News & Politics

Hillary Clinton's Disdain for International Law -- Part II

What alarms most international observers is Clinton's penchant for military solutions.

Editor's Note: Read Part I of "Hillary Clinton's Disdain for International Law"here.

The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is nothing less than a betrayal of the anti-war constituency responsible for Barack Obama winning the Democratic Party nomination and his subsequent election as president of the United States. The quintessential Democratic hawk, Senator Clinton has proven to be one of the leading militarists on Capitol Hill and her appointment as the country’s chief foreign policy representative serves notice to the international community that the change they had hoped for will not be forthcoming.

Clinton has demonstrated a marked preference for military confrontation over negotiations. In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations last year, she called for a "tough-minded, muscular foreign and defense policy." Similarly, when her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Senator Barack Obama expressed his willingness to meet with Hugo Chavez, Raoul Castro or other foreign leaders with whom the United States has differences, she denounced him for being "irresponsible and frankly naive."

What alarms most international observers, however, is her penchant for military solutions to complex political problems and her longstanding propensity to lie and exaggerate about alleged threats against the United States and its allies in order to justify her militaristic policies. As Secretary or State, she would have extraordinary influence in assessing real or imagined threats which could be used to convince President Obama, Congress and the American public to engage in acts of war.

Clinton's False Claims of Threats

In order to justify her vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2002, despite widespread and public skepticism expressed by arms control experts over the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had somehow re-armed itself, Senator Clinton was insisting that Iraq's possession of biological and chemical weapons was "not in doubt" and was "undisputed." This was completely untrue, as Iraq had completely disarmed itself of such proscribed weapons years earlier.

She also claimed, despite the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iraq's nuclear program had been completely eliminated, that Iraq was "trying to develop nuclear weapons." Again, it became clear after the U.S. invasion of Iraq revealed no nuclear program that Clinton had lied again.

This did not stop her from making similar false allegations against Iran. Even though the IAEA had similarly reported that Iran no longer had an active nuclear weapons program -- a fact confirmed by a National Intelligence Estimate representing a consensus of the United States’ sixteen intelligence agencies, which reported that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program back in 2003 -- Clinton had been insisting for years that Iran did have an active nuclear weapons program. Less that a week before the release of the NIE, Clinton declared unequivocally that "Iran is seeking nuclear weapons."

Non-existent WMDs were not the only false claims Clinton made to justify a U.S. invasion of Iraq. For example, she insisted that Saddam had given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to al Qaeda terrorists. This came despite top strategic analysts correctly informing her that there were no apparent links between Saddam Hussein’s secular nationalist regime and the radical Islamist al-Qaeda, despite doubts of such claims appearing in the National Intelligence Estimates made available to her, and despite a subsequent definitive report by the Department of Defense which noted that not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based upon the evidence available at that time.

Clinton’s Subsequent Support for the War

Even after U.S. forces invaded and occupied Iraq and confirmed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, active WMD programs, offensive delivery systems, or ties to al-Qaeda as she and other supporters of the war had claimed, Clinton defended her vote to authorize the invasion anyway. As a result, she essentially acknowledged that Iraq’s alleged possession of WMDs was not really what motivated her vote to authorize the war after all, but was instead a ruse to frighten the American people into supporting the invasion. Her actual motivation appears to have been about oil and empire.

During the first four years following the invasion, Clinton was a steadfast supporter of Bush administration policy. When Representative John Murtha (D-PA) made his first call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in November 2005, she denounced his effort, calling a withdrawal of U.S. forces a big mistake. In 2006, when Senator John Kerry sponsored an amendment that would have required the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in order to advance a political solution to the growing sectarian strife, she voted against it. She came out against the war only when she began her presidential campaign, recognizing that public opinion had turned so decisively in opposition that there was no hope of her securing the Democratic nomination unless she changed her position.

She has also decried Iran’s "involvement in and influence over Iraq," an ironic complaint for someone who voted to authorize the overthrow of the anti-Iranian secular government of Saddam Hussein despite his widely predicted replacement by pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist parties. She has also gone on record repeating a whole series of false, exaggerated and unproven charges by Bush administration officials regarding Iranian support for the Iraqi insurgency, even though the vast majority of foreign support for the insurgency has come from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and that the majority of the insurgents are fanatically anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite.

Iran

It is not likely just a coincidence that the other country whose offensive military capabilities about which Clinton has made false accusations in order to justify possible military action also happens to be sitting on top of huge oil reserves. For example, in response to the Bush administration’s ongoing obsession with the supposed "Iranian threat," Senator Clinton argued that Bush has not been obsessive enough. In a speech at Princeton University in 2007, she argued that the White House "lost critical time in dealing with Iran," and accused the administration of choosing to "downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations" as well as "standing on the sidelines."

She has insisted that "we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran -- that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons." During the campaign, she denounced Obama’s intentions to pursue negotiations with the Iranians, a clear indication of her preference to resolve such conflicts by military means.

Senator Clinton was the only Democratic member of Congress seeking the presidential nomination to support the Kyl-Lieberman amendment which, among other things, called on the Bush administration to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps --  the largest branch of the Iranian military -- as a foreign terrorist organization. To designate a branch of the armed forces of a foreign state as a terrorist organization would have been unprecedented and was widely interpreted to be a backhanded way of authorizing military action against Iran. Indeed, Virginia Senator Jim Webb referred to it as "Cheney’s fondest pipe dream."

She initially justified her vote in part because of the Revolutionary Guard’s alleged involvement in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, a position she has had trouble defending since it was revealed such a program has not existed for at least four years prior to the resolution. In language remarkably similar to her discredited rationalization for her 2002 vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she claimed that it was not actually a vote for war, but simply to give Bush a means "to apply greater diplomatic pressure on Iran." (Fortunately, Senator Clinton’s position was too extreme even for the Bush administration, which designated only the al-Quds Force -- a sub-unit of the Revolutionary Guards which doesn’t always operate with the full knowledge and consent of the central government -- as a terrorist organization.)

Though Iran’s threat to the national security of the United States is grossly exaggerated, it is a far more powerful country today in terms of its military prowess than was Iraq in 2002, when Senator Clinton supported invading that country because of its alleged danger to U.S. national security. It would be naïve, therefore, to ignore the very real possibility that, as Secretary if State, she would find reason to advocate an invasion of Iran as well.

Nuclear Issues

Senator Clinton has also shown little regard for the danger from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries, opposing the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions challenging the nuclear weapons programs of such U.S allies as Israel, Pakistan and India. Not only does she support unconditional military aid -- including nuclear-capable missiles and jet fighters -- to these countries, she even voted to end restrictions on U.S. nuclear cooperation with countries that violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

By contrast, Senator Clinton insists that the prospect of Iran joining its three southwestern Asian neighbors in developing nuclear weapons "must be unacceptable to the entire world" since challenging the nuclear monopoly of the United States and its allies would somehow "shake the foundation of global security to its very core." Despite this, she refuses to support the proposed nuclear weapons-free zone for the Middle East, as called for in UN Security Council resolution 687, nor does she support a no-first use nuclear policy, both of which could help resolve the nuclear standoff. Indeed, she has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against such non-nuclear countries as Iran, even though such unilateral use of nuclear weapons directly contradicts the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the same treaty she claims the United States must unilaterally and rigorously enforce when it involves Iran and other countries the U.S. government doesn’t like.

When Senator Obama noted back in August that the use of nuclear weapons -- traditionally seen as a deterrent against other nuclear states -- was not appropriate for use against terrorists, Clinton rebuked his logic by claiming that "I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or nonuse of nuclear weapons."

Senator Clinton also criticized the Bush administration’s decision to include China, Japan and South Korea in talks regarding North Korea’s nuclear program and to allow France, Britain and Germany to play a major role in negotiations with Iran, claiming that instead of taking "leadership to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists … we have outsourced over the last five years our policies." In essence, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton would likely be even more unilateralist and less prone to work with other nations than the Bush administration on such critical issues as non-proliferation.

Latin America

In Latin America, Senator Clinton argues that the Bush administration should have taken a more aggressive stance against the rise of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected these recent developments "at our peril." In response to recent efforts by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural obstacles which have left much of their populations in poverty, she has expressed alarm that "We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America."

Apparently wishing that the Bush administration could have somehow prevented the elections of leftist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere, she argues that "We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement." Though she has not clarified what she means by "vigorous engagement," regional examples in recent decades have included military interventions, CIA-sponsored coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national elections.

She has also supported Bush’s counter-productive and vindictive policy towards Cuba, insisting that she would not end the trade embargo -- recently denounced in a 184-4 vote by the United Nations General Assembly -- until there was a "democratic transition" in that country, even while supporting free trade agreements with undemocratic governments elsewhere. She has even backed Bush’s strict limitations on family visitations by Cuban-Americans and other restrictions on Americans’ freedom to travel.

The Balkans

Under her husband’s administration, Senator Clinton was an outspoken advocate of using the blunt instrument of military force to deal with complex international problems. For example, she was one of the chief advocates in her husband’s inner circle for the 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 to attempt to resolve the Kosovo crisis.

Though she had not indicated any support for the Kosovar Albanians’ nonviolent campaign against Serbian oppression which had been ongoing since she had first moved into the White House six years earlier, she was quite eager for the United States to go to war on behalf of the militant Kosovo Liberation Army which had just recently come to prominence. Gail Sheehy’s book Hillary’s Choice reveals how, when President Bill Clinton and others expressed concerns that bombing Serbia would likely lead to a dramatic worsening of the human rights situation by provoking the Serbs into engaging in full-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Hillary Clinton successfully pushed her husband to bomb that country anyway. As predicted, the bombing campaign precluded a diplomatic settlement and vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing ensued.

Israel

Regarding Israel, Senator Clinton has taken a consistently right-wing position, undermining the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian moderates seeking a just peace that would recognize both the Palestinians’ legitimate national rights and the Israelis’ legitimate security concerns. For example, she has defended Israeli colonization of occupied Palestinian territory, has strongly supported Israel’s construction of an illegal separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory, and has denounced the International Court of Justice for its near-unanimous 2004 decision calling on Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.

Indeed, Senator Clinton has consistently put the onus of responsibility on the occupied Palestinians rather than their Israeli occupiers.

Senator Clinton was also an outspoken supporter of Israel’s massive military assault on the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006, which took the lives of at least 800 civilians. She claimed that the carnage was justified since it would "send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians [and] to the Iranians," because, in her words, they oppose the United States and Israel’s commitment to "life and freedom." Despite detailed reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch noting that there was no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields, Senator Clinton has repeatedly insisted that they did, in an apparent effort to discredit these human rights groups and absolve Israel of any responsibility for the enormous civilian casualties inflicted during the assault.

Senator Clinton’s statements were challenged by her opponent in the 2006 Democratic primary for Senate in New York, union activist Jonathan Tasini, who pointed out that "Israel has committed acts that violate international standards and the Geneva Conventions." Her spokesperson, however, dismissed Tasini’s concerns about Israeli violations of international humanitarian law as "beyond the pale." Senator Clinton’s supporters also denounced him as "anti-Israel," even though he is a former Israeli citizen who has lost close relatives in the Arab-Israeli wars and to Palestinian terrorism, his father fought with Zionist forces in the Israeli war of independence, and has repeatedly referred to himself as a "friend of Israel."

Clinton even continues to defend Israel’s decision to launch the devastating 2006 war on Lebanon even though an Israeli government report released last year acknowledged it was a major setback to Israeli security. (See my article U.S. Role in Lebanon Debacle .)

Syria

Senator Clinton has also aimed her militaristic sights at Syria. In a typical example of her double-standards, she was a co-sponsor of the 2003 "Syrian Accountability Act," which demanded -- under threat of sanctions -- that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of chemical weapons and missiles, not to mention Israel’s sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons. (See my article, The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony.)

Included in the bill’s "findings" were charges by top Bush Administration officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous WMD programs. Not only have most of these particular accusations not been independently confirmed, they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had made similar claims against Iraq that have since been proven false. Yet Senator Clinton naively trusted their word over independent strategic analysts familiar with the region who have challenged many of these charges. Her bill also called for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria’s expulsion from its non-permanent seat Security Council for its failure at that time to withdraw its forces from Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520.

This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since she defended Israel’s 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon that finally ended just three years earlier which was in defiance of this same resolution, as well as nine other UN Security Council resolutions. Nor had she ever called for the expulsion of Morocco, Turkey or Indonesia from the Security Council when they held non-permanent seats despite their violations of UN Security Council resolutions regarding their occupations of neighboring countries.

Despite the fact that Syria is far weaker than it was 20 years ago when it was being generously armed by the Soviet Union, Senator Clinton insists that it is now "among the most difficult and dangerous [countries] in the world" and that it somehow poses "direct threats to ... neighbors ... and far beyond the region." She also offered her "strong support" for Israel’s unprovoked air strikes in northern Syria in September. She has echoed the administration’s charges that Syria is a major supporter of Hamas, even though the bulk of the Islamist Palestinian group’s foreign support has come from Saudi Arabia and Iran, not the secular regime in Damascus. And, despite Syria’s longstanding opposition to Sunni extremists and Iraqi Baathists -- the major components of the insurgency fighting U.S. forces in Iraq -- she has also accused Syria of backing anti-American forces in that country.

In short, it appears that the State Department under Hillary Clinton will not be unlike that of the State Department under Madeleine Albright, where -- as with her successors in the Bush administration -- U.S. foreign policy was based upon militarism, confrontation and unilaterialism. This is not what most voters were expecting in electing Barack Obama as president. As a result, the anti-war movement must continue to challenge U.S. foreign policy under an Obama administration just as vigorously as we did under the Bush administration.

 

 

 

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.