Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC, on May 14, 2014
‘Why is Hillary Clinton so unpopular?’ David Brooks, a columnist at the New York Times, asked in May. Rather than looking at her political record, he examined her psyche: ‘Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun?’ If Hillary lacks appeal, he suggested, it is because of her temperament: She is completely absorbed in her career. Her unpopularity ‘is akin to the unpopularity of a workaholic,’ and her ‘formal, career-oriented persona puts her in direct contrast with the mores of the social media age, which is intimate, personal, revealing, trusting and vulnerable.’ This goodwill is surprising in a columnist who is usually close to the Republican Party. But rejection of Donald Trump is such that strange alliances are being formed.
According to Brooks, Hillary seems like a new arrival on the political scene, though she has been first lady, a US senator and secretary of state. Have people forgotten her support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, her three speeches to bankers at Goldman Sachs (for each of which she was paid $225,000), her backing of free trade agreements, and her support for the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi? What of her conflict of interest with the Clinton Foundation — a family-owned philanthropic multinational — when she was part of the Obama administration? According to the New York Times, Foundation directors managed, after lobbying secretary of state Clinton, to have money earmarked for a US federal programme to combat AIDS in Rwanda transferred to a training programme set up by the Foundation.
Then there are Hillary’s links to Wall Street, which finances both her campaign and the Foundation. Even Trump has donated to the Foundation: more than $100,000 in 2009. Trump was friendly with Bill and Hillary for many years, and invited them to his third wedding, in 2005. They sat in the front row, and their broad smiles suggested they were enjoying the evening. That’s what Hillary does for fun.
Voting for Hillary in November in fact means voting for a couple, each the other’s closest adviser. Hillary has already shown her hand. If she wins, Bill will be ‘in charge of revitalizing the economy, because, you know, he knows how to do it.’
According to the image she promotes, Hillary has been a keen defender of children’s interests for more than 30 years; when Bill was governor of Arkansas, she allied herself with charitable organisations such as the Children’s Defense Fund, with a view to establishing a reputation as a caring person. But most of her time in the South was devoted to the Rose Law Firm, where she worked from 1977 to 1992, specialising in patent law and intellectual property. Rose, which embodies the collusion between politics and business in Arkansas, had among its clients Walmart, known for its hatred of trade unions and love of low-cost goods made in countries where the labour force can be exploited.
Hillary’s track record as a lawyer gained her a place on Walmart’s board, where she served from 1986 to 1992, receiving a salary of $18,000 a year ($31,000 today, allowing for inflation). She has always avoided mentioning in public anything that might upset Walmart, especially its policy of wage compression. (It’s hard to raise children on $19,427 a year, today’s average pay for a Walmart sales associate.) After travelling through the Deep South in 2013-4, Paul Theroux wrote that he had ‘found towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as overlooked and beleaguered’. He mocked the Clinton Foundation for running a ‘Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants’ — a flagship programme — while ignoring poor black families in Arkansas.
From the start of his first term as president, Bill was keen to improve the financing of Democratic election campaigns, which had depended too much on major industrial trade unions, and set about shifting his party to the right. He promoted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as popular with multinationals as it was unpopular with Democrat voters. Hillary never opposed the agreement. In September 1992 she attended a crucial meeting in Arlington, Virginia, when Bill decided to support the agreement, which had been negotiated by President George H W Bush. She then helped define the strategy for getting recalcitrant Democratic Representatives on board. According to Tom Nides, a former member of the Clinton team, ‘this was member by member — figuring out what was in their district, figuring out who we could influence, how we could work it’. In November 1993 NAFTA was ratified with the help of Newt Gingrich, then Republican number two in the House of Representatives. In March 1996, she said: ‘I think NAFTA is proving its worth.’
Emboldened by his free-trade success, Bill began to go back on some principles of the US welfare state, created in the 1930s with Roosevelt’s New Deal. With the help of Gingrich, who had become speaker of the House of Representatives after the Democrats’ defeat in the 1994 midterm elections, he imposed a ‘reform’ of the US welfare system, depriving more than 11 million poor families of aid. In protest, Peter Edelman — husband of the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund — resigned as assistant secretary for planning. He wrote: ‘[The new law] does not promote work effectively, and it will hurt millions of poor children by the time it is fully implemented.’ Hillary was silent about the fact that children (notably black and Latino) were being penalised by Bill’s policies.
Bill later deregulated Wall Street with the help of his Republican ‘rivals’: In November 1999 he signed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which since 1933 had separated commercial and investment banking, to discourage banks from speculating with small depositors’ money. Republican John McCain, and others, are now proposing a new Glass-Steagall Act. Not Hillary: her economic adviser Alan Blinder said last year: ‘You’re not going to see Glass-Steagall.’
Hillary’s political career really started in 2000, when she stood in the election for US senator for New York, parachuted into a state where she had never resided by her husband and his powerful allies in the Democratic Party. Once elected, she got on well with the Bush administration. In a speech to the Senate in October 2002, she confirmed her support for the invasion of Iraq, repeating the White House’s lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. She defended a ‘preventive’ war, drawing a parallel with the bombing of Yugoslavia, which Bill had decided in 1999, to ‘stop the dislocation and ethnic cleansing of more than a million Kosovar Albanians … And perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, in the White House, watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation’. Not the words of a feminist, but unsurprising from a candidate whose Twitter profile begins ‘wife, mom, grandma’.
Hillary’s 2002 speech was remarkable for its banality of language, but it would be unfair to suggest that she wrote it herself. She frequently uses ghostwriters, who are rarely credited; Professor Barbara Feinman Todd complained that she was not mentioned in It Takes a Village(1996), Hillary’s bestseller about ‘lessons children teach us’. It is not even certain Hillary wrote her own memoirs: to tell the story of her time as secretary of state, she used a ‘book team’, whom she barely mentions.
The record of Hillary’s four years in charge of US foreign policy does not inspire confidence. In 2011, when the Libyan rebellion was growing, she was cautious: ‘I’m one of those who believes that absent international authorisation, the United States acting alone, would be stepping into a situation whose consequences are unforeseeable.’ Then she changed her mind: ‘I got an earful about military intervention from Sarkozy. He is a dynamic figure, always full of ebullient energy, who loves being at the center of the action … Sarkozy was also influenced by the French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy … They were both genuinely moved by the plight of the Libyan people, suffering at the hands of a brutal dictator.’ Seduced by the Frenchmen, and to avoid a ‘humanitarian disaster’, she joined the interventionist camp and, with President Obama, led the US into a new war without seeking congressional approval, though the constitution requires it. Fortunately, it all ended well: ‘Over the next 72 hours, Libya’s air defences were successfully destroyed and the people of Benghazi were saved from imminent devastation.’ The rest of the book is in the same vein.
Hillary knows that her rightwing image is the final obstacle to winning over the supporters of Bernie Sanders. Drawn to the left by her ‘socialist’ rival’s success in the primaries, she has recently put forward progressive measures: taxing banks that have too much debt, increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour, regulating university tuition fees according to family income. Her U-turn on free trade has been spectacular. In November 2012 she praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership: ‘This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade.’ But the criticism by Trump and Sanders of free trade seem to be convincing voters, and in October 2015 Hillary said: ‘As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it. I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.’ On 7 July her allies blocked an effort by the Sanders campaign to have the Democratic Party officially oppose a congressional vote on TTP.
Hillary seems more predictable than Trump, who has increased his verbal attacks on ‘radical Islamists’ and ‘immigrants’. Her calm and sense of proportion have even won over some Republicans. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard, who was finance co-chair of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s exploratory committee, has openly declared her support, as has neoconservative Robert Kagan, a former Romney adviser. The Bush family have said they will abstain in the election.
Hillary also has the unfailing support of the media establishment, which presents her as the last line of defence against barbarism. David Remnick, editor of theNew Yorker, asked: ‘Has a presidential election ever suggested more vividly divergent candidates than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? … Clinton will have to campaign with unwavering poise against the most dangerous and unpredictable variety of opponent — a demagogue who is willing to trespass every boundary of decency to win power.’
This recalls the confrontation between President Jacques Chirac and Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, when the French left was obliged to support a rightwing candidate to protect the country from the ‘fascist danger’. But Chirac was more progressive than Hillary, especially on foreign policy. The US presidential campaign is more like a contest between Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi, in which the US left has decided to support Merkel.
Photo Credit: Kelly Maeshiro/Creative Commons
After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.
Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power.
The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.
The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.
The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.
One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.
The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.
A day before its summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.
One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.
Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.
Sad species. Poor Owl.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no satisfaction in being able to say, “I told you so.” This is especially so with Iraq, where recent events are enough to sicken one’s stomach. Yet it still must be said: those who opposed the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003 — not to mention his father’s war on Iraq in 1991 and the sanctions enforced through the administration of Bill Clinton — were right.
The noninterventionists predicted a violent unraveling of the country, and that’s what we’re witnessing. They agreed with Amr Moussa, chairman of the Arab League, who warned in September 2002 that the invasion would “open the gates of hell.” There was no ISIS or al-Qaeda in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq before the U.S. invasion.
Once again, the establishment news media have ill-served the American public. In the buildup to the 2003 bipartisan war on Iraq — which was justified through lies about weapons of mass destruction and complicity in the 9/11 attacks — little time and ink were devoted to the principled opponents of intervention.
Maybe war builds circulation, ratings, and advertising revenues. Or maybe corporate news outlets fear losing access to high-ranking government officials. Whatever the explanation, far more media resources went toward hyping the illegal aggressive war than to the case against it.
No one can grasp the complexity of one’s own society, we noninterventionists said, much less a society with Iraq’s unique religious, sectarian, and political culture and history. Intervention grows out of hubris. Nonintervention accepts the limits of any ruling cadre’s knowledge. The war planners had no clue how to reform Iraqi society. But there was one thing they did know: they would not suffer the consequences of their arrogance.
You’d think that with the noninterventionists proven right, the media would learn from their folly and turn to them to analyze the current turmoil in Iraq. But you’d be mistaken.
With few exceptions, the go-to “authorities” are the same people who got it wrong — not all of them neoconservatives, because interventionists come in different stripes. The discussion today is almost exclusively over how the Obama administration should intervene in Iraq, not if it should intervene. Even Paul Wolfowitz, one of the wizards of the original invasion, gets face time on major networks. He was part of the crowd which said that American invaders would be greeted with rose petals, that regime change in Iraq would spread liberal democracy throughout the Middle East, and that even peace between the Israelis and Palestinians would take place.
These “authorities” were wrong about everything — assuming they believed their own words — but that seems not to matter.
They have their own story, of course. It’s not the 2003 invasion that has brought Iraq to disintegration, they say. It is Barack Obama’s failure to leave U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011. This argument doesn’t work.
First, Obama (wrongly) asked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow troops to remain beyond the deadline negotiated by Bush, but al-Maliki insisted that U.S. personnel who commit crimes be subject to Iraqi law, a reasonable demand. Obama would not accept that.
Second, why should we believe the advocates of the original invasion when they say a residual U.S. force could have prevented the offensive now conducted by ISIS, aka the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Levant)? It’s far more likely that if American troops were in Iraq today, they would be killing and dying.
Al-Maliki is everyone’s favorite scapegoat now, and the ruler known as the Shi’ite Saddam certainly is a villain. He has arrested respected Sunni figures and ordered troops to shoot peaceful Sunni demonstrators. But recriminations against the Sunnis, who were identified with Saddam’s secular Ba’athist party, started with the American administration of Iraq.
U.S. intervention now would be perceived as taking the Shi’ite side in the Iraqi sectarian war. (Obama is intervening, though on the opposite side, in Syria, which helped build ISIS.) The conflict is complicated — not all Sunnis and Shiites want sectarian violence — but that’s all the more reason to think that neither American troops nor diplomats can repair Iraq. The people themselves will have to work things out. As for terrorism, it is U.S. intervention that makes Americans targets.
Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).