“My foreign policy is ‘Don’t do stupid shit’”, Barack Obama said to the White House press corps on board Air Force One in 2014. So the New York Times’ Mark Landler, who was there, tells us in a recent illuminating book on the contrasting foreign policy approaches of Obama and Hillary Clinton as the US adjusts to a world in which it is no longer the hegemon it was for the quarter century since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.*
Having been Obama’s rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton was in charge of his foreign policy as Secretary of State during Obama’s first term, and she now looks like succeeding him as President unless the Republican Donald Trump can stop her. We are all likely to be affected over the next four years by whichever of this duo eventually reaches the White House.
The “stupid shit” Obama was referring to in 2014 was the pressure he was then under to get rid of the Assad regime in Syria, to escalate tension with Russia over Ukraine and to placate the Zionist Israeli lobby by abandoning his efforts to get a nuclear deal with Iran.
Hillary Clinton was on the opposite side on each of these, and various other, foreign policy issues. Back in 2002 Obama, then a littleknown Illinois state senator, told a rally against George W Bush’s impending Iraq war, “I am not opposed to all wars. I am opposed to dumb wars”. By contrast, a week later Hillary Clinton, then also a senator, said she voted “with conviction” in favour of Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
When Secretary of State in 2011, Hillary Clinton was the principal supporter in Obama’s Cabinet of Britain’s David Cameron and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy as they pushed for a total assault on Colonel Gadaffi’s regime in Libya. Obama then watched in consternation as post- Gadaffi Libya descended into a failed state. Regret at having given in to the hawkish Hillary on Libya undoubtedly influenced Obama in resisting pressure to follow a similar course in Syria.
To quote Landler’s book: “Obama stands for those in America’s ruling circles who believe the US resorts too readily to military force to defend its interests, that American intevention in other countries usually ends in misery, and that the US would be well-served by defining its interests more narrowly than it has for most of the post-World War 2 era. Counterposed to that view are those, like Hillary Clinton, who believe that the calculated use of military power is vital to defending national interests, that American intervention does more good than harm and that America’s writ rightfully reaches, as George W Bush once declared, into ‘any dark corner of the world’”.
Clinton and Obama embody competing visions of America’s role in the world. His vision is restrained, inward looking, radical in its acknowledgement of limits. Hers is hard-edged, hawkish and unabashedly old-fashioned.
Hillary Clinton gets on well with America’s generals. They in turn are in and out of the military- industrial complex, which can never get enough orders for military hardware, whose share prices rocket when international tension increases, and about whose malign influence on US foreign policy former General Dwight D Eisenhower – who coined the term “militaryindustrial complex” – warned in his farewell address as Republican President in 1961.
Of course Obama and Hillary Clinton are agreed on certain things. One is the European Union. When Obama came to London recently to tell the British public that they should vote against ‘Brexit’ and stay in the EU, he was voicing long-standing Democratic Party policy subscribed to wholeheartedly by Clinton: support of globalism in economic policy and support of the EU as America’s collective junior partner in foreign policy – with the British Government as America’s reliable voice in the EU.
Many people do not know that the EU was largely an American creation, a spin-off of the Cold War, and that supranational integration was pushed by the US and its allies in the 1950s and later to provide an economic underpinning for NATO in Europe. In 1947 the two Houses of the US Congress resolved that “Congress favours the creation of a United States of Europe”. That same year, American-Marshall- Plan economic aid to post-War Western Europe to head off the threat of communism, was premised on the recipients supporting economic and political integration. In 1948 the American Committee on a United Europe was established. For years this body channelled CIA money to the European Movement, which was then and later the principal lobby group for supranational EU integration.
In 1949 the USA wanted a rearmed Germany inside NATO when that military alliance was founded. This greatly alarmed France, which had been occupied by Germany just a few years before. The Frenchman Jean Monnet’s solution was the European Coal and Steel Community, which placed those key industries under a supranational authority as ”the first step in the federation of Europe”, to quote the accompanying Schuman Declaration. Monnet was America’s man in all this.
In 1961 America’s President Kennedy succeeded in pressing British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to apply to join the then EEC, offering Britain guided missiles in return so that she could continue as the world’s third thermonuclear power. Although Britain had already developed the H-bomb, it had no independent means of delivering it to possible targets. In 1965 a US State Department memo advised the Brussels Commission Vice-President at that time, Robert Marjolin, to pursue a common European currency by stealth. It recommended suppressing debate until the point at which “adoption of such proposals would become virtually inescapable”. Mainstream US Government policy as mediated through the State Department has for years backed the euro-currency for political reasons.
Successive British Governments have acted in effect as America’s voice inside the EU. This theme is central to the Anglo-American “special relationship”. A lot is therefore riding for official America on Britain remaining a member of the EU. Obama and Hillary Clinton are at one on this.
It is the Republican Donald Trump who is the real foreign-policy heretic. Trump is no globalist. He has said that Britain would be better off by going for ‘Brexit’. He criticises NATO and America’s involvement in foreign wars. He opposes Obama’s Trans-Pacific trade pact and its European equivalent, TTIP, which would enable business corporations to sue governments that bring in policy measures affecting private business profits. He wants US business to invest more at home, to give primacy to dealing with America’s domestic economic problems, rather than sending investments around the world, with military interventions following to protect them.
No wonder there is consternation not just in the Republican Party Establishment but in elite circles across ‘The West’ generally, when someone with such views should get within sight of the US Presidency.
Trump represents the longstanding ‘isolationist’ trend in American politics, the doctrine that the US should look after its own affairs, mind its own business, stick to its own continent and avoid European and Asiatic entanglements. This view asks by what right America assumes that it is the world’s policeman. In part this is an anti-imperialist tradition. It currently has the support of over half of Americans who are polled on it. It goes back to America’s reluctance to get involved in World War I, to its staying aloof from the League of Nations between the Wars and to the difficulties Franklin Roosevelt had in bringing America into World War II.
It could well be that the zeitgeist is more with Donald Trump than with Hillary Clinton, now that Bernie Sanders has finally been swamped by her money-power, and this prospect upsets some very powerful people. But many who are not powerful think that such a change would make for a better and safer world and that international affairs may now be on the cusp of such a major shift.
By Anthony Coughlan