FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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

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.

More articles by:

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.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 26, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The U.S.-Iran Imbroglio: Dangerous Lessons To Be Learned
Paul Street
Reflections and Correspondence at the Abyss
John Laforge
Trump’s Ministry of No Information
Paul Edwards
Fool Me Twice
Rob Hager
Warren and Sanders: Compare and Contrast
John Steppling
The Monkey’s Face
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World of Shadows
Jaspal Kaur Sadhu Singh
Correcting a Colonial Injustice: The Return of the Chagos Islands to Its Natives
Binoy Kampmark
Violent Voyeurism: Surveillance, Spyware and Human Rights
Jonah Raskin
Reflections on Abbie Hoffman and Joshua Furst’s Novel, Revolutionaries
Dave Chapman
The Hydroponic Threat to Organic Food
June 25, 2019
Rannie Amiri
Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Trump May Already be in Too Deep to Avoid War With Iran
Paul Tritschler
Hopeful Things
John Feffer
Deep Fakes: Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?
Binoy Kampmark
Bill Clinton in Kosovo
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Japanese Conjuncture
Edward Hunt
Is Mexico Winding Down or Winding up the Drug War?
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump’s Return to Full-Spectrum Dominance
Steve Kelly
Greed and Politics Should Not Drive Forest Policy
Stephen Carpa
Protecting the Great Burn
Colin Todhunter
‘Modified’: A Film About GMOs and the Corruption of the Food Supply for Profit
Martin Billheimer
The Gothic and the Idea of a ‘Real Elite’
Elliot Sperber
Send ICE to Hanford
June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
George Wuerthner
How Mountain Bikes Threaten Wilderness
Christopher Ketcham
The Journalist as Hemorrhoid
Manuel E. Yepe
Yankee Worship of Bombings and Endless Wars
Mel Gurtov
Iran—Who and Where is The Threat?
Wim Laven
Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty
Thomas Knapp
Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”
Weekend Edition
June 21, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Brett Wilkins
A Brief History of US Concentration Camps
Rob Urie
Race, Identity and the Political Economy of Hate
Rev. William Alberts
America’s Respectable War Criminals
Paul Street
“So Happy”: The Trump “Boom,” the Nation’s Despair, and the Decline of Joe Biden
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ask Your Local Death Squad
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food
Eric Draitser
The Art of Trade War: Is Trump Winning His Trade War against China?
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s Russian Problem
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail