By Shaun Mullen / 08.22.2016
We’re at the point in this most bizarre of presidential campaigns where the likelihood of Hillary Clinton prevailing — and prevailing in a landslide of historic proportions — has gone from probable to likely. But with that assurance comes an uneasiness because of the way she has avidly courted Republicans loyal to George W. Bush who were almost as big a threat to American values because of their unbridled hawkishness as is the unhinged Donald Trump. Put another way, Clinton may have something approaching a mandate, but considering how she has cozied up to once influential Republican policymakers fleeing Trump, what will that mandate be for?
In one respect, this is a throwaway column subject suitable for the dog days of summer. The campaigns have fallen into a predictable routine and I have tired of writing about Trump’s serial immolations. But in another respect, the company that the future president-elect seeks to keep as she piles up Republican endorsements is concerning because she is a helluva lot less liberal and more amenable to the notion of perpetual war than Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders.
Then there is Henry Kissinger.
Besides being a certifiable war criminal who destroyed the very meaning of the Nobel Peace Prize by merely having a hand in calling a ceasefire in an imperialist atrocity known as the Vietnam War, Kissinger is a poster boy for the worst of American “statesmanship” in the post-John Foster Dulles era by being a shameless practitioner of the dark arts of diplomacy, role in Latin American coups, and even genocide (think the secret Cambodian bombing campaign) when it advances America’s goals. And for perpetual war.
When Sanders attacked Clinton during a primary debate in February, calling Kissinger “one of the most destructive secretaries of state of the modern era,” Clinton tactfully parried his criticism and is now said to be quietly reaching out to Kissinger and former Bush secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, that toothless wonder who ended up being Dick Cheney’s poodle.
I hasten to add that what Clinton does while campaigning is not a reliable indicator of what she will do as president, but policy-driven debates have been nearly absent from the campaign because, in large part, of Trump’s temperament, his inability to have a dialogue in any traditional sense of the word, and distracting if pertinent questions about his sanity, so no one is really questioning what the hell Clinton is really up to.
Among the considerable number of Bush administration officials who have endorsed Clinton are John Negroponte, a director of national intelligence, intelligence guru Brent Scowcroft, and Robert Blackwell, a deputy national security advisor. Endorsements also have been forthcoming from Republican foreign policy hawks Robert Kagan, a Reagan administration official and McCain and Romney campaigns advisor, Max Boot, another presidential campaign advisor, and Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and aide to former CIA director David Petraeus.
“If she’s going to get anything done as president, she is going to have to have a mandate,” says Robert B. Reich, a secretary of labor in Bill Clinton’s administration and Sanders supporter in the primaries.
True enough, and a bipartisan foreign policy coalition would be a good thing. But what is giving me and progressives the heebie jeebies is that Clinton seems a little too eager to get endorsements from the Bush foreign policy brain trust. Does she really need those endorsements at this stage? Could Kissinger be next? And will she really have a mandate when it can be argued that a lot of people will vote less for her than against Trump?
Clinton’s quest for Republican endorsements is a reminder of the divisions within the Democratic Party that the Sanders candidacy laid bare.
Those divisions are healthy. Sanders pushed Clinton to the left and the party’s convention platform was the most progressive of any major party in history, but Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a progressive political action committee, echoes my concern.
“It’s worrisome,” Chamberlain said. “When you’re reaching out to one of the architects of the George Bush foreign policy or the Iraq War named Rice, that’s not a way to prove to the base Democrats across America that you’re fighting for progressive values.”
Clinton’s initial and enthusiastic support for the Iraq War was a major point of contention for Sanders and other detractors when he was still in the race, but just as the threat of Trump has led some influential Republicans to distance themselves from him, it’s been a motivating factor for some disaffected Democrats to embrace Clinton.
“Given the alternative of ‘carpet bombing’ and ‘blow them off the face of the Earth,’ the incredibly dangerous rhetoric . . . of Donald Trump, they are more comfortable with Hillary Clinton,” Democratic strategist Penny Lee said of progressives. She said that while some Democrats might be “disturbed” if Kissinger endorses Clinton, they’re also familiar with her foreign policy.
“They’ve already factored that into their calculus,” Lee said. “They know that piece of her.”
The strongest critics of Clinton’s Republican outreach effort are those who were never likely to back her.
They include Medea Benjamin, executive director of the antiwar group Code Pink and a Sanders-turned-Jill Stein supporter. She said there was “nothing” Clinton could do to make her feel comfortable about her foreign policy as president.
“Like most Americans, I’m just still scratching my head of how did we end up with these two horrible candidates.”