Hillary Clinton and the engine of war-making

Given the ubiquity of the phrase, perpetual war, it’s clear that many Americans believe that a powerful faction at the heart of government has such an insatiable appetite for war that if all the conflicts the U.S. is currently entangled in were to unexpectedly find peaceful resolution, then Washington would seek out, engineer, or in some other way precipitate new wars, because this has become America’s core business: war-making.

Among those who subscribe to this view are at one extreme the Truthers who believe 9/11 was an “inside job” carried out as a pretext for a never-ending war on terrorism. At the other end of the spectrum are those with a less conspiratorial perspective who simply observe that the military–industrial complex generates its own political and commercial momentum which fosters geopolitical conditions that make wars more rather than less likely.

The decisive factor seen as most likely to tip the balance in the future is the hawkishness of the president.

Hillary Clinton is constantly being branded as a hawk, but most of these assessments of her appetite for war-making seem to be based on judgments about her character and her track record rather than on plausible predictions of the actual scenarios in which this destructive appetite will continue to be satisfied.

Aaron David Miller writes:

Mrs. Clinton may have more hawkish instincts than President Obama, but there is little reason to doubt that her preference for U.S. engagement in the world is through diplomacy, political and cultural soft power, and economic strength. She led the “reset” with Russia (though later soured on it), advocated using negotiations to address North Korea, campaigned for a nuclear agreement with Iran, and preferred regional diplomacy to counter Beijing’s military moves in the South China Sea. She also supported the President’s Cuba initiative. Mrs. Clinton has long championed negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Unlike many of her Republican rivals, who bluster against engagement in favor of force and tough responses, Mrs. Clinton has been a cheerleader for negotiations on the campaign trail, a predisposition likely to follow her into the White House.

“There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s more muscular brand of American foreign policy is better matched to 2016 than it was to 2008,” her close aide, Jake Sullivan, told Mr. Landler. The rise of Islamic State and the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino last year bolster that argument, certainly when it comes to protecting the homeland. Shortly after the attacks in Paris, a CNN/ORC poll found that 53% of Americans supported sending ground to Syria or Iraq to fight ISIS. But as time passes after attacks, support for deployments falls. Gallup polling in February found that Americans were divided on U.S. military involvement in Syria, with 34% saying more involvement is needed, 29% saying the current level of engagement is about right, and 30% saying that the U.S. should be less involved. Should a Brussels-style attack be carried out in the U.S., support for a large military response would grow, as would any president’s options to authorize it.

What is perhaps the greatest constraint on a putative President Clinton’s hawkishness? The bad options that exist for projecting military force, particularly in the Middle East. Mrs. Clinton’s strategy toward ISIS doesn’t differ much from President Obama’s: She has talked about creating a partial “no-fly” zone, though it’s hard to see how this would improve the situation, and it risks conflict with Russia. It’s likely that as president Mrs. Clinton would try to work with Moscow to deescalate the situation in Syria through diplomacy. She is highly unlikely to deploy thousands of additional ground troops to Iraq or Syria, though she talks about using special forces more–something President Obama is already doing. Meanwhile, as a staunch defender of the international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, she is not looking for a fight with Tehran.

Hillary Clinton knows the consequences of using force in Iraq and Libya absent a political strategy, and she knows that the Middle East won’t be “fixed” by U.S. military power alone. She may have hawkish instincts, but if she is in the Oval Office next year, she may be as reluctant to use force as Barack Obama has been.

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