinton’s global vision reflects the fundamentally flawed post-Cold War consensus, to which both ends of the Beltway Duopoly—neoconservatives and neoliberals—subscribe with equal zeal. Its key tenet is that our unchallengeable military might is essential to the maintenance of a global order in which the U.S. Government treats each and every spot on the globe as an area of vital American interest, fiercely resists any change of regional power balances, and actively promotes regime changes. The resulting military interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya (and, if Hillary wins, there will be one in Syria) have been validated by the rhetoric of . . . well, she reminded us: “peace and progress,” “freedom and opportunity,” “justice and human dignity,” and by the invocation of American exceptionalism and indispensability (M. Albright). In world affairs America is supposedly motivated by “a fierce commitment to out values,” rather than mere interests.
Bipartisan consensus which Hillary Clinton embodies (which is why so many establishment Republicans support her) has been long codified in official strategic doctrine. George W. Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy declared that the U.S. would “extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent” and bring about an end to “destructive national rivalries.” The Obama administration’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, still in force, claims that the task of the United States is to “confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world.” This continuity of utopian objectives reflects the chronic refusal of the policymaking community in Washington to establish a rational correlation between strategic ends and means, or to see America as a “normal” nation-state pursuing limited political, economic, and military objectives in a competitive world.
If Hillary Clinton wins next November, the United States will continue to be the major source of instability in today’s world. Even more resolutely than Barack Obama—who has been primarily interested in America’s domestic transformation in line with his ideological obsessions—she will reject any conventionally ordered hierarchy of American global interests. Traditional foreign policymaking may be prone to miscalculations (e.g., Vietnam), but in principle it is based on some form of rationally adduced raison d’etat. Clinton’s vision of compulsory global leadership, by contrast, has its grounding in ideological assumptions that are impervious to rational discourse. It has consistently created outcomes—e.g., in Iraq, Libya, and Syria—that are contrary to any conventional understanding of this country’s security interests.
Hillary Clinton has been a leading exponent of the hegemonistic consensus for a long time. In 2002 she voted in favor of the Iraq war, the greatest foreign-policy disaster in recent times. In 2011 she tipped the balance within the Obama administration in favor of the Libyan intervention, with devastating consequences for Libya, the region, and the world. Oblivious to the lessons of Benghazi, she still advocates greater U.S. “engagement” in Syria. She sees military power as a tool of first resort: according to those who know, in the Obama Cabinet invariably she had been “the most hawkish person in the room.”
Hillary Clinton’s strategic vision is clear: open-ended global commitments and endless wars and crises in pursuit of a deeply flawed utopian vision, and an abiding commitment to unrealizable ideological fixations unrelated to the American interest—or, more precisely, deeply inimical to the interest of every civilized nation in the world. If she wins, the possibility of a paradigmatic shift toward a national-interest-based approach—which is long overdue—will disappear. The continuity of basic assumptions, and the escalation of risks and tensions resulting from their application, is predictable with depressing certainty. There will be no “strategic pause” which America urgently needs in order to take stock of the global geopolitical map, reconsider priorities, and devise specific policies on the basis of their likely costs and benefits. There will be wars, more bloody and more dangerous than any we’ve seen since 1953, if not 1945.
[Image credit: By lorie shaull (source) [CC BY-SA 2.0]]
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