By Gary Leupp, CounterPunch, June 6, 2016
Rachel Maddow, the famously progressive MSNBC show host, pronounced it “her greatest speech of the campaign.” Chris Matthews agreed, adding that it would “have a very strong appeal to the neocon movement.” He mentioned in particular Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor and TV commentator, as someone likely to be impressed. “A very smart man,” opined Matthews, the conservative Democrat and ‘Hardball’ program host on MSNBC, causing the entire cosmos to shudder.
You’d think that that war in Iraq, which Kristol had tirelessly championed, had never happened. And that its results had been anything other than horrific for the entire Middle East.
Hillary Clinton’s fiery performance last Thursday night, intended to assert her credentials as a former secretary of state (with all the positive “experience” that’s supposed to entail), framed by no fewer than seventeen U.S. flags, was a strident reassertion of U.S. “exceptionalism” without apologies or even reflections on the recent past and her bloody role in it. [Full text of Clinton 40-minute speech on June 2 here; video is here.]
It was billed as a “major foreign policy address,” the sort of thing you might expect of a sitting president. And it was designed, of course, to make her look presidential, and to underscore her campaign’s declaration that she has the Democratic nomination all sewed up. But it was not in fact a foreign policy speech at all; Donald Trump is quite right to call it “a political speech” directed at him.
Maddow has occasionally shown signs of critical reasoning in her coverage of the U.S.’s imperialist wars. One has to wonder what she finds admirable in the speech. Because actually, Clinton said nothing new.
However unsubstantial, it was all over the news the next morning, competing with the stories about new fencing at the Cincinnati Zoo and Prince’s autopsy results. Meanwhile the networks systematically ignore the ongoing wars in Iraq and Syria generated by the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, and the European refugee crisis sparked by the regime-change wars in those countries as well as in Afghanistan and Libya. Like the monkeys adorning the Nikko Shrine, they see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.
Some takeaway lines from the Clinton speech: “Donald Trump doesn’t know the first thing about Iran or its nuclear program.” It’s true that Trump is an uninformed blowhard and that Hillary in contrast knows a lot. She knows, for example, that the entire U.S. intelligence community, in two separate National Intelligence Estimates after 2003, concluded that Iran does not have a military nuclear program. She knows that the whole issue was hyped at the demand of the Israeli leaders who continuously demanded that the U.S. bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities (that in fact date back to the period of the Shah’s reign and supported by the U.S.’s “Atoms for Peace” program).
She also knows from experience the value of the Big Lie in obtaining mass acceptance for real or threatened military action.
Clinton has generally avoided specifics in discussing her plans for more war with one conspicuous exception: she has continuously stated that she strongly advocates a “no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors” in Syrian air space and on the ground in that country beset by civil war pitting a secular regime, mainly against terrorist and terrorist-aligned Islamist opponents.
For Hillary, Syria is the ideal battlefield: one that pits her vision of U.S. hegemony against both Russia (Syria’s patron and her main target) and the nebulous evil of Islamist terrorism in the world—on behalf of an imaginary middle force of democrats who will stay cozy with the U.S. and end support for armed groups opposing Israel.
Her plans are as much a recipe for war as the bogus humanitarian mission in Libya in 2011. They would, as estimated by former Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, require the deployment of 70,000 U.S. troops for their implementation.
In last week’s speech she was more circumspect. “We need to take out [ISIL’s] strongholds in Iraq and Syria,” she declared, “by intensifying the air campaign and stepping up our support for Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground. We need to keep pursuing diplomacy to end Syria’s civil war and close Iraq’s sectarian divide, because those conflicts are keeping ISIS alive. We need to lash up with our allies, and ensure our intelligence services are working hand-in-hand to dismantle the global network that supplies money, arms, propaganda and fighters to the terrorists.”
She didn’t mention that the money supplied to the terrorists is overwhelmingly from donors in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Gulf states closely allied with the U.S. Or that the current U.S. air campaign over Syria is, unlike that of Russia, illegal, opposed by the internationally recognized government in Damascus and lacking UN approval. Her “major foreign policy address” could not address such small details.
Hillary did not mention her own crowing achievement as secretary of state—the savage destruction of Libya involving the death of about 30,000 people, the unleashing of the ugliest forms of tribalism, and ISIL’s securing of a beachhead around Sirte—even once.
In contrast she made repeated references to NATO, well aware no doubt that most Americans aren’t clear at all about what that is but think it must be something good. Like the UN, or the International Red Cross. (I doubt that one in ten knows what the acronym stands for—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—or realizes that it has only been deployed well outside the North Atlantic region, in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and North Africa.)
“This is someone [Trump] who has threatened to abandon our allies in NATO,” Clinton thundered (as though the peoples of Europe had ever earnestly sought, or are begging to maintain that Cold War, specifically anti-Russian, alliance).
It’s true that Trump has—on occasion and inconsistently—labeled NATO “obsolete” and opined that it should have been dissolved years ago. Whether he truly believes this is unclear. As Hillary says, his “ideas are dangerously incoherent” and he can withdraw or deny such comments at any time. But Trump’s statements about NATO, however vague, are actually the most intelligent and welcome statements he’s made in the course of his campaign.
The fact is, beginning in 1999 at her husband Bill’s orders, the NATO alliance designed as a binding military pact uniting West European countries against the Soviet Union from 1949—that should have been dissolved in 1990 when the Warsaw Pact formed in response shut down—has relentlessly expanded to encircle Russia. That’s post-Cold War Russia, with a military budget about 7% of the U.S. figure. Some NATO leaders aim to ultimately swallow Ukraine—which just happens to have been part of the Russian state from the 1670s to the Bolshevik Revolution, when it was made a soviet socialist republic until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Its economy including its munitions industry are inextricably interwoven with Russia’s; its eastern regions are peopled by ethnic Russians; it shares a 1,400 mile long border with Russia.
Does it not make sense that Moscow would see the incorporation of Ukraine, especially one headed by the current Russophobic leadership, into an anti-Russian military alliance as threatening and unacceptable?
Yet Hillary has been a ferocious advocate for the infinite expansion of the alliance, its wars that have produced dysfunctional U.S. client states (Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina) in the former Yugoslavia, and its provocative moves on Russia’s doorstep. But in her speech, avoiding any reference to that expansion—the key geopolitical change of the last quarter-century—she proclaimed: “Moscow has taken aggressive military action in Ukraine, right on NATO’s doorstep.” She never explains why that doorstep has advanced (despite Reagan’s promises to Gorbachev) to include Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania to begin with. Or why it has bordered Russia itself since the inclusion of the former soviet socialist republics of Estonia and Latvia, which share a 508 kilometer border with Russia.
The “military action in Ukraine” that she alludes to refers to separatists’ [sic] resistance to the U.S.-backed coup in February 2014, surely supported by Russia at some level, and surely by Russian public opinion, but you notice that the Pentagon has produced precious little evidence for large scale “military actions.” And the annexation of Crimea (Russian from 1783 to 1954, when it was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR within the old Soviet Union) was only a “military action” in that the 25,000 Russian troops stationed there by treaty were deployed to secure government buildings.
And do not expect Hillary to ever inform her audiences that Sevastopol on Crimean Peninsula is Russia’s only year-round ice-free port except Murmansk north of the Arctic Circle; that the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been headquartered there without interruption since 1783; and that the expulsion of the Russians and their replacement with NATO forces would constitute a truly existential threat to the Russian state.
It would in fact be hard to build a case convincing to the American people that all these countries need to be locked into an alliance with the U.S. and obliged to pay out 2% of their GDPs on military expenses in order to protect them from some imaginary Russian invasion. (From a rational standpoint, it would be precisely like persuading the Russian people that Moscow should head up an alliance including Canada, Mexico and Cuba to secure them against U.S. aggression.)
But the expansion of NATO to include Ukraine has been a pet project of the former Madame Secretary. Clinton chose as her Under Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, neocon and wife of the powerful neocon Republican pundit (John McCain advisor and recently declared Hillary supporter) Robert Kagan. Nuland already had a rich history of warmongering when she embarked on a plan to topple the elected government in Ukraine and replace it with one that would join NATO.
She boasted publicly that the U.S. had spent $ 5 billion by 2014 in an effort to, as she put it so quaintly and dishonestly, “support Ukraine’s European aspirations.” The result was the coup in February 2014 and consequent civil war that has taken over 8,000 lives, including hundreds killed by the neo-fascist Azov Battalion which functions as a regiment of the National Guard.
The U.S. State Department echoed by the compliant media has methodically depicted these events as Russian interference, rather than the results of a U.S.-orchestrated “Color Revolution”-type regime change campaign. To anyone paying attention, the dishonesty, and the success of the propaganda prettifying the coup, is sickening.
Trump has, as Clinton notes, praised Vladimir Putin as someone to whom he’d award an A for leadership. She for her part calls him a “dictator,” a term she would never use for a U.S. ally such as Egypt’s Abdel Sisi or the Saudi king. She has compared the apparently popular president, who has deftly pushed Obama back from his 2013 threat to order a massive strike on Syria and cooperated in the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal, to Hitler—an astonishing statement of historical illiteracy and propensity for sensationalism.
Hillary’s imperious message boils down to: We are the exceptional nation, which the world needs to maintain its “stability.”
“I believe in strong alliances; clarity in dealing with our rivals; and a rock-solid commitment to the values that have always made America great. And I believe with all my heart that America is an exceptional country – that we’re still, in Lincoln’s words, the last, best hope of earth. We are not a country that cowers behind walls. We lead with purpose, and we prevail.”
The peoples of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, know very well how “exceptional” a country the U.S. is, how seldom it “cowers behind walls,” how cheerfully and unapologetically it destroys countries using its “alliances”—even when the latter are jerry-rigged to provide a fig-leaf for what’s essentially unilateral action. Even when their member-lists are often padded with name-only participants such a tiny Pacific nations sometimes informed after the fact that they’re suscribers.
The youth of Iraq—93% of whom according to a recent poll view the U.S. as an enemy—know how U.S. “values” manifest themselves: in the form of “shock and awe” bombing, Abu Ghraib torture, Blackwater murders, and cowboy-managed “reconstruction” that in fact further divided and scourged an already ruined and humiliated country. There is nothing good that can be said about the war that Hillary so passionately supported, until it became politically impossible for her to continue to do so.
Madame Secretary looked regal Thursday night, in the worst way. She reminded me of the elfin Queen Galadriel, as played by Cate Blanchett, in The Lord of the Rings, in that scene where she stares into her magic mirror, sees a vision of the power of Sauron, and suddenly towers over Frodo, arms like dark hollows, arms flung high, and bellows:
“In place of a Dark Lord, you would have a queen! Not dark, but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the sea! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me, and despair!”
Trump and Clinton are both servants of the enchanted ring called Capital. It is not at all clear who is more darkly and fatefully bound, or whose foreign policy, applauded by more devoted followers, would be more terrible and cause the greater despair among the people of this planet.
In response to the warrior-queen awaiting coronation, Bernie Sanders has sadly avoided the whole question of U.S. imperialism. (Among other things, he never uses the term.) It’s as though he accepts Chris Matthew’s smug pronouncement, “The American people don’t care about foreign policy.” The best Bernie could do last week was to say: “…when it comes to foreign policy, we cannot forget that Secretary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history, and that she has been a proponent of regime change, as in Libya, without thinking through the consequences.”
Forgive me, Bernie—because I do of course hope you’ll win—but that comment was wimpish. Hillary’s Libya policy wasn’t a matter of not “thinking through consequences,” but a matter of calculated ruin of a modern state. It’s the difference from the “blunder” of accidental manslaughter and well-planned murder. (Recall how Madame Secretary cackled with hilarity after Col. Gadhafy was sodomized with a knife and assassinated in the desert by NATO’s friends.)
Like the CNN anchors who sometimes mention in passing Hillary’s “foreign policy blunders such as Libya,” Sanders cannot yet call out evil for what it is, but has to chalk it up to well-meaning mistakes lacking forethought.
But that level of criticism is the best the system can provide, the most it will allow. Mistakes were made. There were some intelligence flaws. There were blunders. To paraphrase Erich Segal’s Love Story: being the exceptional power means never having to say you’re sorry. You just acknowledge you fucked up, because hey, things like that happen. And let’s move on.
Had Bernie been the antiwar, anti-imperialist candidate throughout, rather than just repeating his (totally valid) tirade against Wall Street, he might have further sharpened his differences with Clinton. If he loses in California, and then betrays his following with a Clinton endorsement, he will be saying that more wars for regime change and more confrontation with Russia is worth some changes in party rules and some meaningless clauses on the party platform.
I would hope that any Bernie supporters (or anyone at all) who watched last night’s speech, or have read the on-line transcript, would buckle down on their opposition to this creature of Wall Street and the Democratic Party establishment. Better to vote not at all, if Clinton’s the nominee—and instead think about how best to topple whichever candidate wins.
The “billionaire class” that Bernie decries wants badly to suck you in. That’s why the party bosses praise Sanders for “bringing so many new young people into the process”—the better to eat you, my dear! They want you to love this queen, even as you despair of ever electing anybody better.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie
Better, surely, to destroy the Ring that is the rigged economy, rigged political process and murderous foreign policy that Hillary so personifies.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: [email protected]
Party crashing and political revolution: With the Democratic National Convention just weeks away, what’s next for our movement?, by Kshama Sawant, CounterPunch, June 6, 2016
Does Bernie Sanders have a Plan B?, by Jack Rasmus, CounterPunch, June 7, 2016
Declaring Clinton’s premature victory, by Joe Lauria, Consortium News, June 7, 2016
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