Hillary Clinton’s aggressive foreign policy

Daniel Larison writing in The American Conservative looks at Hillary Clinton’s views on military action and her penchant for the use of military force.

As for Clinton, the most neutral way that I can think of to describe Clinton’s foreign policy is aggressive, and her record shows that in almost every debate she will take the side favoring the more aggressive option. One may or may not share her bias for more aggressive measures, but there is no question that this has been the pattern in her foreign policy positions. On Libya, when the choice was between staying out of a foreign civil war or taking sides, she favored taking sides. When the choice was between a more “limited” intervention and the pursuit of regime change, she preferred the latter. Had she been president, it is possible that the U.S. role in Libya would have been much larger than it was, but we can’t be sure of that. Regardless, her preference for aggressive measures leads her to endorse reckless policies. As we see in the Libyan case, she has been just as guilty of the recklessness that she (correctly) attributes to Republican hawks, but because she can count on other hawks to be even more reckless she is able to present herself as a more “responsible” alternative.

Even so, she doesn’t shy away from publicly endorsing military options in explicit terms. As she said at Brookings yesterday, she will “not hesitate to take military action” against Iran if it tries to acquire a nuclear weapon. This is close to the boilerplate rhetoric of saying “all options are on the table,” but Clinton adds extra emphasis to her support for starting what would be an illegal and unnecessary war. Not only would she start such a war, she would do it without hesitation. Unlike Obama, she isn’t going to feign reluctance before starting a new war, and there probably isn’t going to be any long process of deliberation beforehand. Clinton’s message was for the Democratic hawks that believe Obama is too reluctant and too hesitant to order the use of force. Since Obama has launched two illegal wars and ordered many more strikes over the years, this is a bizarre complaint to make, but it is a common one. Clinton is reassuring the hawks in her party and in D.C. generally that she will be much more hasty to resort to force than Obama has been, and based on her record we can believe that she would.

Many Democrats have the failing of wanting to prove that they are ‘tough’ and this means preferring aggressive language and warlike stances over diplomacy and negotiations.


  1. atheistblog says

    On this one, I am skeptical of Bernie as well, he always keep saying military is an option and it is a last resort, but why ? Did we attack North Korea as a last resort ? Why Iran ? Ah, it means once Iran acquire nuclear weapon, west and israel can’t attack and do the regime change in iran. Then vast amount of oil are disused for corporations to make profit.

  2. EigenSprocketUK says

    I’m perplexed: in the USA, everyone seems to set great store by the president’s personal beliefs and decisions. Yet it also seems irrelevant, most of the time, what the president thinks when the rest of Congress is opposed or even just divided.

  3. Mano Singham says


    It is weird. The problem is that the president is not just a chief executive responsible for running things. He is also supposed to symbolize the country and so his personal beliefs have to be congruent with the country’s. This is why all presidents at least pretend to be religious. Bernie Sanders may be the first major candidate for the presidency who is openly not religious.

  4. Chiroptera says

    EigenSprocketUK, #2: Yet it also seems irrelevant, most of the time, what the president thinks when the rest of Congress is opposed or even just divided.

    Actually, Obama has managed quite a bit despite a recalcitrant Congress. (Hmm, I just looked it up: “recalcitrant,” not “incalcitrant.” I hope Steven Pinker approves.) He’s made changes to how immigration law is enforced, how drug policy is enforced, how Obamacare is implemented, and the infamous Iran Deal.

    All executive, administrative, and enforcement authority rests with the US executive branch. Because Congress passes a lot of laws but resources are finite, so the President is given broad latitude in prioritizing which laws will be vigorously enforced, and sometimes the President has some authority on how the law is interpreted.

    Second, for the past century, Congress has increasingly allowed the President to make very broad policy and executive decisions within the law; the Iran Deal is an example of that: the President was already given pretty broad latitude to determine whether Iran is meeting its international obligations and to lift sanctions if it is. Congress would have to pass a completely new law to counter that, which it failed to do.

    Finally, and most important, the President has the power to veto legislation (with limited ability to over-ride -- they need an “super majority” to do so). This means that although, in technically, the President can’t do stuff without a law authorizing him or her to do so (and, as I’ve already stated, the President already has a lot of authority granted), Congress can’t pass any law that it wants. This creates a situation in the modern Presidency that laws that are enacted are largely a compromise between what a Congress wants and what the President wants. If Congress wants legislation passed, they’d better take into account what the President thinks.

    It’s true that the President isn’t a dictator, but it still matters a great deal who is President.

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