It takes a certain kind of nerve for Robert Gates—former CIA official and Secretary of Defence under both Bush and Obama—to attack officials in the Obama administration over their track records in his new memoir: his realist credentials aside (not necessarily something to be proud of), his own record has contributed to any number of significant moral and political failures in U.S. foreign policy.
And some of his “shocking” revelations aren’t all that shocking. For example, Gates wrote that early in Obama’s presidency, the President “doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out”.
In terms of his priorities, Obama was certainly on the same page as the public, although a massive surge which cost thousands of lives was a curious way of “getting out”. Nor is it surprising that the President who inherited two wars from George W Bush was conflicted about his strategy, which changed constantly and appeared driven by a desire to paint himself as “tough on terror” in the face of vicious attacks from neoconservative sadists on the political right.
And we know that the President was fully justified in mistrusting his commanders. Stanley McChrystal was a treacherous subordinate, openly contemptuous of his political commanders. And David Patraeus was a scheming, back-stabbing, media hound, with no respect for the inviolable principle of civilian command over military and foreign policy, keen to test and promote his counterinsurgency fantasies irrespective of their relationship to the welfare of the public.
More germane as the Democratic Party considers its future was an admission supposedly made by Hillary Clinton “that she opposed the 2007 troop surge in Iraq for political reasons, as she was running against Obama in the Iowa presidential caucuses at the time”, and taking heat as she campaigned against someone who had opposed the war from the outset.
This does not surprise me. Clinton has since tried to pretend that her support for the illegal, immoral, and ill-judged war was a kind of aberration, based on the failure of the Bush administration to provide her with sufficient evidence to make a good judgement.
But her actions since suggest otherwise. Clinton was an active supporter of sending more soldiers to Afghanistan, and of expanding the U.S. War of Terror across South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Clinton was a strong supporter of the Patriot Act, supporting two administrations—one from the Senate and another from the State Department—which trashed civil liberties, lied to the public, and pursued policies of torture, kidnapping, and murder.
During the democratic revolutions of the Arab Spring, far from throwing her weight behind those demanding an injection of accountability and democracy into their nations, Clinton proved herself a strong supporter of the old, dictatorial, brutal regimes.
Set against this track record, her repudiation of the war of aggression in Iraq—which claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis—is the aberration, and one best explained by the political expediency which Gates recounts her blithely admitting.
The neoconservatives, with the aid of people like Clinton, committed what were defined at Nuremberg during the prosecution of Nazi war criminals as “Crimes against Peace: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing”. “Aggression in international law”, according to one legal scholar, “is defined as the use of force by one State against another, not justified by self-defense or other legally recognized exceptions. The illegality of aggression is perhaps the most fundamental norm of modern international law and its prevention is the chief purpose of the United Nations”.
No one who has contributed to the destruction of human life and the casual waging of aggressive war in this manner should get a second glance when U.S. citizens look for their next President. We have spent 12 years in a series of dreadful wars to which there is no end in sight. We have surrendered whatever modest moral high ground we might ever have held, and look every day more and more like a paranoid, insecure, violent imperial-style power, our foreign policy run by a national “security” apparatus which views the public as its enemy.Hillary Clinton is representative of the outlook and ideology which drew us into this dangerous situation, and she, along with that twisted worldview, should be consigned to our dark past so that we can think properly—unencumbered by her overweening ambition and bloodthirsty opportunism—about how to remake our country and reconfigure our relationship with other citizens of our world.