Hillary Clinton, the hawk

An interesting article poorly titled, How Hillary became a hawk, was published in the New York Times. Aside from the problems of hawks and doves it is noteworthy given the election.

It opens, “Clinton sat in the hideaway study off her ceremonial office in the State Department, sipping tea and taking stock of her first year on the job. The study was more like a den — cozy and wood-paneled, lined with bookshelves that displayed mementos from Clinton’s three decades in the public eye: a statue of her heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt; a baseball signed by the Chicago Cubs star Ernie Banks; a carved wooden figure of a pregnant African woman. The intimate setting lent itself to a less-formal interview than the usual locale, her imposing outer office, with its marble fireplace, heavy drapes, crystal chandelier and ornate wall sconces. On the morning of Feb. 26, 2010, however, Clinton was talking about something more sensitive than mere foreign affairs: her relationship with Barack Obama. To say she chose her words carefully doesn’t do justice to the delicacy of the exercise. She was like a bomb-squad technician, deciding which color wire to snip without blowing up her relationship with the White House. “We’ve developed, I think, a very good rapport, really positive back-and-forth about everything you can imagine,” Clinton said about the man she described during the 2008 campaign as naïve, irresponsible and hopelessly unprepared to be president. “And we’ve had some interesting and even unusual experiences along the way.” She leaned forward as she spoke, gesturing with her hands and laughing easily. In talking with reporters, Clinton displays more warmth than Obama does, though there’s less of an expectation that she might say something revealing”.

The piece continues “Clinton singled out, as she often would, the United Nations climate-change meeting in Copenhagen the previous December, where she and Obama worked together to save the meeting from collapse. She brought up the Middle East peace proc­ess, a signature project of the president’s, which she had been tasked with reviving. But she was understandably wary of talking about areas in which she and Obama split — namely, on bedrock issues of war and peace, where Clinton’s more activist philosophy had already collided in unpredictable ways with her boss’s instincts toward restraint. She had backed Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, before endorsing a fallback proposal of 30,000 (Obama went along with that, though he stipulated that the soldiers would begin to pull out again in July 2011, which she viewed as problematic). She supported the Pentagon’s plan to leave behind a residual force of 10,000 to 20,000 American troops in Iraq (Obama balked at this, largely because of his inability to win legal protections from the Iraqis, a failure that was to haunt him when the Islamic State overran much of the country). And she pressed for the United States to funnel arms to the rebels in Syria’s civil war (an idea Obama initially rebuffed before later, halfheartedly, coming around to it). That fundamental tension between Clinton and the president would continue to be a defining feature of her four-year tenure as secretary of state. In the administration’s first high-level meeting on Russia in February 2009, aides to Obama proposed that the United States make some symbolic concessions to Russia as a gesture of its good will in resetting the relationship. Clinton, the last to speak, brusquely rejected the idea, saying, “I’m not giving up anything for nothing.” Her hardheadedness made an impression on Robert Gates, the defense secretary and George W. Bush holdover who was wary of a changed Russia. He decided there and then that she was someone he could do business with. “I thought, This is a tough lady,” he told me. A few months after my interview in her office, another split emerged when Obama picked up a secure phone for a weekend conference call with Clinton, Gates and a handful of other advisers. It was July 2010, four months after the North Korean military torpedoed a South Korean Navy corvette, sinking it and killing 46 sailors. Now, after weeks of fierce debate between the Pentagon and the State Department, the United States was gearing up to respond to this brazen provocation. The tentative plan — developed by Clinton’s deputy at State, James Steinberg — was to dispatch the aircraft carrier George Washington into coastal waters to the east of North Korea as an unusual show of force. But Adm. Robert Willard, then the Pacific commander, wanted to send the carrier on a more aggressive course, into the Yellow Sea, between North Korea and China. The Chinese foreign ministry had warned the United States against the move, which for Willard was all the more reason to press forward. He pushed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, who in turn pushed his boss, the defense secretary, to reroute the George Washington. Gates agreed, but he needed the commander in chief to sign off on a decision that could have political as well as military repercussions”.

Not supursingly the article goes on to mention that “As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has”.

The importance of Clinton’s belief in the military is stressed, “Unlike other recent presidents — Obama, George W. Bush or her husband, Bill Clinton — Hillary Clinton would assume the office with a long record on national security. There are many ways to examine that record, but one of the most revealing is to explore her decades-long cultivation of the military — not just civilian leaders like Gates, but also its high-ranking commanders, the men with the medals. Her affinity for the armed forces is rooted in a lifelong belief that the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests, that American intervention does more good than harm and that the writ of the United States properly reaches, as Bush once put it, into “any dark corner of the world.” Unexpectedly, in the bombastic, testosterone-fueled presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton is the last true hawk left in the race. For those who know Clinton’s biography, her embrace of the military should come as no surprise. She grew up in the buoyant aftermath of World War II, the daughter of a Navy petty officer who trained young sailors before they shipped out to the Pacific. Her father, Hugh Rodham, was a staunch Republican and an anticommunist, and she channeled his views. She talks often about her girlhood dream of becoming an astronaut, citing the rejection letter she got from NASA as the first time she encountered gender discrimination”.

The piece argues that “Political conversion came later, after Vietnam and the ’60s swept over Wellesley College, where she spoke out against the establishment at her graduation. But even in the tumultuous year of 1968, she was still making her transition from Republican to Democrat, managing to go to the conventions of both parties. As a Republican intern in Washington that summer, she questioned a Wisconsin congressman, Melvin Laird, about the wisdom of Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalating involvement in Southeast Asia. It was after law school that she had her most curious encounter with the military. In 1975, the year she married Bill Clinton, she stopped in at a Marine recruiting office in Arkansas to inquire about joining the active forces or reserves. She was a lawyer, she explained; maybe there was some way she could serve. The recruiter, she recalled two decades later, was a young man of about 21, in prime physical condition. Clinton was then 27, freshly transplanted from Washington, teaching law at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and wearing Coke-bottle eyeglasses. “You’re too old, you can’t see and you’re a woman,” he told her. “Maybe the dogs will take you,” he added, in what she said was a pejorative reference to the Army”.

Crucially the writer goes on “Some reporters have cast doubt on the veracity of this story, which she repeated in the fall of 2015 over breakfast with voters in New Hampshire: certainly, there’s no concrete evidence that it happened, and Bill gave a different account of it in 2008, substituting the Army for the Marines. Why would a professionally minded Yale Law graduate, on the cusp of marriage, suddenly want to put on a uniform? It’s impossible to decipher her possible motives, but Ann Henry, an old friend who taught at the university after Clinton moved to Little Rock, offers a theory: During those days, she recalls, female faculty members, as an exercise, would test the boundaries of careers that appeared closed to women”.

The writer notes that many of the staff in the White House are derived from the military, “In March 1996, the first lady visited American troops stationed in Bosnia. The trip became notorious years later when she claimed, during the 2008 campaign, to have dodged sniper fire after her C-17 military plane landed at an American base in Tuzla. (Chris Hill, a diplomat who was onboard that day and later served as ambassador to Iraq under Clinton, didn’t remember snipers at all, and indeed recalled children handing her bouquets of spring flowers.) But there was no faking the good vibes during her tour of the mess and rec halls. With her teenage daughter at her side, she bantered and joked with the young servicemen and women — an experience, she wrote, that “left lasting impressions on Chelsea and me.” When Clinton was elected to the Senate, she had strong political reasons to care about the mili­tary. The Pentagon was in the midst of a long, politically charged process of closing military bases; New York State had already been a victim, when Plattsburgh Air Force Base was closed in 1995, a loss of 352 civilian jobs for that hard-luck North Country town. New York’s delegation was determined to protect its remaining bases, especially Fort Drum, home of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which sprawls over a hundred thousand acres in rural Jefferson County. In October 2001, a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton traveled to Fort Drum at the invitation of Gen. Buster Hagenbeck, who had just been named the division’s commander and would be deployed to Afghanistan a month later. Like many of the officers I spoke with, he had preconceptions of Clinton from her years as first lady; the woman who showed up at his office around happy hour that afternoon did not fulfill them. “She sat down,” he recalls, “took her shoes off, put her feet up on the coffee table and said, ‘General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here?’ ” It was the start of a dialogue that stretched over two wars. In the spring of 2002, Hagenbeck led Operation Anaconda, a 16-day assault on Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the Shah-i-Kot Valley that was the largest combat engagement of the war to date. When the general came back to Washington to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Clinton took him out to dinner on Capitol Hill for her own briefing. They also spoke about the Bush administration’s preparations for war in Iraq, something which Hagenbeck was following anxiously. The general, it turned out, was more of a dove than the senator. He warned her about the risks of an invasion, which was then being war-gamed inside the Pentagon. It would be like “kicking over a bee’s nest,” he said. Hagenbeck excused Clinton’s vote in 2002 to authorize military action in Iraq. “She made a considered call,” he says. And “she was chagrined, much after the fact.” For him, what mattered more than Clinton’s voting record was her unstinting public support of the military, whether in protecting Fort Drum or backing him during a difficult first year in Afghanistan”.

Interestingly the writer mentions that Clinton, during her Senate years chose the Armed Services Committee instead of the Foreign Affairs Committee and “after 9/11, Clinton saw Armed Services as better preparation for her future. For a politician looking to hone hard-power credentials — a woman who aspired to be commander in chief — it was the perfect training ground. She dug in like a grunt at boot camp. Andrew Shapiro, then Senator Clinton’s foreign-policy adviser, called upon 10 experts — including Bill Perry, who was defense secretary under her husband, and Ashton Carter, who would eventually become President Obama’s fourth defense secretary — to tutor her on everything from grand strategy to defense procurement. She met quietly with Andrew Marshall, an octogenarian strategist at the Pentagon who laboured for decades in the blandly named Office of Net Assessment, earning the nickname Yoda for his Delphic insights. She went to every committee meeting, no matter how mundane. Aides recall her on C-SPAN3, sitting alone in the chamber, patiently questioning a lieutenant colonel. She visited the troops in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day in 2003 and spoke at every significant military installation in New York State. By then — 30 years after she recalled being rejected by a Marine recruiter in Arkansas — Hillary Clinton had become a military wonk”.

The author then explores the relationship between General Jack Keane and Clinton, “Keane first got to know Clinton in the fall of 2001, when she was a freshman senator and he was the Army’s second in command, with a distinguished combat and command record in Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. He had expected her to be intelligent, hard-working and politically astute, but he was not prepared for the respect she showed for the Army as an institution, or her sympathy for the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families. Keane was confident he could smell a phony politician a mile away, and he didn’t get that whiff from her. “I read people; that’s one of my strengths,” he told me. “It’s not that I can’t be fooled, but I’m not fooled often.” Clinton took an instant liking to Keane, too. “She loves that Irish gruff thing,” says one of her Senate aides, Kris Balderston, who was in the room that day. When Keane got up after 45 minutes to leave for a meeting back at the Pentagon with a Polish general, she protested that she wasn’t finished yet and asked for another appointment. “I said, ‘O.K., but it took me three months to get this one,’ ” Keane told her dryly. Clinton exploded into a raucous laugh. “I’ll take care of that problem,” she promised”.

It later adds “He and Clinton continued to talk, even after Obama was elected and she became secretary of state. More often than not, they found themselves in sync. Keane, like Clinton, favoured more robust intervention in Syria than Obama did. In April 2015, the week before she announced her candidacy, Clinton asked him for a briefing on military options for dealing with the fighters of the Islamic State. Bringing along three young female analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, Keane gave her a 2-hour-20-minute presentation. Among other steps, he advocated imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria that would neutralise the air power of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, with a goal of forcing him into a political settlement with opposition groups. Six months later, Clinton publicly adopted this position, further distancing herself from Obama”.

The piece mentions that “On Clinton’s first trip to Iraq in November 2003, Petraeus, then a two-star general commanding the 101st Airborne Division, flew from his field headquarters in Mosul to the relative safety of Kirkuk to brief her congressional delegation. “She was full of questions,” he recalls. “It was the kind of gesture that means a lot to a battlefield commander.” On subsequent trips, as he rose in rank, Petraeus walked her through his plans to train and equip Iraqi Army troops, a forerunner of the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. It worked to their mutual benefit: Petraeus was building ties to a prominent Democratic voice in the Senate; Clinton was burnishing her image as a friend of the troops. “She did it the old-fashioned way,” he says. “She did it by pursuing relationships.” When Petraeus was sent back to Iraq as the top commander in early 2007, he gave every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee a copy of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which he edited during a tour at Fort Leavenworth. Clinton read hers from cover to cover. Although Clinton’s reservations about the surge were valid — the stability that the additional troops brought to Iraq didn’t last — her opposition to it, like her vote for the war, came back to haunt her. This time, it was her ally Bob Gates who summoned the ghost. In his memoirs, Gates wrote that she confessed to him and the president that her position had been politically motivated, because she was then facing Obama in the Iowa caucuses. (Obama, he wrote, “vaguely” conceded that he, too, had opposed it for political reasons.) Clinton pushed back, telling Diane Sawyer of ABC Newsthat Gates “perhaps either missed the context or the meaning, because I did oppose the surge.” Her opposition, she told Sawyer, was driven by the fact that at that time, people were not going to accept any escalation of the war. “This is not politics in electoral, political terms,” Clinton said. “This is politics in the sense of the American public has to support commitments like this.” The next time she found herself in a debate over sending troops into harm’s way, she voiced no such reservations”.

It then continues “It was early October 2009, and she had just returned from a meeting in the Situation Room. Obama’s war cabinet was debating how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan, where the United States, preoccupied by Iraq, had allowed the Taliban to regroup. The Pentagon, she reported, had used impressive, colour-coded maps to show its plans to deploy troops around the country. The attention to detail made Gates and his commanders look crisp and well prepared; the State Department, which was pushing a “civilian surge” to accompany the troops, looked wan by comparison. At the next meeting, on Oct. 14, the team from State unfurled its own maps to show the deployment of an army of aid workers, diplomats, legal experts and crop specialists who were supposed to follow the soldiers into Afghanistan. Clinton’s fixation with maps was typical of her mind-set in the first great war-and-peace debate of the Obama presidency. She wanted to be taken seriously, even if her department was less central than the Pentagon. One way to do that was by promoting the civilian surge, the pet project of her friend and special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke. “She was determined that her briefing books would be just as thick and just as meticulous as those of the Pentagon,” a senior adviser recalls. She also didn’t hesitate to get into the Pentagon’s business, asking detailed questions about the training of Afghan troops and wading into the weeds of military planning. She resolved not to miss out on anything — a determination that may have been rooted in a deeper insecurity about her role in what was to become the most White House-centric administration of the modern era. On the morning of June 8, 2009, she emailed two aides to say: “I heard on the radio that there is a Cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?” On Feb. 10, 2010, she dialed the White House from her home, but couldn’t get past the switchboard operator, who didn’t believe she was really Hillary Clinton. Asked to provide her office number to prove her identity, she said she didn’t know it. Finally, Clinton hung up in frustration and placed the call again through the State Department Operations Center — “like a proper and properly dependent secretary of state,” as she later wrote to one aide in a mock-chastened tone. “No independent dialing allowed.” The Afghan troop debate, a three-month drama of dueling egos, leaked documents and endless deliberations, is typically framed as a test of wills between the Pentagon’s wily military commanders and an inexperienced young president, with Joe Biden playing the role of devil’s advocate for Obama. While that portrait is accurate, it neglects the role of Clinton. By siding with Gates and the generals, she gave political ballast to their proposals and provided a bullish counterpoint to Biden’s scepticism. Her role should not be overstated: She did not turn the debate, nor did she bring to it any distinctive point of view. But her unstinting support of General McChrystal’s maximalist recommendation made it harder for Obama to choose a lesser option”.

The piece is brought up to date when it goes on to mention “In October 2015, the persistent violence in Afghanistan and the legacy of Karzai’s misrule forced Obama to reverse his plan to withdraw the last American soldiers by the end of his presi­dency. A few thousand troops will stay there indefinitely. And for all of Clinton’s talk about a civilian surge, it never really materialised. For Clinton, the Afghanistan episode laid bare a vexed relationship between her and Eikenberry, one of the few generals with whom she didn’t hit it off. A soldier-scholar with graduate degrees from Harvard and Stanford, Eikenberry was brilliant but had a reputation among his colleagues for being imperious. Clinton had a similarly chilly relationship with Douglas Lute, another Army lieutenant general with a graduate degree from Harvard, who also fought with Holbrooke. “She likes the nail-eaters — McChrystal, Petraeus, Keane,” one of her aides observes. “Real military guys, not these retired three-stars who go into civilian jobs.” “There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s more muscular brand of American foreign policy is better matched to 2016 than it was to 2008,” said Jake Sullivan, her top policy adviser at the State Department, who plays the same role in her campaign.  It was De­cem­ber 2015, 53 days before the Iowa caucuses, and Sullivan was sitting down with me in Clinton’s sprawling Brooklyn headquarters to explain how she was shaping her message for a campaign suddenly dominated by concerns about national security. Clinton’s strategy, he said, was twofold: Explain to voters that she had a clear plan for confronting the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, and expose her Republican opponents as utterly lacking in experience or credibility on national security. There were good reasons for Clinton to let her inner hawk fly. After the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Americans’ concern about a major attack on the nation spiked. A CNN/ORC poll taken after Paris showed that a majority, 53 percent, favoured sending ground troops to Iraq or Syria, a remarkable shift from the war-weary sentiment that prevailed during most of Obama’s presidency. The Republican candidates were reaching for apocalyptic metaphors to demonstrate their resolve. Ted Cruz threatened to carpet-bomb the Islamic State to test whether desert sand can glow; Donald Trump called for the United States to ban all Muslims from entering the country “until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses.” Yet such spikes in the public appetite for mili­tary action tend to be transitory. Three weeks later, the same poll showed an even split, at 49 percent, on whether to deploy troops.”

The piece ends “In showing her stripes as a prospective commander in chief, Clinton will no doubt draw heavily upon her State Department experience — filtering the lessons she learned in Libya, Syria and Iraq into the sinewy worldview she has held since childhood. Last fall, in a series of policy speeches, Clinton began limning distinctions with the president on national security. She said the United States should consider sending more special-operations troops to Iraq than Obama had committed, to help the Iraqis and Kurds fight the Islamic State. She came out in favour of a partial no-fly zone over Syria. And she described the threat posed by ISIS to Americans in starker terms than he did. As is often the case with Clinton and Obama, the differences were less about direction than degree. She wasn’t calling for ground troops in the Middle East, any more than he was. Clinton insisted her plan was not a break with his, merely an “intensification and acceleration” of it. It’s an open question how well Clinton’s hawkish instincts match the country’s mood. Americans are weary of war and remain suspicious of foreign entanglements. And yet, after the retrenchment of the Obama years, there is polling evidence that they are equally dissatisfied with a portrait of their country as a spent force, managing its decline amid a world of rising powers like China, resurgent empires like Vladimir Putin’s Russia and lethal new forces like the Islamic State. If Obama’s minimalist approach was a necessary reaction to the maximalist style of his predecessor, then perhaps what Americans yearn for is something in between — the kind of steel-belted pragmatism that Clinton has spent a lifetime honing”.

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One Response to “Hillary Clinton, the hawk”

  1. “The Clinton Doctrine is better equipped than that of Obama or Trump” | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] policy may be the most sound of all three. Her policies are more robust than Obama’s on every major security challenge and are better positioned to help the United States secure favourable outcomes to a range of global […]

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