Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she wasn’t ‘attacking’ President Obama’s foreign policy in her Atlantic interview. And I’m not ‘attacking’ her when, like the president, I recognize the scent of equine feces. (More)
I saw the supermoon this morning. Mrs. Squirrel and the kids and I were going to take in the Perseid meteor shower, but the moon was too bright. If you missed it, here are some photos from around the world. I don’t know why the one from Australia features a red sports car with the supermoon up in the background. Maybe it’s a metaphor for hubris.
Hubris, as you know, got us into Iraq. Michael Isikoff and David Corn wrote a book about it, and Rachel Maddow adapted it into a documentary for MSNBC. It wasn’t merely the Bush administration’s unwavering belief that Saddam Hussein was connected to Al Qaeda and might supply them with WMDs, despite intelligence reports disproving that dark fantasy. Indeed Ron Suskind reported that the Habbush Letter, that supposedly proved those contacts, was a CIA forgery.
But to understand why the Bush administration would pressure the CIA to forge the Habbush Letter, you have to understand why they wanted to invade Iraq. And no, it wasn’t only for the oil. The deeper motive was a deeper hubris:
We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration’s success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.
Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.
Hrmm. I thought the essential element of the Reagan administration’s success was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a mistake that Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen – back when he still made sense – described as “the Soviets’ Vietnam.” But I digress.
In fairness to the neoconservatives at the Project for a New American Century, President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said essentially the same thing in 1998:
It is the threat of the use of force [against Iraq] and our line-up there that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.
The deeper hubris was not the belief that the United States should fix the problems in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. The deeper hubris was the belief that we could fix those problems.
And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still holds that belief:
The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad – there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle – the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.
But in an interview with the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, President Obama disagreed:
With “respect to Syria,” said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”
And The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reported that President Obama was even more blunt in a White House meeting with Senate and House leaders:
According to one of the lawmakers, Sen. Bob Corker asked the president a long question that included sharp criticisms of President Obama’s handling of a number of foreign policy issues—including Syria, ISIS, Russia, and Ukraine. Obama answered Corker at length. Then, the president defended his administration’s actions on Syria, saying that the notion that many have put forth regarding arming the rebels earlier would have led to better outcomes in Syria was “horseshit.”
“There is no doubt that what ISIS [the Islamic State] was able to do in Syria was probably the key factor in strengthening them in terms of what they are doing in Iraq today,” Morell told “CBS This Morning” on Monday. “It is difficult for me to see how arming the moderate rebels would have made that much difference in Syria. We would have had to have it on a very, very large scale that I think would have frightened our partners in the region because it would have put a very, very large footprint, U.S. footprint on the ground in the Middle East.”
Former Secretary Clinton quickly insisted her comments were not an “attack” on President Obama’s foreign policy, and the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore thinks the media predictably overhyped the maybe-not-a-disagreement:
It’s now beginning to harden into CW that Hillary Clinton is itching to “distance herself” from Barack Obama’s foreign policy – you know, the one she was in charge of directing until eighteen months ago – presumably in a more “hawkish” direction. But I suspect a lot of this talk is at a minimum premature.
Kilgore also predicts the media will now accuse former Secretary Clinton of flip-flopping. And he may be right. But the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman notes that she was always more hawkish than most Democrats.
It’s not ‘attacking’ former Secretary Clinton to say that. Her statement dovetails with the Beltway consensus of American efficacy, a belief that the U.S. can solve the world’s problems, and we have a moral duty to do so.
It’s like that red sports car in the foreground of that Australian photo. It looks shiny and robust, but its power pales in comparison to that of the earth on which it rests, and the supermoon and stars in the background. That’s hubris.
Good day and good nuts