Reading Kos' FP post today about Hillary Clinton's inevitablity got me thinking of this topic and my many concerns I have with her. There's a view among most Kossacks that HRC would not be a significant departure from Obama in any recognizable way. Either Obama is a corporatist, war-mongering sellout and Hillary would be the same, or he's been a good president and, again, Hillary would be the same. I think thats a big mistake, and the reason for people making it is our tendency to compare Obama and Clinton based on their 2008 platforms which is not only dated, but also a policy document that isn't always predictive of governing behavior. I think her stint as SOS does shed some light on where a HRC presidency would be a turn for the worse, particularly on 2 issue, the environment and military interventionism.
If you read Steve Coll's book on Exxon, he talks about how during the 2008 primary Big Oil was not threatened by the Clintons because they had a good working relationship with them in the 90's, and, most importantly, they had access to her campaign due to her having several advisors who basically oil industry lobbyists. Even more important, after Bush came into office and shilled for Big Oil the democratic party as a response became more antagonistic towards the industry so Exxon developed a model for ranking Senators based on cooperativeness to their industry demands. A "1" ranking was a Senator from a state where their economy relies on the industry, like Louisiana, and and basically the entire republican caucus. Basically the Senate contingent who is in the bag. A "2" ranking was for Senators who did not agree with them on everything but who they had a good relationship with and believed would get a good hearing from. The top 2 people on this list were Schumer and HRC. The "3" ranking were the Senators who they felt would only use them as a tool for demagoguery and not trust worthy. Obama, Dick Durbin, and Barbara Boxer were in this category.
Exxon believed Obama, who they believed refused to meet with them during the campaign, and who they basically had no working relationship with any of his team, would only use them for political hits. This made them fearful that, due to not having a relationship, an Obama presidency would force them to use a Congress only approach. Now, of course this has worked cause Obama has been calling for ending their subsidies for 4 years and basically been ignored, even when Democrats controlled the Senate.
So is it a surprise that as SOS Hillary Clinton installed many people in advisory roles that had ties to her campaign and the oil industry, and we saw the flagrant result of that when the chief architect of the first State Department report was an official from her campaign who also had durect ties to TransCanada as a lobbyist. So, for those who care about the environment, and have rightly critiqued Obama from the left by not being forward looking enough, we'll be sorely disappointed in HRC. Ask Bill Mckibben, who has been tough on Obama , about comparing him to HRC and he says its not a contest, because of her ties to segments of the oil industry, the Clinton's historical ambivalence to the climate change issue and her being a force in the administration that advocated for those policies.
Many people, like myself, feel Obama has basically maintained Bush's counter-terrorism policy, where we maintain a permanent war footing, but doing it with a light footprint via drones. But I do believe that there is a lack of appreciation for the turn against traditional interventionism Obama has taken in the past year, a trend that will probably continue for the rest of his presidency. Its pretty obvious that WH policy right now is basically avoid at all costs foreign intervention apart from counter-terrorism, and leave Afghanistan with as few boots on the ground as necessary to continue said counter-terrorism policies, approximately 3,000. This is where Hillary would be a break from Obama's recent posture, and there are 3 case studies to prove this point:
All reporting regarding the Afghan surge in 2009 shows that the debate was a split between the military advisors and the WH. Basically, all the WH advisors from Biden, to Donilon, to Emanuel were against a surge, for the obvious reasons. Its also pretty evident that Obama was, in reality, not for the concept but was basically boxed in by his campaign commitments to promising to escalate in Afghanistan as an innoculation for being soft, and the smart maneuvering from Gates, Patraeus, and Mcrystal. There is a reason why he kept on pushing back his deadline for making a decision on the surge. Ultimately, all Obama could get out of them was this deadline to remove the surge troops in 18 months, which was a giveaway to this being a political solution by the WH. If you believe in counter-insurgency you do what the Bush WH did, you make the commitments open-ended and never make withdrawal commitments that can box you in.
But there was one exception to the divide in the administration on this issue, and it was Hillary, who was unabashedly for the surge and was more vocal about her support than even Gates. Whats more, I've seen zero evidence that the surge's biggest supporter in the administration, outside of DOD, has learned that lesson. Frankly, if her vote for the Iraq war, which led to her '08 loss, didn't scar her from being interventionist, nothing will.
Syria & Libya
While Obama ultimately supported helping topple Qadafi in Libya via military force, its very important to look at how he and Hillary reached that conclusion. Hillary was the primary pusher, along with Susan Rice, basically from the get go and thought we should have led the rest of the world into taking action, as opposed to letting France and the UK take the lead with us in a support role, as Obama did. Obama managed to have the UN, Arab League, and Europe take the lead on this issue and take ownership by demurring long enough for them to ask us to help. This gave us the leverage to set the terms of agreement with France and the UK to be us setting the playing field for the no-fly zone, but their planes having to enforce it after that with us providing the necessary refueling for their planes. Once the decision to use force in Libya was made, we used the most multi-lateral involvement possible, with the least possible skin in the game for us.
We also have Syria, where we now know HRC and Patraeus presented Obama with a plan to arm the rebels last fall. We also know that Panetta and the Joint Chiefs supported the plan, but thankfully Obama vetoed that idea and has still been resisting it, despite enormous pressure from segments of Europe and the Arab world.
Lastly, HRC concerns me when thinking of Iran, since she has the same view as Menendez, Schumer, Gilibrand and any democrats from that area. One of the enduring visions I have of the 2008 primaries was HRC's relentless attacks on Obama for even entertaining the idea of negotiating with Iran. Like many democratic Senators, she views Iran as irredeemable and thus doesn't mind having the US do provocative things that box us into a conflct. While I have problems with Obama's willingness to let the Senate bully him on this issue, its pretty obvious he is not keen on going to war with Iran, and has basically been pleadng with Israel to not do something stupid by going it alone.
So the picture we get on foreign policy, is that HRC is a traditional liberal interventionist, and where there's an ongoing conflict with an oppresive regime that has a chance of inflicting bloodshed on a sizeable scale, her first instinct is always to intervene. Obama, at heart, is a realist, with all the pluses and minuses that entails. He's not some pacifist, but he basically thinks we should only commit ourselves to whats in our direct national interest, which in his view would justify the aggressive counter-terrorism policies. But thats a big difference between the two, and something that should not be glossed over.