Monday, October 15, 2007

Hillary's Verbs

I read with interest Hillary Clinton's big essay in Foreign Affairs. I decided to leave aside the many quibbles I might have with her painting of things as they now stand. I'm more interested in what she proposes to do differently.

The list of goals is predictable: More multilateralism, building relations with allies, "recovering" the "respect" of the world. Less military work, more diplomacy. Talking to our enemies.

Very well, but she presents herself at the same time as a hard-nosed and experienced "realist." So when she gets around to the knotty places in the world, where her kinder-gentler vision of foreign affairs seems to gain no traction, she resorts to some interesting verbs.

On international institutions (such as the U.N.) that conspicuously fail to do anything worthwhile:

When they do not work, their procedures serve as pretexts for endless delays, as in the case of Darfur, or descend into farce, as in the case of Sudan's election to the UN Commission on Human Rights. But instead of disparaging these institutions for their failures, we should bring them in line with the power realities of the twenty-first century and the basic values embodied in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Emphasis added. How Hillary pictures "bringing (someone) in line" is perhaps an image that would make Bill wince. It doesn't seem to be encompassed in her list of tactics in this article, however.

On the al Qaida safe havens in the lawless regions of Pakistan:

We must also strengthen the national and local governments and resolve the problems along Afghanistan's border. Terrorists are increasingly finding safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Redoubling our efforts with Pakistan would not only help root out terrorist elements there; it would also signal to our NATO partners that the war in Afghanistan and the broader fight against extremism in South Asia are battles that we can and must win.

Resolving? Redoubling? These verbs kill no terrorists. They create even less of a mental picture of a policy than does "bringing them in line."

On China's challenge:

We must persuade China to join global institutions and support international rules by building on areas where our interests converge and working to narrow our differences. Although the United States must stand ready to challenge China when its conduct is at odds with U.S. vital interests, we should work for a cooperative future.

"Persuade ... building ... cooperative ..." Sure. But it seems China regards itself as a player, not just something to be acted upon and influenced by America's own policies. In fact, it seems willing to play this game itself, "persuading" us that some of our own values are not in the interest of some of our "realistic" goals.

That at least is my reading of the lede of an AP story tonight: "China is protesting U.S. honors for the Dalai Lama this week by pulling out of a planned international strategy session on Iran sought by the United States, a State Department official said Monday." I'd like to see Hillary's solution to that one. China won't let you have both: Which is the "vital U.S. interest?"

In fact, if there seems to be an overriding flaw in the thinking of the left of Hillary's generation (and it's not limited to Hillary), it's that the rest of the world simply does nothing on its own. It is either enraged and turned into terrorists by American militaristic and capitalistic policies (i.e., when a Republican is president), or else it is passively and happily following our lead when we are persuasive and intelligent (i.e. when a Democrat is president).

As when John Kerry's 2004 platform on Iraq consisted largely of getting the French and Germans involved in the country, without first asking them if they had any intention of going there, John Kerry or no John Kerry. [They didn't.]

And Hillary's contention that "Rapidly emerging countries, such as China, will not curb their own carbon emissions until the United States has demonstrated a serious commitment to reducing its own through a market-based cap-and-trade approach" is such a clear echo of the unilateral nuclear disarmament rhetoric of the late Cold War that you wonder if she didn't crib it from something she wrote in 1979.

Her Iraq plan, as far as she spells it out, is sadly contradictory. It looks at first blush like a big, noisy pull-out to finally shut up the netroots:

We must withdraw from Iraq in a way that brings our troops home safely, begins to restore stability to the region, and replaces military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future. To that end, as president, I will convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration.

Which certainly advances the goal of bringing the troops home, but seems to be contrary to regional stability. Never fear: She's got that goal covered, too. But by a fig leaf:

As we leave Iraq militarily, I will replace our military force with an intensive diplomatic initiative in the region. The Bush administration has belatedly begun to engage Iran and Syria in talks about the future of Iraq. This is a step in the right direction, but much more must be done. As president, I will convene a regional stabilization group composed of key allies, other global powers, and all the states bordering Iraq. Working with the newly appointed UN special representative for Iraq, the group will be charged with developing and implementing a strategy for achieving a stable Iraq that provides incentives for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey to stay out of the civil war.

Sure; they'd all much rather hand Hillary her diplomatic victory than continue to mess with our power and fight their proxy wars in Iraq. Sure they'd rather see Iraq as a viable and flourishing democracy than as a weak and miserable example to their own populations of what happens when you evict the strong, mustachioed man.

And exactly what "incentives" is she willing to offer to Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia? Can we get some specifics on that?

But as it turns out, she's not really taking about getting out of Iraq. We'll still hold the keys to all its doors. And we'll still be there, even after we leave. You see?

I will order specialized units to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist organizations in the region. These units will also provide security for U.S. troops and personnel in Iraq and train and equip Iraqi security services to keep order and promote stability in the country, but only to the extent that such training is actually working. I will also consider leaving some forces in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq in order to protect the fragile but real democracy and relative peace and security that have developed there, but with the clear understanding that the terrorist organization the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) must be dealt with and the Turkish border must be respected.

It's hard for me to decide whether this sketch of a policy is meant to mollify the left while continuing to nation-build in Iraq, or to "stay" in Iraq just enough so that the inevitable pyre that follows our withdrawal of commitment will seem not to be connected to it, but rather a doom of the entire operation, inevitable from the start. Probably the latter. It seems to offer no real commitment to the Iraqi people to help them sustain what they've sacrificed so much to attain with our help. If I were an Iraqi, I'd feel a chill wind on reading this.

As for "to the extent that such training is actually working," does that mean like it is now? What metric of "success" (other than "withdrawal") will the realist Democrats use to measure themselves in Iraq, having pooh-poohed, in various ways, all of the usual ones already, and all of the people capable of reporting them?

That preserved right to rush in and fight terrorists any time we choose would seem to create some problems for the image of Hillary's less aggressive, more cooperative America. "In the region?" Meaning beyond Iraq? Places such as ...?

Really, stripped of the rhetoric, Hillary's foreign policy would be remarkably interventionist. The difference between Republicans and Democrats, it seems, is no longer that one party is less interested in getting into people's lives, either at home or abroad, but that they shoot at different targets.

Hillary doesn't talk about draining swamps or spreading freedom. She does, however, say, "We must help strengthen police, prosecutorial, and judicial systems abroad; improve intelligence; and implement more stringent border controls, especially in developing countries," and "I will press for quick passage of the Education for All Act, which would provide $10 billion over a five-year period to train teachers and build schools in the developing world. This program would channel funds to those countries that provide the best plans for how to use them and rigorously measure performance to ensure that our dollars deliver results for children."

As though American direction in policing or education would be welcomed around the world. As though all this resentment piled up against the Western superpower will clear like a cloudy day once Bush is out of office. As though she really believes the world loved us before 9/11, and was our bosom buddy after it, and only the evil neo-cons drove the lovers apart. And here I can't help but note how much of its scribbling and speechifying Hillary's generation has devoted to dragging down America's historical image of itself as benign and benevolent, as a caretaker of great human liberties. The strident rhetoric probably was meant for domestic audiences -- what the '60s kids thought of as unthinking flag-wavers and ignorant enablers of corporate fascism or some such nonsense. But it had its effect around the world. Not everything that comes home to roost starts out in the top henhouse.

Her section on Iran is dizzyingly disconnected. She lays out the list of Iran's transgressions -- essentially the same list Bush has in his hand when he talks. But then she raps Bush because "The Bush administration refuses to talk to Iran about its nuclear program, preferring to ignore bad behavior rather than challenge it." Well, with some attempts at provocation, ignoring it is the right approach. Is this such a case? She doesn't say why not.

As a result, we have lost precious time. Iran must conform to its nonproliferation obligations and must not be permitted to build or acquire nuclear weapons. If Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table.

On the other hand, if Iran is in fact willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq, the United States should be prepared to offer Iran a carefully calibrated package of incentives. This will let the Iranian people know that our quarrel is not with them but with their government and show the world that the United States is prepared to pursue every diplomatic option.

And this differs from the Bush program how? It essentially involves waiting for the government of Iran to turn into the exact opposite of what has let it survive to this point, as a result, no doubt, of "talking" to it. In exchange for "incentives." Teacher training or border patrols, no doubt.

Finally, there's this:

To build the world we want, we must begin by speaking honestly about the problems we face. We will have to talk about the consequences of our invasion of Iraq for the Iraqi people and others in the region. We will have to talk about Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.

More talk. More talk about what's already been talked to death. Is she suggesting apologies here? Exactly what sort of "talk" does she envision? I'm content to let the other side do the talking about those problems. Lord knows they won't shut up about them any time soon. In the ivory tower world where American history = slavery/genocide/imperialism, naturally, in Iraq, the only things that matter or are worth talking about are "Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib."

But if we're to do talking, it ought to be to put those problems in the context of the hopes and opportunities for the Iraqi people and others in the region, which we, and they, still have a commitment to fulfilling. Which certainly no one else is going to talk about. And which no one but the U.S., currently, is offering to help them realize.

At least until January 2009.