Saturday, January 23, 2016

Clinton vs Sanders on Foreign Policy

Threatened by polls showing that Bernie Sanders is a threat to her coronation, Clinton and her campaign are hitting back.  In some cases they are doing so in valid and productive fashion, asking legitimate questions about the viability of Sanders’ plans or the desirability of focusing on one policy area as opposed to another.  But characteristically, Clinton has not been content with this.  According to the Intercept, her “campaign released a letter this week in which 10 foreign policy experts criticized her opponent Bernie Sanders’ call for closer engagement with Iran and said Sanders had ‘not thought through these crucial national security issues that can have profound consequences for our security.’”
The Intercept found that half of the signatories to the letter “are now enmeshed in the military contracting establishment.”  This discovery suggests significant conflicts of interest.  Both the national security establishment and the military contracting sector are deeply compromised by their economic and ideological commitments to constant conflict as a way of national life and a method of making a living.  It is troublesome that Clinton is surrounding herself by such people, and troubling that she is using their words to shut down debate around the self-evidently inadequate imagination with which the U.S. formulates and conducts international policy.
But I want to focus in particular on the logic of that short phrase from the letter, the accusation that Sanders had “not thought through these crucial national security issues that can have profound consequences for our security.”
That said, I disagree profoundly with the spirit of these comments, which suggest that Clinton is the superior candidate because she has--and she undoubtedly has--given deeper thought to the challenges facing our country in the international sphere.  Clinton has thought long and hard about these issues, and we have seen her contend with them in campaign-mode and in government, both as a Senator and as a Secretary of State.
In both cases it is clear that Clinton’s deep meditations have not prevented her from arriving at some devastatingly wrong conclusions.  Her neo-conservative convictions, her authoritarian allies, and her embrace of state terror threaten the lives of people around the world, the security of U.S. citizens, and the ability of the U.S. government to pursue significant domestic policy innovations.
Clinton’s neo-conservatism is the one sphere in which she has remained constant.  Her support for the war in Iraq, her advocacy for escalation in Afghanistan, and her eagerness to use military force in Libya, Syria, and beyond is frightening.  These disasters have ruined the lives of countless people, spread international terrorism around the world, and created a ruinous culture of hubris in our security state and within the public at large.  Neoconservatism has created an over-mighty security state, the needs of which draw resources from our economy that could be put to far better use improving the material conditions of our own citizens and those of other nations around the world.  
Clinton possesses troublingly authoritarian instincts.  During the early, promising stages of the Arab Spring, hers was the voice in the Obama administration urging the maintenance of ties with autocrats and the stalwart defence of dictators who murdered and terrorized their citizenry.  The failure to sever ties with these dictators early on led to the prolongation of their reigns which in some cases compromised the character of the revolutions, creating the mess the U.S. and the citizens of those countries face today.  Clinton is also an unrelenting and uncritical supporter of the Israeli colonial regime, the actions of which degrade the lives of Palestinians, endanger the democracy of Israelis, and prolong conflict in the region, while associating the U.S. with a mode of colonial government almost universally condemned in the world by the 1960s, and against which our own country contended for its independence.  
Clinton has been a full-throated support of the excesses of the security state.  She has defended the NSA’s snooping and defiance of Congress.  She has attacked Edward Snowden for shedding light on the illegal activities of the security services.  And she has backed the murderous, unaccountable drone program, developed under Bush and massively expanded under Obama.  This system of extrajudicial killings, central to the foreign policy Clinton envisions and helped to develop under Obama, is proven to claim many innocent lives, is under no obligation to publicly prove the guilt of the accused, and serves as an excellent recruiting tool for the Taliban in South Asia, Al Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East, and Al Shabaab in Africa.  The advocacy of Clinton and others for these forms of state terror--murder and spying--diminishes trust in the federal government at a time when it is only the central government that can provide good, coherent policy to address health, education, and economic related problems facing our country.
Clinton’s foreign policy views, however long she has thought about them, are deeply flawed.  They create an international policy that is imperial, violent, and brittle.  They will ensure that the U.S. remains caught in a cycle of violence the world over.  And they refuse to recognize either our own role in creating global security problems, or the material foundations of many of those problems.  They are views that leave her clearly un-equipped to address the challenges of the day, and unwilling to listen to voices better able to address those challenges.
I certainly hope that Sanders will think harder about these issues, and I hope that he will surround himself with people prepared to challenge conventional wisdom, who are not tied to deeply compromised ideological and economic interests.  I hope that he will recognize that some of his comments about the alliances necessary to defeat ISIS and the utility of drone warfare are misguided.  I hope that he and his advisors will think long and hard about how to translate social democratic theory and practice at home into the international arena in a productive fashion.

But he has been on the opposite--and the right--side of most of these debates from Clinton.  That makes his instincts and the moral framework from which he views the world far better than Clinton’s.  It makes his record far less fraught with bloodshed and disaster.  Thinking hard about national security issues wouldn’t do Clinton any good if she almost invariably arrives at wrong and dangerous conclusions.  On this basis, I would argue that a Sanders presidency bodes better for our international relations and our security than a Clinton presidency.  

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