Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Hawk

Erring on the side of force, again and again.

I recently wrote that Hillary Clinton remains a committed hawk, and the regret that she exhibited during the course of the Democratic primary in 2008 over her affirmative vote for the Iraq War was driven only by political necessity in an effort to win the nomination over Barack Obama, as opposed to a genuine change of heart over what would become the signature vote of her entire senate career. That thesis prompted a response from Usha Sahay, which asserted I was “oversimplifying” what really defines Mrs. Clinton’s worldview, particularly because I linked her Iraq War vote with her subsequent advocacy of ridding the world of Qaddafi in Libya. As I noted in my earlier essay, the objectives in both cases, regime change chief among them, were essentially the same, even if the means by which to achieve those objectives were considerably different. As a senator, Hillary Clinton supported toppling Saddam Hussein. In her later position as Secretary of State, she supported toppling Muammar Qaddafi. She was also more hawkish than anyone in the Obama administration when it concerned intervention in Syria.

Sahay continues on to write about “the absurdity of the claim that a seasoned politician is never entitled to change his or her mind,” which is what she suggested I had originally argued. That, however, is not what I had put forth. It would be absurd to believe that a politician, or anyone for that matter, is not entitled to a change of mind on any given issue. What I argued is that rarely is a politician’s transformation genuine, and that those changes of heart seem only to occur in the silly season of American elections. With that being said, politicians behaving politically for electoral gain is one thing. Voting for a war where the consequences are hundreds of thousands of deaths, including 4,489 Americans, and then running away from that vote in order to win a presidential nomination contest is something else entirely. In Clinton’s case, her subsequent support for intervention in Libya only served as further confirmation that not only had she not reformed when it came to promoting a policy of regime change, a reformation she had assiduously stressed on the stump and in the primary debates of 2008, but in fact, she had become even more enthusiastic about it, clearly evident during her joyous reaction (captured on video) upon first learning of Qaddafi’s death.

Sahay also stresses the “legitimacy” afforded the Libyan intervention, which the use of force in Iraq, she implies, lacked, and which also renders Clinton’s support for Qaddafi’s ouster somehow more suitable than, and different from, her support for Saddam’s. The simple fact is that Clinton played her own part in granting the Iraqi intervention its necessary legitimacy by voting to give President Bush the authority to commence war when and how he saw fit. The military action in Libya, on the other hand, was not buttressed by such a congressional resolution. President Bush also expanded the language of Resolution 1441, along with sixteen other similar resolutions that were passed unanimously by the UN Security Council following the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War, when he settled on the course of invading Iraq. Though the Bush administration was not able to obtain a final resolution that would have unequivocally green-lighted the removal of Saddam, the unanimous adoptions of the seventeen previous resolutions did grant it at least a semblance of international legitimacy, largely because it could then claim that, given the U.S.’s permanent status on the Security Council, it was merely fulfilling the obligations put forth in those resolutions. It could also claim that Saddam’s perennial non-compliance over more than a decade constituted an exhaustion of diplomacy that necessitated the use of force. Hillary Clinton made much the same argument in her Senate speech, further legitimating military action in Iraq. In addition, Clinton helped kill the Multilateral Use of Force Authorization Act of 2002, also known as the Levin amendment, introduced by Senator Carl Levin during Senate deliberations over whether or not to approve the White House’s own war resolution. The amendment would have required UN Security Council approval, with a few caveats, before hostilities against Iraq could be commenced. Clinton, that consistent believer in coercive diplomacy, international law, and the legitimacy that multilateral institutions provide, as Sahay strives to remind us, nevertheless voted against the Levin amendment and with President Bush. No oversimplification here, either.