Hard-line Hillary: where is it coming from?

Jeffrey Goldberg reports on his remarkable interview with Hillary Clinton. The report and accompanying transcript make the former Secretary of State sound like a neo-conservative, at least in the loose sense in which the term is tossed about.

First, Clinton takes President Obama to task for not intervening against ISIS in Syria. “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad. . .left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton declares.

Second, Clinton calls for the equivalent of a “cold war” against jihadism generally. Describing herself as “hepped-up” on the subject, she tells Goldberg that the resilience and expansion of Islamist terrorism means that the U.S. must develop an “overarching” strategy to confront it.

Clinton explained:

One of the reasons why I worry about what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand.

Their raison d’etre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories. How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat.

To hear her talk, Hillary has become the early George Kennan and Ronald Reagan rolled into one.

And there was more:

You know, we did a good job in containing the Soviet Union. . .we made a lot of mistakes. . .but we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism. That was our objective. We achieved it.

Third, Clinton is now talking like a pro-Israel hawk.

I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets. Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult.

Accordingly, Hillary isn’t going to join Obama in claiming that Israel needed to do more to avoid killing civilians:

“[J]ust as we try to do in the United States and be as careful as possible in going after targets to avoid civilians, [mistakes are made]. We’ve made them. I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are—and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position—that hasn’t made errors, but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas.

Hillary also suspects that anti-Semitism is driving some of the criticism of Israel.

You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism, especially with what’s going on in Europe today. There are more demonstrations against Israel by an exponential amount than there are against Russia seizing part of Ukraine and shooting down a civilian airliner. So there’s something else at work here than what you see on TV.

Indeed.

As for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, forget about it:

If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over security, because even if I’m dealing with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience.

Fourth, Clinton is taking a hard line on Iran:

I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded.

There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.

Fifth, she thinks certain unnamed Americans should stop beating their country up and start developing a more ambitious foreign policy premised on the recognition of American greatness. Goldberg describes her view this way:

[Clinton] made the case that America needs a leader who believes that the country, despite its various missteps, is an indispensable force for good. At one point, I mentioned the slogan President Obama recently coined to describe his foreign-policy doctrine: “Don’t do stupid shit” (an expression often rendered as “Don’t do stupid stuff” in less-than-private encounters).

This is what Clinton said about Obama’s slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Should we take Clinton’s hard line remarks at face value? It’s difficult to. This, after all, is the Secretary of State who berated Prime Minister Netanyahu for not conceding enough to the PA. Are we to believe that suddenly there is no distance between the two?

Similarly, Clinton’s tough talk regarding jihad would be more convincing if she hadn’t waited until ISIS was running rampant in Iraq to express it publicly. Why didn’t she start talking about a cold war style effort against jihadists earlier?

But if we are to conclude that Clinton is insincere, we must explain what she hopes to gain from it. Her neo-conservative sounding foreign policy principles won’t endear her to her Party. In fact, they might help fuel a primary challenge.

And it isn’t even clear that Clinton’s hard line would help her in a general election. The American public doesn’t seemed all that “hepped-up” about a long, multi-front war against jihadists.

Clinton would, to be sure, like to present herself as a centrist if and when she runs for president against a Republican. But many of her remarks to Goldberg take her further to the mainstream conservative side of the spectrum than seems necessary.

What, then, is in it for Clinton to talk this way? My guess is that she sees Obama, and her time working for him, as an albatross, and feels she must distance herself from him at all costs. She can’t do so on domestic policy because (1) the party faithful wouldn’t stand for it and (2) this isn’t the realm of her participation in the Obama administration.

Clinton also may sense that things are likely to get worse for America and American interests when it comes to terrorism and jihad. If so, it makes sense for her to start positioning herself as a hardliner now.

Clinton may well believe portions of what told Goldberg. But I’m not ready to conclude that she told him them for that reason.

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