I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton, and not just because Donald Trump is a “sociopath” (as his former ghostwriter puts it). Clinton has the intelligence, empathy and strength to become our greatest President--if she resolves a huge moral contradiction in her career.
As Clinton noted last week at the Democratic Convention, helping those who are most vulnerable, children and women, has been her lifelong passion. But she is also a strong advocate for U.S. military interventions, which have devastated children and women.
Clinton is far more hawkish than Barack Obama, who never became the peace President many of us hoped for. As a Senator in 2002, Clinton voted to authorize George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which Obama opposed. As Secretary of State, Clinton advocated more aggressive military actions than the President in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. (For more on Clinton’s positions, see her website and Ontheissues.org.)
Clinton does not favor tough policies just to make herself more electable, according to New York Times reporter Mark Lander. As he noted last April in “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk,” Clinton’s foreign-policy “instincts” are
bred in the bone--grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.
The reference to Clinton’s “cold realism about human nature” chills me, because I fear it means she has fallen for the bogus claim that war has deep evolutionary roots. Clinton believes that “the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests [and] that American intervention does more good than harm,” Lander reports.
I italicize “more good than harm,” because… really? U.S. interventions since 9/11 have been disastrous, by any objective measure. Here are consequences of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan, as tallied by the Costs of War Project, based at Brown University:
370,000 people have died due to direct war violence. It is likely that many times more than 370,000 people have died indirectly in these wars, due to malnutrition, damaged infrastructure, and environmental degradation.
210,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
7.6 million Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani people are living as war refugees and internally displaced persons, in grossly inadequate conditions.
The cost for both the Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan wars totals about $4.4 trillion.
Over 6,800 U.S. soldiers have died in the wars, and almost one million veterans have filed disability claims.
Women in Iraq and Afghanistan are excluded from political power and experience high rates of unemployment and war widowhood.
As for Libya, Clinton helped to persuade Obama to deploy bombers against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Far from becoming a democracy, Libya is ravaged by fighting between the Islamic State (ISIS) and other militant groups. According to The Atlantic, Obama views the invasion of Libya as “his worst mistake.”
U.S. actions in Syria haven’t been a smashing success, either. The morning after Clinton’s stirring Convention speech, The Guardian reported that civilian deaths from U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS are “on the rise” and risk “undermining the fight against the extremists.” A recent attack on Mambij, a Syrian village, “killed at least 74 named civilians, mostly women and children, and potentially more than 50 others, according to multiple observers.”
I italicize “mostly women and children” because, again, these are the people Clinton has worked especially hard to defend. And yet Clinton calls for “intensifying the coalition air campaign” against ISIS.
In a recent post, I focus on children killed directly by U.S. and allied forces. According to Iraq Body Count, between 2003 and 2011, U.S. coalition forces killed at least 1,201 children in Iraq alone. Airwars.org estimates that more recent attacks by U.S.-allied forces against Islamic forces in Iraq and Syria have killed at least 1,521 civilians, including an unknown number of children. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan over the past decade have killed between 172 and 207 children. (Clinton favors drone strikes.)
These documented cases are just a tiny fraction of the casualties resulting from U.S.-led attacks, according to political scientist Neta Crawford, author of Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America's Post-9/11 Wars.
U.S. drone strikes “aren’t the main source of civilian killing,” Crawford told me by email. “Most children killed and injured directly by U.S. forces and their allies were killed the same way as their parents: they died when bombs fell; when they were caught in ‘cross-fire’; shot in night raids; shot at check-points and run over by U.S. convoys who speed through the streets and roads.”
Crawford says “the harm to children in war is also indirect--morbidity and mortality due to the destruction of infrastructure which impairs delivery of medical care, makes drinking water unsafe, and makes food scarce.”
Clinton would no doubt respond that ISIS and the Taliban hurt children and women too, and attacks on them ultimately do more good than harm. But a just-war philosophy that permits killing of children and women is an oxymoron. Also, in strictly practical terms, U.S. military actions since 9/11 have failed miserably, because they have exacerbated the problem of Muslim militancy.
Clinton is famous for her “listening tours,” in which she seeks out others’ opinions on important issues. After she wins the election, she should go on a global listening tour aimed at finding nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The tour’s main purpose would be to gather ideas for ending war and even the threat of war once and for all. Clinton will hear lots of challenges to her belief in the righteousness of U.S. military power. She might start by talking to former President Jimmy Carter and the Pope, who have both suggested that U.S. militarism does more harm than good.
As a teenager, Clinton was an anti-communist conservative. But in 1968 she campaigned for antiwar Democratic candidate Eugene McCarthy, presumably because she realized that the U.S. war against communists in Vietnam was doing more harm than good.
My hope is that Clinton will undergo another such conversion. She will announce that henceforth world peace is the primary mission of all U.S. security agencies. To convince other nations of her seriousness, she could announce a moratorium on U.S. air strikes, arms sales and research on new weapons.
She will at least consider the possibility that scaling back the vast U.S. military empire, if carried out wisely, can make the world safer. Such a step would free up resources for investment in education, jobs, health care, clean energy and foreign aid and encourage other nations to scale back their armies.
Clinton will have a hard time—to put it mildly--convincing American voters to support deep cuts in the U.S. military, and she will be fiercely opposed by arms manufacturers and others who benefit from maintaining the status quo. At best, she can only initiate a trek toward peace that others must complete. When her resolve falters, she might remember how much war hurts children and women.
Clinton is unquestionably strong. Is she strong enough to renounce her hawkishness and become a Peace President? I’d love to see her try.
Addendum: I received the following email from Peter G. Prontzos, Langara College, Canada:
John, I hope that "Hawkish Hillary" will indeed follow your advice! Just a few comments about adjectives:
I winced at the phrase, "...the problem of Muslim militancy", because, as George Lakoff has shown, such phrases - even if mostly true - reinforce unfortunate beliefs/metaphors.
The other phrase is, "...the U.S. war against communists in Vietnam." Again, that was the "justification" for the U.S. slaughter of upwards of 3 million people in Indochina, not to mention the "collateral damage" to women and children. I think it would have humanized our victims if it read: "the U.S. war against the people of Vietnam"
(And as you probably know, Ho Chi Minh and his forces worked with Washington to drive out the Japanese invaders in WW2, and Ho tried to remain friends with the U.S. but was rejected. Truman sided with the French who were trying to re-assert domination over their former colonies in Indochina. Even worse, when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, the U.S. sabotaged the Geneva peace agreement which called for a united Vietnam and free elections. President Eisenhower created a puppet government in Saigon and rejected elections because, as he himself admitted, "The communist Ho Chi Minh would win 80% of the vote." [See Stephen Kinzer's book, "The Brothers" for details].
Finally(!), here is a great analysis by Noam Chomsky: https://chomsky.info/an-eight-point-brief-for-lev-lesser-evil-voting/