Hillary Clinton's Disdain for International Law -- Change We Can Believe In?
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Then came the selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. (See my article Is Obama Screwing His Base with Rahm Emanuel Selection?) Obama’s defenders emphasized that the White House position was more administrative than policy-oriented, that Emanuel was more a political operative than a policy-wonk, and that his appointment had more to do with his political skills than his political opinions.
Then came the word that Obama was going to keep Robert Gates, Bush’s current Secretary of Defense and a proponent of the Bush’s disastrous Iraq policy, as the Pentagon chief. Obama’s defenders then insisted that Gates wasn’t as bad as his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld, that continuity in such a position was important in time of war, and that Gates could provide cover from right-wing attacks in the face of an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Then came the apparent selection of the recently-retired Marine General James Jones, a prominent hawk who supported John McCain for president, as Obama’s national security advisor. Obama’s defenders pointed out that his role would simply be that as an advisor, not a policy maker, and that someone with his strategic understanding and international contacts would be a positive influence.
With the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, however, it is no longer possible to make any more excuses. It is getting harder to deny that Barack Obama intends to tilt his foreign policy to the right.
This is not simply a situation where Obama desires an opportunity to listen to alternative perspectives from hawks as a means of strengthening his dovish proclivities. These hawkish perspectives have long been dominant in Washington and in the mainstream media, so even without these appointments, Obama would be getting plenty of this kind of feedback anyway. It appears that he has appointed Clinton and these other hawks because he does not have any principled objections to their disdain for human right and international law.
It is important to remember, however, that it has been rare for elected Democratic officials to take the lead in building a more progressive foreign policy. From Vietnam to South Africa to the nuclear freeze to Central America to East Timor to Iraq it has been mass movements which have forced the Democrats away from their initially right-wing militarist agenda to one more supportive of human rights and international law. Hillary Clinton’s about-face on Iraq just prior to her run for president is but one example of how popular pressure can turn an unrepentant war hawk into an anti-war candidate.
As a result, while it is important to recognize the serious implications of the Clinton appointment, it is also important to realize that the ultimate direction of Obama’s foreign policy will not be determined by his Secretary of State, but by the American people.