FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

U.S. Foreign Policy and Hillary Clinton’s Troubling Answer

by

shutterstock_340337702

While much has been made in the media of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy experience, and the other Democratic candidates are faulted for having less of it, not enough consideration is given to what Clinton actually says about foreign policy. If foreign policy as a topic deserves attention, then the policies themselves should be of even greater significance. What do Clinton’s words and stances indicate about the future of American relations with the rest of the world? The purpose here is not a thorough analysis, but rather to make a specific point for voters’ consideration.

What rings out from the Clinton campaign is the language of the last thirty years. It is starker because her opponents for Democratic nomination use it minimally. The former Secretary of State easily uses familiar phrases about the Middle East, the United States’ allies and enemies in that region, and about 9/11 and the threat of terrorism. “Foreign policy” is a series of clichés that simultaneously lulls and agitates Americans habituated to politicians using frightening language about terrorism. Little else is required to mark Clinton as a candidate of the establishment—the Liberal wing, but the establishment, nonetheless. Like America’s other establishment politicians, Clinton’s version of foreign affairs assumes Muslim terrorism.

In the Democratic Town Hall discussions in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, 25 January, a Muslim voter asked Clinton how she would protect American Muslims from discrimination, how Clinton would make sure that the United States was the best place for her (the voter’s) family to live. Islamophobia, as we know, is frighteningly present today in the Republican presidential race. Contesting this (and every) form of bigotry and fear-mongering is crucial. However, Clinton’s answer fell short of contestation. She called the language of Republicans “shameful” and “dangerous,” but went on to talk about American Muslims as the first line of defense against terrorism. Clinton made the argument (for at least the second time) that Muslim American parents are important in preventing their children from turning to violent extremism. This should be uncomfortable logic for Americans. Was Clinton’s best response that she would work to make sure that the woman’s children did not become terrorists?

Now, Clinton did not say that there is an innate or latent terrorism in Muslim children. However, in saying that Muslim parents protect their children from “radicalization,” she did come very close to tropes about Muslims and extremism and terrorism that are easily accessible to Americans buffeted daily and for decades by Islamophobic ideas and now confronted by the circus racism of Donald Trump and others. Calling Islamophobia “shameful” and in the next breath characterizing American Muslims as potentially valuable agents against anti-American, Muslim terrorism made an ugly and incongruous argument. As Clinton demonstrated, moralizing about racism does not equate to a political commitment to breaking it. Her answer to the Muslim voter revealed prejudices or played upon prejudices that are indeed shameful.

Clinton extended the “parent” argument to foreign policy. When she argued that Muslim leaders should take the lead in defeating ISIS, she made ISIS a problem of Islam rather than a problem of politics. The important point here is that Clinton’s talk of terrorism and seemingly sincere comments about American Muslims are consistent with policy that in both its Democratic and Republican modes has cast Muslims as enemies, or at best as strategic partners.

Clinton is absolutely correct to say that Islamophobia is “dangerous.” Islamophobia and the threat of terrorism have justified a period of United States foreign policy that has directly increased violence and terrorism. It has been exceedingly more dangerous to Muslims around the world than to Americans. This has been a foreign policy that serves the fossil fuel and defense industries. It is a policy that perceives containment of or use of force against millions of Muslims (and other people) around the world as permissible or necessary. This has been true of both Republicans and Democrats, with varying degrees of dissembling and regret. Consider the last four presidencies: George H. W. Bush presided over America’s first war in Iraq. Bill Clinton bombed Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan and raised the specter of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of illegal weapons. George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan to hunt terrorists and Iraq to hunt weapons of mass destruction. Barack Obama bombed Libya and has permitted a drone war that kills many Muslim civilians. The American government’s support for the Israeli state is an enduring and cogent example of policy that promotes violence. The United States’ implication in creating the conditions for the emergence of ISIS with the second war in Iraq is another example. The full record is far more extensive. These policies have been represented to Americans as necessary, and the justification has been fighting Muslim terrorists or despots. These policies have also been instrumental in inciting terrorism. This is the foreign policy in which Hillary Clinton has experience.

Clinton does not represent any fundamental changes to this foreign policy. She offers continuity. We should expect Clinton to propose more than “diplomacy first” and force as a “last resort.” (Diplomacy in Iran has revealed again the United States’ spectacular hypocrisy on nuclear weapons. And even George W. Bush invoked “last resorts.”) Diplomacy as a policy is common sense. What is needed is a political shift. Clinton’s familiar talk of being tough on terrorism—her firm “yesses” last Monday night to deploying American bombers, special forces, and military advisors—coupled with her questionable statements about American Muslims, does not promise such a shift. Clinton reassures Americans that Muslim terrorists are still the enemy.

And her foreign policy suggests other policies, as well. Americans cannot expect urgent and systematic efforts to address climate change if our foreign policy and military are designed for and committed to the fossil fuel industry. Americans cannot expect real commitment to contesting racism at home if our foreign policy is premised on Islamophobia, be it veiled, habitual, or overt. The focus that the two other Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, place on domestic policy over foreign policy does not represent a failure on their part. O’Malley’s plan for urgently developing a clean energy industry and ending American dependence on fossil fuels is foreign policy in its own right. Sanders’s career-long fight to get big money out of politics speaks to a different foreign policy than that which big industries have won from both the Right and Left of the political establishment for a long time.

Change is needed as certainly in America’s foreign policy as in its domestic policy, and Hillary Clinton does not represent such change.

Paddy O’Halloran is a native of Providence, Rhode Island.  He is currently a master’s student in Political and International Studies at Rhodes University in South Africa.  His research interrogates race and space through the politics of social movements.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail