A Hawk She is Not: The Truth About Hillary Clinton's Foreign Policy Views

Start by turning a candidate's strength into a weakness. 

This strategy is often employed in politics when a candidate is going up against someone who has a clear advantage. However, in the year 2016 we've seen this strategy employed not by a particular candidate but rather by a media obsessed in creating competition where this is none. In the field as it stands, we currently have one candidate who is his own foreign policy adviser, another candidate who can't name his foreign policy team, another candidate who wants to carpet bomb the entire Middle East, and a final candidate who contradicts himself constantly. The only candidate left is the one who served as Secretary of State, one who consistently demonstrates a superior knowledge and understanding of foreign policy that none of the other candidates can come close to matching.

So the media attempts to smear this candidate's record to bring her down on a level playing field with everybody else. This year, the media has prided itself on trying to twist and manipulate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's stellar foreign policy experience time and time again. We've seen it in debates where Jorge Ramos asked Clinton about her involvement in everyone's favorite non-scandal in Benghazi which led to eight seconds of booing from the live audience in Miami. A few days later at the MSNBC Town Hall, anchor Chris Matthews asked Hillary Clinton point blank if she was a "hawk" and attempted to list several foreign policy decisions that Clinton was a part of that resulted in military action abroad. It was a question directed at Clinton for the sole reason that she, unlike any other candidate running, was a key part of an administration and was involved at the elite level of the decision making process when it came to foreign affairs. The question also was a reflection of Matthews' personal beliefs that the United States should not be the world's policemen as Matthews himself previously admitted he voted for George W. Bush because he mistakenly believed Bush would prevent us from being an occupying force around the globe.  

Both questions, asked within a week of each other, began to shift the media's attention toward Hillary Clinton's foreign policy. Bernie Sanders has consistently used Hillary Clinton's vote on Iraq as a talking point about what he considers to be her lack of judgment and it has gotten so ubiquitous in either his stump speech or a debate that audience members can now predict when and how Sanders will mention her Iraq vote. Jorge Ramos was apparently like the vast majority of Republicans and was still concerned about Clinton's involvement in Benghazi despite seven separate investigations having cleared her of any wrongdoing including an 11-hour marathon hearing 'designed to go after' her where Republicans learned nothing new that they hadn't already known. And Chris Matthews was apparently concerned that as Secretary of State, Clinton had somehow adopted a 'hawkish' mentality where she would push for war if elected president even though she was part of the Obama administration that Matthews said as recently as December has been 'right about war policy.' 

Funny how that works.  

Because people like Bernie Sanders, Jorge Ramos, and Chris Matthews know that to question Hillary Clinton's foreign policy credentials is to attack her strength. They are leery of both her worldview and her understanding of the world and the pragmatic approach she takes to various situations. When she responds openly and honestly at a town hall event that she can't promise not to use the American military they see this as an indication of a warlike mentality rather than one of brutal sincerity where she knows that the world is unpredictable in a way that military intervention should always be a last resort but at the same time it should always be an option. This is the same view that Barack Obama has taken and he has wound down two disastrous wars and has avoided additional quagmires despite the consistent beating of the drums of war from both congressional Republicans as well as our mainstream media. 

But don't take my word for it.

To truly understand Hillary Clinton's record, let's look at her own words and actions in an effort to see if she truly is a war hawk. Let's start with the Iraq vote because that is seen as the apex of her warlike desires. Clinton has gone on record by describing the reasoning behind her vote and the reason is as follows: George W. Bush lied about his intentions. To understand this, you have to look back to the events of October 2002 where Congress was about to vote on a resolution that would force Saddam Hussein to allow United Nations inspectors to verify whether or not Hussein had destroyed his chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons sites. Hillary Clinton, like many of her peers, believed that a yes vote would be a strong piece of leverage to finish the negotiations between the United Nations and Saddam Hussein. In fact, she spoke on the Senate floor and explained her position:

The question is, how do we do our best to both diffuse the threat Saddam Hussein poses to his people, the region, including Israel, and the United States—and, at the same time, work to maximize our international support and strengthen the United Nations...

...There is no perfect approach to this thorny dilemma...people of good faith and high intelligence can reach diametrically opposing conclusions...I believe the best course is to go to the United Nations for a strong resolution for complete, unlimited inspections with cooperation expected and demanded...

...If we get the resolution the president seeks, and Saddam complies disarmament can proceed and the threat can be eliminated...If we get the resolution and Saddam does not comply, we can attack him with far more support and legitimacy than we would have otherwise...

...Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first...I take the president at his word that he will try hard to pass a United Nations resolution and seek to avoid war, if possible. Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely and war less likely—and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause—I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go away with delay will oppose any United Nations resolution calling for unrestricted inspections...

...This is a difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Any vote that may lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction...My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of preemption or for unilateralism or for the arrogance of American power or purpose...is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president. And we say to him: Use these powers wisely and as a last resort.
— https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2002-10-10/html/CREC-2002-10-10-pt1-PgS10233-7.htm

Seventy-six other senators agreed with Clinton's views including Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, Chris Dodd, and John Kerry and the resolution passed with a vote of 77-23. Of course, as we now know, President Bush did not use his powers as a last resort as Clinton implored but instead he used to vote to assert his authority to make war on Iraq in what became the worst foreign policy decision in forty years. However, to read Clinton's speech on the Senate floor and to understand the subsequent betrayal by President Bush, one can see that Clinton's vote simply echoes her philosophy that one should use military intervention only as a last resort. Unfortunately for the country, President Bush did not share this philosophy and he chose to engage in a preemptive military intervention, the effects of which led to a huge quagmire that our country, the Middle East, and the entire world as is still feeling to this day.

In addition to Iraq, Clinton has also been criticized for her role in the United States' military intervention in Libya in 2011. With conditions in the country currently deteriorating, Republicans are using Libya as an example of the "failed policies" of Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. In fact, during the MSNBC Town Hall event, Chris Matthews attempted to paint Clinton's foreign policy experience as one broad stroke that included both Iraq and Libya. Clinton was having none of it, and she informed Matthews that each situation was unique and each required a knowledgeable understanding of both the situation as well as the region. She then launched into a staunch defense of the Obama administration's efforts in Libya. 

Despite what the media will tell you about Libya, it is more than simply Benghazi. In fact, Clinton described how in 2011 it was a matter of national security and the decision was made to take out a brutal dictator in Muammar Gaddafi before he could inflict further harm on his people. Unlike in Iraq where we came into a country unwelcomed and uninvited, American forces in Libya worked closely with NATO European and Arab allies and were able to eliminate Gaddafi is just over seven months without losing a single American life and spending only $1 billion. This intervention helped Libya avoid the current situation being faced by Syria. As Clinton said during the Town Hall, "Now, is Libya perfect? It isn't. But did they have two elections that were free and fair where they voted for moderates. Yes, they did. So you know, changing from a dictator who has hollowed out your country to something resembling a functioning state and even hopefully more of a democratic one doesn't happen overnight."

And that, in essence, seems to be central to the critique of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy: the notion of 20/20 hindsight. Because the role of any elected official and especially the President is to make the best decision possible with the information available at the time. At the time in question in 2002, Hillary Clinton supported giving President Bush authority because she mistakenly believed he would not abuse that power. At the time in question in 2011, Hillary Clinton supported intervention in Libya because Muammar Gaddafi was a brutal dictator who was openly willing to attack his own citizens in an effort to hold onto power in what had the makings of becoming a brutal civil war similar to what we've seen in Syria. For comparative sake, anti-war candidate Bernie Sanders openly supported military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 but his judgment is never called into question because that particular intervention is generally seen as a success. In twenty years from now if Libya is able to create a stable democracy, we might very well look back on the 2011 intervention and view it largely as a success as well. However, in politics you simply don't have the ability to predict the future and thus politicians are held accountable for the immediate aftermath of their decisions.  

Which brings us to our last point of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy: her ability to plant seeds for the future. Our media is lazy and chooses to focus mostly on Clinton's involvement in Iraq and Libya. Yet as Secretary of State she was active behind the scenes in helping to initiate several policies that didn't become law or practice until years later. For example, in 2011 then Secretary of State Clinton visited the country of Myanmar where she met with Nobel Prize winner Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who had recently been freed after having been detained for twenty years for speaking against the military junta that had controlled the country for nearly a half-century. Clinton also used her trip to call for the release of political prisoners and to encourage the country to engage in democratic reforms. Just over four years later in November of 2015, Kyi's National League for Democracy Party (NLD) won its first-ever national election and Kyi is set to be the party head despite being formally barred from having an official position by her political opposition.

In addition to getting the ball rolling in Myanmar, Hillary Clinton was also instrumental in helping to bring Iran to the negotiating table for what later became the Iran Deal. Through the course of eighteen months, Clinton was heavily involved in a process that took place between January 2009 and June of 2010. To even get Iran to negotiate, there had to be a series of heavy sanctions placed upon the country and Clinton was instrumental in getting those sanctions in place. A large part of the success this diplomatic solution was due to Clinton successfully convincing both China and Russia to join the United States in its calls for stricter sanctions against Iran. These sanctions were approved by the UN Security Council in June of 2010 in what President Barack Obama called "the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government." By getting these sanctions in place and despite constant fear mongering and war cries from neo-Conservatives, Iran eventually did come to the negotiating table and the Obama administration was able to work out its historic Iran Deal in a case where diplomacy proved to be the correct course of action.  

And lastly, we would be remiss not to mention Hillary Clinton's involvement in opening up Cuba, something that has only now come to light. The reason, again, is that sometimes the seeds of democracy take several years to bloom. In regard to Cuba, Clinton and her top aides worked for nearly her entire tenure as Secretary of State in an effort to help keep President Obama's campaign promise to engage countries like Cuba that had previously been deemed our "enemies." In fact, it was Clinton herself who convinced President Obama to continue to work to establish a relationship with the country as she saw the embargo as outdated and ineffective. Clinton witnessed how the leaders of other Latin American countries were perplexed by the United States' antiquated policy toward the island nation of Cuba and how our treatment of the country was hurting our reputation in the eyes of our allies. President Obama heeded Clinton's sound advice and the workings for what became a thawing of the relationship with Cuba were based on recommendations that Clinton had made while Secretary of State. Even now as a candidate for president, Clinton remains fighting for this cause and has continuously called for the trade embargo with Cuba to be lifted as a further sign of the newfound goodwill between our two nations.

People like Bernie Sanders, Jorge Ramos, and Chris Matthews know that Hillary Clinton is the most polished political candidate when it comes to foreign policy that many of us have seen in our lifetime. It is undoubtedly a strength of hers and something that sets her head and shoulders above her Democratic opponent when the topic is broached at any debate or town hall. They also know that the American public thinks of foreign policy in broad strokes rather than subtle nuance so they can easily manipulate their audiences into making an uneducated conclusion based on one or two examples of an otherwise encompassing topic. To say that Hillary Clinton is a hawk is much simpler than saying "Hillary Clinton has made some very difficult foreign policy decisions but in each case she has exhausted all diplomatic options before resorting to military intervention as her last course of action." Because an explanation like that doesn't make for a good stump speech, a challenging debate question, or an opportunity to make a political candidate slip up and provide a highly-viewed moment on network TV. 

Foreign policy is hard work. Hillary Clinton has worked hard at it while all other candidates have chosen to brush it off in broad generalizations or quirky sound bites. The other candidates know that foreign policy is consistently seen as one of the more 'boring' issues of the campaign. It is why the third presidential debate of the general election is nearly always the lowest rated. Yet the role of foreign policy is essential for any commander-in-chief. Not only will he or she have to make decisions about our military involvements overseas but he or she will also have to decide how to engage both our allies and our enemies through diplomatic means in an effort to avoid conflict whenever possible. Decisions made today will have ramifications that will last for generations to come both at home and abroad. Foreign policy might not get all the headlines but it can very well determine what our country and even the world will look like fifty years from now. 

Today in Myanmar, the country is transitioning power to a democratically-elected political party for the first time in a half-century. Today in Iran, children of all ages are getting a little more food and experiencing a little more freedom because sanctions placed upon their country are gradually being lifted after their political leaders chose to come to the negotiating table for the first time in forty years. And today in Cuba President Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit the country in eighty-eight years, giving hope to a nation that has been hopeless for decades. In all these instances, Hillary Clinton helped to create a situation where diplomacy triumphed and won out to create a path where democracy and increased freedoms may one day come to these great lands. She won't get headlines or even credit, but Hillary Clinton knew that diplomacy would win out and she fought to make it happen. Without diplomacy we are left with only perpetual war and as we have seen, Hillary Clinton will go to great lengths to ensure it doesn't come to that. 

No matter what her critics say.



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