“How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk,” a long-form article published this week in the New York Times Magazine, details how Clinton’s hyper-hawkish “foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone,” based on what one of her aides calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.”
Clinton’s extreme belligerence “will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election,” the Times explains, noting “neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.”
In the 2016 presidential campaign, the report concludes, “Hillary Clinton is the last true hawk left in the race.”
The almost 7,000-word piece in the New York Times, which endorsed Clinton, details how, as secretary of state, Clinton pressured President Obama to take more aggressive military action in a variety of conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Syria and more.
Early in her career, Clinton cultivated her hawkish reputation on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she was “looking to hone hard-power credentials,” the Times writes. Eventually, she “become a military wonk.”
One of the biggest influences on Clinton was Jack Keane, a retired four-star general whom the Times describes as “a well-compensated member of the military-industrial complex” and “the resident hawk on Fox News, where he appears regularly to call for the United States to use greater military force in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.”
Keane took an immediate liking to Clinton and took her under his wing. He tutored her on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and more.
Clinton asked Keane to be a formal policy adviser, yet he refused — not because he opposed her, but rather because he would not endorse any candidate.
Keane was one of the architects of the 2007 Iraq surge, in which President George W. Bush ordered an additional 20,000 soldiers to be deployed to Iraq. At the time, with her forthcoming first presidential campaign, Clinton said she was against the surge. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates later revealed in his memoirs that Hillary had told him her opposition was a strictly political move, a disingenuous attempt to get more votes from a war-weary public.
Clinton went on to privately admit to Keane in 2008 that she thought the surge was successful and had been a good idea. As secretary of state, she pressured the Obama administration to keep more troops in Iraq.
The Times story explores Clinton’s close relationship with the military. One of the many military officials Clinton befriended was Army Gen. Buster Hagenbeck, who turned out to be even less hawkish than she is. The general warned Clinton that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would be like “kicking over a bee’s nest.” It’s safe to say Clinton did not heed his warning.
She also befriended former general and CIA Director David Petraeus, infamous for his links to torture and death squads. In 2014, Petraeus insisted Clinton would “make a tremendous President.” A year later, he proposed that the U.S. government use “moderate” members of al-Qaeda to fight ISIS.
No longer needing to moderate her views for election, Clinton did not miss the next opportunity to support a troop surge. In 2009, the Obama administration was debating sending more soldiers into Afghanistan. The president and Vice President Biden were wary of an expansion. Clinton sided “with Gates and the generals,” the Times reports.
“She gave political ballast to their proposals and provided a bullish counterpoint to Biden’s skepticism.” In February, less than a month into office, President Obama announced a troop surge in Afghanistan.
The story features numerous other anecdotes that provide a glimpse into just how hawkish Clinton is.
In the Obama administration’s first high-level meeting on Russia in February 2009, Clinton made her bellicosity loud and clear. She firmly rejected any political concessions to Russia and declared “I’m not giving up anything for nothing.”
“Her hardheadedness made an impression on Robert Gates, the defense secretary and George W. Bush holdover,” the Times reports. Gates “decided there and then that she was someone he could do business with.”
Clinton worked closely with the Bush-era defense secretary. “Clinton strongly seconded” some of his hawkish foreign policy ideas, the Times notes, recalling Clinton had belligerently insisted to her aids “We’ve got to run it up the gut!”
Even after 18 months, the Times recalls Clinton’s staff was “still marveled at her pugnacity.”
“I think one of the surprises for Gates and the military was, here they come in expecting a very left-of-center administration, and they discover that they have a secretary of state who’s a little bit right of them on these issues — a little more eager than they are, to a certain extent. Particularly on Afghanistan,” a former intelligence analyst told the Times.
In Afghanistan, the site of the longest conventional U.S. war since Vietnam — a place where today, despite 15 years of U.S. military occupation, violence is escalating at record levels — Clinton pressured the Obama administration to send more soldiers in.
With her hawkishness, Clinton “contributed to the overmilitarizing of the analysis of the problem” in Afghanistan, an adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Times.
A foreign policy strategist who advised Clinton on Pakistan and Afghanistan at the State Department told the Times “Hillary is very much a member of the traditional American foreign-policy establishment.” Like Reagan and Kennedy, Clinton fervently believes “in asserting American influence.”
The strategist added: “Her affinity for the armed forces is rooted in a lifelong belief that the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests, that American intervention does more good than harm and that the writ of the United States properly reaches, as Bush once put it, into ‘any dark corner of the world.'”
When the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011, Clinton acted on these views. She pressured the Obama administration to take a more militaristic approach, to arm and train even more rebels than it did, the Times reports.
This is consistent with an August 2014 interview in the Atlantic, in which Clinton blithely wrote off diplomacy in the war in Syria, instead calling for backing the “hard men with the guns.”
This is the kind of “hard-edged rhetoric about the world” Clinton uses, as the Times describes it. The report notes that Clinton has long “channeled [the] views” of her father, “a staunch Republican and an anticommunist.”
The article barely acknowledges Clinton’s leadership in the disastrous 2011 NATO war in Libya, mentioning the country just once. Yet, in February, the New York Times Magazine already devoted roughly 13,000 words to covering Hillary’s uniquely hands-on role in the catastrophic regime change operation.
The almost 7,000-word story also mentions Bernie Sanders only one time, and reduces his campaign to a “progressive insurgency.”
There is no question that Clinton is more hawkish than her opponent. The Vermont senator is not a peacenik, having backed the devastating U.S. war in Afghanistan, and the NATO bombing of Serbia before that. Yet Sanders has injected rare anti-war ideas into the mainstream Democratic debate.
Sanders has steadfastly criticized U.S. regime change policies on numerous occasions; called out Clinton for her support for the wars in Iraq and Libya; blasted the former secretary of state for her insistence that that the U.S. further militarily intervene in Syria; and insisted, contrary to Clinton, that the U.S. must not blindly defend Israel, instead taking a “neutral” position that respects the dignity of the Palestinian people.
Furthermore, both of the leading Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, “are more skeptical than Clinton about intervention and more circumspect than she about maintaining the nation’s post-World War II military commitments,” the Times says.
Trump claims he opposed the Iraq War and wants the U.S. to spend less on NATO, the article notes, while Cruz opposed arming and training Syrian rebels in 2014 and has previously supported Pentagon budget cuts.
The general election might therefore “present voters with an unfamiliar choice,” the Times concludes: “a Democratic hawk versus a Republican reluctant warrior.”
Author: Ben Norton