Hillary Clinton’s Burden
An essay by syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, published in mid-August, touts the transformative powers of potential president Hillary Clinton. Parker is not modest in her claims, writing, “She can save the world.” This proves that messianic beliefs about politicians are not limited to male leaders (think Bush Jr. and Obama).
Not encumbered by facts or context, Parker anoints Hillary Clinton as the savior of the world. Exhibit A is a scripted line from two decades ago at a conference in Beijing, at which First Lady Clinton announced, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Implying that this thought had heretofore not occurred to anyone outside the United States, Parker claims that it “empowered women as never before” and “was a trumpet blast from heaven’s gate that caused the earth to tremble.” In for a penny, in for a pound. The underlying truth that was so awesome? “Women are human beings, too” (as Parker puts it). Again, this is treated as if an original Hillary thought. There seems to be no realization of the existence of Dworkin or Steinem, Bushnell or Catt, Anthony or Stanton, Wollstonecraft or Mill, Jesus or Plato.
Parker does not mention if Clinton’s speech contained criticism of the Chinese dictatorship then being coddled by her husband’s administration for the benefit of transnational corporations. Presumably, Chinese women—and men—working in U.S.-based factories in Beijing were also human beings with inherent human rights.
In criticizing abuse of women “all to the ‘glory’ of men,” Parker also omits any mention of Bill Clinton in a personal context. Perhaps Hillary’s charity toward women should have started at home with her husband, who would soon be tarnished with plausible claims of past sexual harassment and rape. At the very least, Bill was known to be a male chauvinist pig in his relations with actual, “attractive” women—not really a role model in the campaign to eliminate dehumanizing sexism. Hillary stood by her man through all of the “bimbo eruptions,” sliming the reputations of women who dared to endanger Bill’s power (and, by extension, her own). How quickly we forget . . . or at least Kathleen Parker forgets.
If we are in a forgiving mood, perhaps we can overlook Hillary Clinton’s selective interest in women’s rights as it related to her husband. It is understandable if personal loyalty or ambition trumps abstract principle. But what about would-be President Clinton’s likely effect on the world in general? Could she be a game-changer, if not savior, on behalf of human rights, democracy, and peace? Or is she likely to give us more of the same—i.e., centralized global power projection by U.S. elites, both political and economic? Given Team Clinton’s claim, since its days in Arkansas, of giving us “two for the price of one,” we can forecast Hillary’s future policies by examining Bill’s past policies.
In his January 1996 State of the Union message, President Clinton declared, “The era of big government is over.” In this way, he sounded like the fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s small-government aspirations. However, the next, less-famous line read, “But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.” Looking more closely at the speech, we find a list of domestic policy initiatives. None of the proposals were major and, to some extent, they represented boilerplate, feel-good campaign promises, but they were not compatible with Clinton’s “big government is over” rhetoric. The same was true for the challenge dealing with foreign policy: “to maintain America’s leadership in the fight for freedom and peace throughout the world.” He began with an obligatory qualification—“We must not be the world’s policeman”—and then continued with “But we can and should be the world’s very best peacemaker.” One synonym for policeman is peace officer. In practice, being the world’s peacemaker is the same as being the world’s policeman. When a government “makes peace” it often does so by making war—a phenomenon more akin to Orwell’s 1984 than the beatitude of Jesus.
Clinton himself practiced this sort of global “law enforcement” by intervening in the Balkans with Bosnia and Kosovo. These wars had nothing to do with national security and everything to do with global management by the American empire. Justifying the 1998 bombing of Iraq, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright remarked, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” Diplomatic historian Andrew Bacevich comments, “The pretentiousness of the language—especially, perhaps, the grating use of the imperial ‘we’—all but cries out for a deflating rebuttal. Yet to sneer is to miss the importance of Albright’s claims. That she herself was speaking in deadly earnest is certain. Equally certain is that she was expressing sentiments widely shared across the foreign policy elite.”
Albright’s phrase “indispensable nation” was earlier used in a speech by President Clinton in August 1996: “The fact is America remains the indispensable nation. There are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression, between hope and fear. Of course, we can’t take on all the world’s burden. We cannot become its policemen. But where our interests and values demand it and where we can make a difference, America must act and lead.”
Talking about the threat of terrorism, Bill Clinton did not attribute any of it to blowback from U.S. foreign policy, instead it was all motivated by the purity and goodness of the U.S. government (“we”): “America will remain a target because we are uniquely present in the world, because we act to advance peace and democracy, because we have taken a tougher stand against terrorism, and because we are the most open society on earth. But to change any of that, to pull our troops from the world’s trouble spots, to turn our backs on those taking risks for peace, to weaken our opposition against terrorism, or to curtail the freedom that is our birth right would be to give terrorism a victory it must not and will not have.” He closed with more rhetoric concerning the heavy burden thrust upon the United States—an abstraction that really means the U.S. federal government—by destiny or by God: “This responsibility is great, and I know it weighs heavily on many Americans. But we should embrace this responsibility because at this point in time no one else can do what we can do to advance peace and freedom and democracy and because it is necessary at this point in time for our own peace and freedom and prosperity.”
Such professions of American exceptionalism and the necessity of internationalism by Albright and Clinton were not much different from defenses of imperialism given a century earlier in “The March of the Flag” by Albert Beveridge (1898), “The American Soldier” by Elihu Root (1899), or “The White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling (1899). The broad outlines of worldview and policy are the same. Even the language is strikingly similar. Albert Beveridge declared,
It is a noble land that God has given us . . . It is a mighty people that He has planted on this soil . . . a people imperial by virtue of their power, by right of their institutions, by authority of their Heaven-directed purposes . . . It is a glorious history our God has bestowed upon His chosen people . . . Shall the American people continue their march toward the commercial supremacy of the world? . . . If England can govern foreign lands, so can America. If Germany can govern foreign lands, so can America. . . . We can not retreat from any soil where Providence has unfurled our banner; it is ours to save that soil for liberty and civilization.
Clinton made mention of “freedom and prosperity,” whereas Beveridge referenced “liberty” and “commercial supremacy.” For Clinton, we are “the indispensable nation,” while Beveridge called us God’s “chosen people.”
Senator Beveridge (R-IN) was a compatriot of über-imperialist/militarist Theodore Roosevelt. An even closer friend and ally of TR was Secretary of War Elihu Root. While flattering the U.S. military in the wake of the Spanish-American War and the rise of overseas empire, Root asserted, “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the world began . . . He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.” Note that while Clinton argued our government acts “to advance peace and justice,” Root lauded the role played by the troops of our government as “the advance guard” of “peace” and “justice,” among other good things. What Clinton calls a “responsibility” that “weighs heavily” is termed a “burden” by Kipling.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, a top media supporter of Bill Clinton’s project of globalization, was even more explicit. In 1999, Friedman wrote, “The emerging global order needs an enforcer. That’s America’s new burden.” In a passage of his speech not quoted above, Clinton said, “We cannot reduce the threats to our people without reducing threats to the world beyond our borders. That’s why the fight against terrorism must be both a national priority and a national security priority.” Kipling urged, “Take up the White Man’s burden in patience to abide, to veil the threat of terror and check the show of pride.”
Even the “white man’s” part of Kipling’s burden equation is not so far-removed from today. In the world of Secretary Albright, Secretary Rice, and Secretary Clinton, we would have to modify “man’s” to be more gender neutral, but the ethnic component is still often dominant . . . even when an African American woman is helping to coordinate attacks on dark-skinned foreigners. This is not conscious, personal racism but rather ingrained, systemic racism. It has its roots in Anglophilic snobbishness, benevolent imperialism, sense of entitlement by the overprivileged, pseudo-scientific eugenics, and Nietzschean philosophy. During a 1996 television interview, when asked about U.S. sanctions on Iraq that had reportedly resulted in the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, Albright did not dispute the figure but responded, “It’s a hard choice but I think, we think, it’s worth it.” Simply put, the U.S. foreign policy establishment considers non-influential foreigners to be of little individual value. In the calculus of global statecraft, they are insignificant, even when aggregated into blocs of a half-million. Or, to change analogies, as pawns on the global chessboard, they are expendable.
Bill Kauffman observes, “An isolationist is simply one who wishes the U.S. government to refrain from military involvement abroad. I never could figure out why this is an epithet. Why are isolationists, who oppose killing foreigners, considered xenophobes, while those who favor killing foreigners are humanitarians? Most Americans are instinctively isolationist. They don’t want their kids and their taxes sent overseas to bomb or bribe people they’ll never meet.” (Kauffman is correct about the instinct, but patriotic Americans—especially white southerners—override this instinct in response to elite-managed flag-waving.)
Theodore Roosevelt, leader of an American political camp that included Beveridge and Root, was open about his racist worldview. He referred to the peoples of non-European lands as “savages” and “barbaric black heathen.” He asserted that the great imperial powers of Europe had expanded into Asia, Australia, and Africa because each was “a great race.” He sang the praises of colonization through “expansion of the peoples of white, or European, blood.” When Bill Clinton was winding down his presidency, he said, “I always felt that the work we did the last eight years made us the heir of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.” Clinton may have been referring to other aspects of TR’s persona, but he shared his imperial ethnocentric presuppositions. Rudyard Kipling was a board member of the Rhodes Trust, one of the groups founded by Cecil Rhodes in his quest to promote “the extension of British rule throughout the world” and to lay the foundation for a de facto world government that would “hereafter render wars impossible and promote the best interests of humanity.” Across the Atlantic, American Anglophiles formed the Council on Foreign Relations in 1918-21 as a continuation of Rhodes’ vision. In political terms, this was a coalition of Roosevelt Republicans and Wilson Democrats. Elihu Root was the honorary leader of the CFR. Fittingly enough, Clinton played a bit part in the Rhodes story by being a Rhodes Scholar.
As a presidential candidate, Governor Clinton embraced the official mythology of the Cold War. As a new president, Clinton fostered “a Pax Americana-lite, generously seasoned with American military might,” as he “dispatched U.S. troops to Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans, as U.S. missiles and bombs blasted Serbs, Afghans, and Iraqis.” Andrew Bacevich continues with his description: Clinton had a “penchant for military activism” and his administration had a “preference for gunboat diplomacy,” having found “a modern equivalent of old-fashioned ‘gunboats’ in cruise missiles and aircraft armed with precision-guided munitions.” In 2001, in terms of the White House, State Department, and Pentagon, the incoming Bush team possessed “a worldview that did not differ significantly” from the one possessed by the outgoing Clinton team.
By the late twentieth century, most southerners, regardless of party label, backed a worldwide empire of power and commerce that had no loyalty to any particular place because it was packaged using patriotic yet altruistic imagery. Having grown accustomed to decades of internationalist policy—persuasively linked to traditions of national might and military pomp— they were willing to follow Bush or Clinton—Sr. or Jr., Mr. or Mrs. In this way, the South, with a handful of notable exceptions, has relinquished its former role as a conservator of constitutional fidelity and true national defense. When thinking about big government, you cannot get much bigger than governing the whole world—politically, economically, and culturally. This was the essence of the Clintonian agenda of globalism and globalization.
In 2007-08, Barack Obama provided no alternative to Hillary Clinton, in terms of imperial-minded foreign policy. Clinton herself provided no substantive alternative to the neoconservative philosophy of the Bush II administration. In addition to her suppport for her husband’s hawkish policies in the 1990s, Senator Clinton voted to wage war in Iraq, consistently supported funding of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and opposed every congressional atempt to force immediate withdrawals of American troops. As senator and secretary of State, Hillary was clearly in the Harry Truman-Hubert Humphrey-Henry Jackson tradition of “muscular internationalism,” with its attendant gunboat diplomacy and faux global humanitarianism. In other words, she was a neocon in all but name.
During a seemingly unguarded moment between interviews with CBS News, in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrated news of the killing of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in the wake of U.S. military intervention in Libya’s civil war, by gloating, “We came, We saw, He died.” As she laughed, Clinton was paraphrasing Julius Caesar’s famous “I came, I saw, I conquered” (Veni, vidi, vici). Her joking words and her invoking of the dictator who ended the Roman Republic shed light on Clinton’s perspective concerning the value of human life, respect for law, and imperial prerogatives. The incident was a small but significant link between the Roman Empire and the American Empire.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is obviously a woman, but there is nothing special about her political views. Most Democrats take for granted the necessity of U.S. government leadership in the world. An active foreign policy is the norm. This is depicted in idealistic terms—a humanitarian empire—but it does not negate support for a huge military establishment that is used to wage war when the war is framed to the liking of liberals. Most icons of contemporary liberal Democrats are exemplars of armed empire: Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Obama, for example. Martin Luther King Jr. is one exception to the rule but his inspirational civil rights speeches are celebrated, not his foreign policy views.
Both Clintons are in a long line of liberals stretching back to Wilson who possess a one-world philosophy that is couched in warm-and-fuzzy terms but, in practice, means a Pax Americana built by transnational corporations and the U.S. military. The essence of modern liberalism is noblesse oblige elitism at home and humanitarian imperialism abroad. This truth could not be more timely as the U.S. government prepares to wage war against yet another nation in the Middle East.
Those who want peace on Earth and who favor a humble American republic rather than an overbearing American empire must look elsewhere for an alternative to Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and the bipartisan foreign policy status quo. If elected president in 2016, Hillary Clinton will not save the world. It is doubtful that she will even serve the nation, if we define the nation as the non-powerful, non-wealthy 99 percent. It is time to face reality.
Jeff Taylor is professor of political science at Dordt College. This article is excerpted from his new book, Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism © Lexington Books, 2013. For more information, see the book website.