Glenn Greenwald writes that one notable missing element in Hillary Clinton’s book tour and media appearances has been the ignoring of the role that her disastrous policies of military intervention played in her defeat. He says that many media commentators seem to think that it was only domestic issues that played a role because it was absurd to think of Donald Trump as some kind of peace candidate. But Greenwald says that Trump shrewdly manipulated people’s anger over the state of endless wars that Clinton helped expand and perpetuate.
But a major part of this minimization is a misperception of the domestic political importance of these policies. From the beginning of his candidacy through the General Election, Trump rhetorically positioned himself as a vehement opponent of endless war, inveighing against both parties when doing so.
Though there is now a revisionist effort underway to falsely depict those who pointed this out as being gullible believers in Trump’s dovish and anti-war credentials, the reality is that most of us who warned of the efficacy of Trump’s anti-war campaign theme made explicitly clear that there was no reason to believe Trump would actually be dovish if he were elected. Indeed, from Trump’s history of endorsing the wars he was denouncing to his calls for greater and more savage bombing to his desire to nullify the Iran Deal, there was ample reasons to doubt that he would usher in dovishness of any kind. But the point was that Trump’s anti-war posturing was a politically potent approach because of how unpopular endless war and militarism have become:
These warnings – about the efficacy of Trump’s attacks on America’s bipartisan posture of Endless War – largely fell on deaf ears. Clinton continued to defend the virtues of her record of militarism, and even now, those topics are excluded almost completely from discussions of why Clinton lost.
Clinton was uniquely ill-suited to channel this widespread sentiment given that she has vocally supported almost every proposed U.S. war and military intervention over the last 20 years (including ones Obama rejected in places such as Syria and Ukraine and, of course, Iraq). For that reason, she was one of the leading symbols of war and militarism, perhaps its most potent one, and Trump – however deceitful and cynical it might have been – positioned himself as her opposite.
One need not uncritically accept this maximalist conclusion to acknowledge the vital point: Clinton specifically and Democrats generally are perceived, with good reason, to be proponents of the policies of endless war which critical constituencies now despise. From a policy perspective, endless war and militarism shape virtually every key issue, from budgetary priorities and tax policy to corporatism and lobbyist power, making it inexcusable on the merits to ignore or downplay them. But also as a political matter, any discussion of why Clinton lost, or what the Democrats must reform, is woefully incomplete if it excludes these questions.
Clinton seems to have a deeply technocratic mindset, suitable for middle-level managerial positions but not for leadership that requires inspiring others. She seems unable to identify the political zeitgeist, let alone seize it and ride its wave. Right now, there is some excitement about the possibility of the US adopting a single-payer health care system. Although congressman John Conyers has been proposing such a system for many years, Bernie Sanders has to be credited with bringing it into the spotlight during the presidential campaign and now with his new bill.
Clinton, always afraid to get ahead of the debate and stake a claim, has poured cold water on the idea using her usual mode of criticizing it on the margins and saying that there is going to be major opposition to it and recommending incremental changes. Of course there is going to be opposition to it. Supporters of single payer know the problems that need to be worked out. The point is that if you think something is a good idea, you have to endorse it and fight for it and work to overcome all the problems, not carp on the sidelines until the opposition disappears.
Clinton is a follower of trends, not someone who sets them. You could see it in the way she only came around to supporting same-sex marriage after she realized that there was a great deal of support for it. I remember reading a proverb a long time ago. “It is better to know where you are going and not know how, rather than know how you are going and not know where.” Clinton is someone who epitomizes the latter.