Congratulations to Clinton’s supporters on their candidate’s victory in the election of the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. I hope that whether or not they decide to support Hillary Clinton in the general election that supporters of Bernie Sanders will recognize that according to party rules (however undemocratic), Clinton will be a legitimate nominee.
However, I have significant misgivings about an ostensibly progressive party nominating a candidate with an international policy track record and platform that consists of radical, violent, and dangerous views. I share these misgivings with other progressive voters, and joined others in making them known during the primary process.
The response of Clinton supporters who engaged was almost uniform in its dismissal of these concerns. Some of them said that foreign policy doesn’t occupy the minds of voters, and so even if you agreed with the concerns, there was nothing to be gained from voicing them. Others made the argument that Donald Trump and the other Republicans were worse, suggesting that it was futile to try to change the dangerous ideas of a Democratic candidate and that instead of trying to improve the outlook of the world for 2017 we should take solace in knowing that fewer people around the world would die in a Clinton presidency than in a Trump one.
Still others criticized Bernie Sanders’ rather incoherent foreign policy views. His platform might have been deficient in that respect, but that was in no way an answer to the criticisms of Clinton’s platform. And others went straight to the dishonest deployment of guilt, suggesting that to contemplate not supporting the nominee because of her horrific record was tantamount to support for fascist Trump.
But now we seem to be in a position wherein our party has nominated a candidate who has a history of support for aggressive war, a form of war that the U.S. condemned as early as the Nuremberg trials. As Secretary of State, in every Obama administration cabinet debate about the use of force, Clinton came down on the side of violence. She regularly voiced her support for authoritarian regimes and the “stability” they represent, failing to recognize that this short term stability often leads to chronic, long-term problems of the kind we have seen explode in the Middle East.
Clinton has offered support to colonial governments in Morocco (in relation to its colony in Western Sahara) and Israel (in relation to its occupied Palestinian territories). In the case of a latter she has torn up the most basic rules of diplomacy and offered a state unconditional backing, giving it a license (and also the funds and weaponry) to pursue actions that violate international law and the rules of war, degrade the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians, imperil its own citizens, and endanger the United States public by association. Clinton has also tried to silence critics of the Israeli state by accusing them of uniform anti-Semitism.
Clinton has attacked whistleblowers and journalists, offered unconditional backing to a prying security state, and has endorsed the Obama administration’s use of drones in a form of state terror that mimics the profiling and violence on our own country’s streets.
Many of Clinton’s supporters celebrated the aggressive attack on Donald Trump’s radicalism in Clinton’s recent speech on national security in San Diego. But in that same speech Clinton embraced the doctrine of “American exceptionalism” that underpins many of our country’s worst foreign policy blunders of the last half-century or more.
Clinton said, “if America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum – and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void. Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety – and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit….The truth is, there’s not a country in the world that can rival us. It’s not just that we have the greatest military, or that our economy is larger, more durable, more entrepreneurial than any in the world. It’s also that Americans work harder, dream bigger – and we never, ever stop trying to make our country and world a better place.”
I’m hope that Clinton doesn’t actually believe this baby-simple vision of the world, and I hope that she is less ignorant than her words suggest about history and human motivation and the range of social contracts to which people are party around the world. There are few things more grating than someone obviously intelligent and accomplished saying such transparently stupid things. But her words about our cultural and economic superiority make her cartoonish public view of the world not only insulting to people who work and dream and craft democratic societies all around the world. They are also insulting to the members of a progressive party who have given Clinton their backing.
I think that most of us believe in self-determination, in the capacity of all individuals to shape their lives, and in the universal character of humanity.
If we do believe in those things, we should be more than offended by Clinton’s argument that Americans should be able to shape other people’s lives around the world because of our own superiority, but that those people cannot shape their own or others’ lives. We should reject the idea that our own social contract and political economy is by an article of faith superior to those that exist everywhere else in the world.
This extraordinary arrogance, which leads to a power imbalance between the U.S. and other countries that mimics the imbalances and inequalities within our country, is destructive and can be traced to the growth of ethnic nationalism, scientific racism, social darwinism, militarism, and imperialism in the nineteenth century. It is appalling that the leader of the Democratic Party should be a standard-bearer for these ideas in the twenty-first century.
Many Democrats were incensed by George W Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq, his militarism, and his arrogant nationalism. They were critical of the methods of torture and terror that his administration adopted to combat international terrorism. But most of those same Democrats sat quietly as the Obama administration perfected its own methods of terror, persecuted journalists, attacked whistleblowers, presided over the deregulated growth of the security state, and advanced radical arguments about oversight and war.
This most nauseating and pathetic display of partisanship led to great loss of life, the proliferation of international terrorism, and an emboldened security state. It also signalled that there is no electoral penalty for embracing neoconservative terror and radical ideas about American cultural superiority and impunity.
I hope that Democrats don’t make the same mistake now that Hillary Clinton is the party’s nominee. I wish that all of her supporters would take a moment now and--publicly or privately--communicate with the Clinton campaign indicating what I hope to be their disquiet about her international policy track record and prescriptions. Those supporters remained deafeningly silent in public during the primary--the best occasion for attempting to reform a candidate’s position--and now have an obligation to do all that they can to moderate the toxic, immoral, and irresponsible views of their nominee.
For a variety of reasons, people seem to see politics as a zero sum game, where critiquing Clinton must inherently strengthen Sanders or Trump. But out in the real world, this myopic view of politics has consequences for the people whose lives could be bettered or saved by constructive criticism of one’s own candidate. People who have every much a right to a decent, safe, and protected live as do American citizens.
I’ve got an offer for Clinton supporters...I’ll back your candidate in the general election in spite of my misgivings because of the danger posed by the fascist Donald Trump if you give your word that you will work hard during Clinton’s candidacy and presidency to reform her international policy. Your silence might make sense from a strategic domestic standpoint, but it has real consequences for the lives and livelihoods of the people who populate the “rest of the world” that Clinton deems so culturally and economically “inferior”. Those people are our brothers and sisters and are ill-served by your silence.