Many of Clinton’s debate comments hinted towards an incredibly hawkish approach towards Russia, Syria, and the Islamic State.

It’s easy to become preoccupied with Donald Trump’s incoherent ramblings on foreign policy. Because Clinton is going to win, we must begin to hold her accountable

While Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was unable to demonstrate even a baseline understanding of foreign policy during Monday night’s debate, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton displayed an unprecedentedly deep knowledge of international affairs. However, many of Clinton’s comments hinted towards an incredibly hawkish approach towards Russia, Syria, and the Islamic State, and it would be irresponsible to allow her opponent’s incoherent nature to distract from the disturbing implications of some of her responses.

Of Two Presidential Candidates, Only One is Qualified

Monday’s prime-time debate between presidential candidates Donald Trump (R-NY) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) undoubtedly made at least one thing clear to the American people: only one of the two candidates is capable in any sense of the word of leading our nation for the next four years. While Mr. Trump spoke in empty platitudes and was unable to provide detailed plans regarding any of his policy proposals, Secretary Clinton was able to coherently express just how she would use her wide array of experience and knowledge to address the biggest problems facing the country.

This stark contrast between the two candidates was, to say the least, jarring. This nation has perhaps never seen a candidate more qualified than Hillary Clinton; on the other hand, we’ve likely never seen a candidate as unqualified as Donald Trump. Trump’s foreign policy, for example, is in equal parts simplistic, contradictory, and, to be frank, scary. Though supposedly an isolationist, Trump made characteristic comments about “going after” ISIS and building a wall along the Mexican Border. He denied claims that he supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite his support for the invasion being well documented. When discussing the United States’ role on the global scale in protecting other nations from threats, Trump cried that “[not forcing nations to whom we have offered assistance to pay us] is why we’re losing — we’re losing — we lose on everything.”

Clinton’s Pitfalls Mustn’t Go Unexcused

To allow Trump’s obvious pitfalls to distract us from Secretary Clinton’s more questionable answers to similar foreign policy questions posed during the debate, though, would be a grave mistake. While it is clear that Secretary Clinton has a stronger grasp on foreign policy than her opponent, much of her foreign policy has, both during the primaries and during the general election, been criticized from the left with good reason. Progressives must, whether they plan on voting for Secretary Clinton or not, be sure to take note of her more hawkish stances and hold her accountable for statements that suggest that she doesn’t plan on abandoning said stances if elected.

Clinton’s Cold-War Paranoia Towards Russia Could Have Detrimental Effects

Clinton’s first statement during the debate’s foreign policy segment (which was Trumpishly titled “Securing America”), made in response to a question from moderator Lester Holt about recent “cyber attacks,” implicated the Russian government in the hack of Democratic National Committee e-mail servers that had forced former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign. “The most recent and troubling of these [perpetrators of cyber attacks] has been Russia,” Clinton argued. “There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this… One of the things [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee.”

However, the evidence that the Russian government was in any way responsible for this leak itself is far from conclusive. Though most American intelligence services, both public and private, have concluded (though arguably through little more than circumstantial evidence) that the Russian government had a hand in seizing the information, “intelligence officials have cautioned that they are uncertain whether the electronic break-in at the committee’s computer systems was intended as fairly routine cyberespionage — of the kind the United States also conducts around the world — or as part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election,” note David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times. The theft of information about a nation’s political infighting by another nation is fairly standard in the technologically advanced twenty-first century; however, the release of such documents has been widely seen by participating parties as a form of “weaponization.”

Despite the fact that Russian government’s ties to the accumulation of the information are nearly indisputable, the proof that the Russian government played a part in the release of the information is nearly non-existent. Ties have been difficult to make between the Russian government and alleged hacker Guccifer 2.0, mainly because of the possibility that the documents weren’t transferred digitally. “We have not drawn any evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and WikiLeaks — none,” said an unnamed U.S. official. Furthermore, Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in hacks or leaks of DNC emails. “I want to tell you again, I don’t know anything about [the hacks], and on a state level Russia has never done this,” Putin said in early September.

Clinton’s relationship with Putin and with Russia as a whole have been frosty since she attempted to reset relations while Secretary of State. Moreover, her relationship with Russia has grown colder as a result of divergent policies in dealing with the Assad regime in Syria; while Putin has expressed support for the Assad regime in its determination to stand firmly against Western imperialism, Clinton has stated that her “first key task” as president will be to reassess the United States’ policy towards the “murderous” Assad regime before likely increasing efforts to remove him from power. By accusing Russia of playing a major role in the leaking of Democratic National Committee e-mails, Clinton poses the risk of jeopardizing an incredibly fragile relationship that, if dissolved, could have catastrophic ramifications in multiple regions of the world.

Clinton’s ISIS Plans Demonstrate the Questionable Side of “Smart Power”

Furthermore, Secretary Clinton’s hawkish tendencies became incredibly visible when she briefly outlined her plans to end the reign of terror that has been set in motion by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “[We] have to intensify our airstrikes against ISIS and eventually support our Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out ISIS in Raqqa, end their claim of being a Caliphate. We’re making progress. Our military is assisting in Iraq. And we’re hoping that within the year we’ll be able to push ISIS out of Iraq and then, you know, really squeeze them in Syria,” explained Clinton, before stressing a need to take out ISIS’s leadership. This isn’t the first time she has taken an unprecedentedly neoconservative stance on the issue of the Islamic state, though. In November 2015, Clinton noted in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that her strategy to attack ISIS “is in many ways an intensification, an acceleration of the strategy… There has been an evolution in their threat and we have to meet it.”

The United States government has, since 2014, utilized airstrikes in areas of Iraq to neutralize the growing threat posed by ISIS to little avail. However, to expand this flawed strategy to Syria as Secretary Clinton proposes would do much more harm than good. Firstly, the state of ground affairs in Syria is far different than those of 2014 Iraq. In Iraq, the United States was able to use selected airstrikes to help Iraqis oust incredibly divisive Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Following the end of al-Maliki’s sectarian reign, Sunnis had little reason to partner with the Islamic State to challenge the government. In Syria, though, we are truly left without many options. On the one hand, toppling the oppressive regime of Bashir al-Assad could mean disaster for the region. The Assad regime has been openly supported by both the Russian and Iranian governments, and to oust it could create further tension with two governments with whom relations are already quite strained and fragile. In addition, the toppling of the Assad government could, as we saw in 2011 when NATO forces assassinated Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, simply open up a power vacuum that will allow jihadi groups to seize power. On the other hand, though, collaborating with Assad to neutralize the Islamic State, which, so long as he remains in power is our only means of ensuring that an air campaign would be even moderately successful, poses the threat of further alienating Syrian Sunnis and inadvertently driving them into ISIS’ hands.

Clinton, whose plans for the regional include neutralizing Assad and dissolving the Islamic State in Syria as well as Iraq, may appear to be relatively dovish on this issue to some, seeing as how most military intervention that she describes is limited, at least in its early stages, to the strategic use of air power. However, her plans seem to only bring about a Catch-22: for an air campaign to work, collaboration with the Syrian government is necessary due to the unstable nature of the region; however, regardless of how effective such an air campaign would be, American collaboration with Assad could further disenchant Sunnis in the nation and encourage them to team up with the Islamic State. Regardless, even if she were, as she seems to believe she can, able to both oust Assad and eliminate the threat of the Islamic State, our uncertain relationships with Iran and Russia could become outwardly hostile.

Because Clinton is Going to Win, We Must Begin to Hold Her Accountable

It’s easy to become preoccupied with Donald Trump’s incoherent and nonsensical ramblings on foreign policy. It’s entertaining to listen a candidate who remarks that the person behind the Democratic National Committee e-mail leaks “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” It’s fascinating to hear a presidential candidate who, when asked about cyber security, states that “it is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable.” Coherence, though, shouldn’t be the base standard to which we hold our presidential candidates. Secretary Clinton has proved, both before and during the debate, that she has the knowledge and experience necessary to effectively serve as commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces. However, her judgment, as evidenced by statements made during the debate both about Russia’s alleged involvement in the DNC leak and about the need for an escalation of strategy in combatting the Islamic State, certainly deserves to be called into question. It isn’t news that Clinton has hawkish tendencies: from her 2002 vote as a senator to authorize the invasion of Iraq to her time as Secretary of State in which she helped orchestrate the collapse of the Libyan government, many of her actions have raised the eyebrows of progressives who fear a neoconservative Democratic Party. Because Clinton is the clear front-runner of the race, with Nate Silver, as of September 29, giving her a 66% chance of winning in November, it’s about time that we stop dwelling on Trump’s asinine and ignorant nature and instead focus on the hawkish strategy that Clinton has outlined on the campaign trail, as summed up during this first debate.

Copyright: Trevor Collens

Editorial Credit:Trevor

Jake Tibbetts is a Yale Young Global Scholar 2016. He is an avid political organizer in his community, serving as an organizer on multiple state legislative campaigns.

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