By Usha Sahay
November 4, 2013
In a recent article in these pages, Zane Albayati lambastes Hillary Clinton for her vote in favor of the Iraq war, and for subsequently changing her mind as she sought to win the 2008 primary. While the author is certainly right to argue that “[i]t is important that the Iraq War and its origins continue to be debated,” his portrayal of Clinton’s foreign-policy views is nonetheless highly oversimplified. Albayati’s essay reflects a widespread perception on the left that Clinton is hawkish, militaristic, and willing to play hardball politics to hide this from dovish liberals.
But this perception reflects a misreading not only of Clinton, but also of the place that Clinton occupies on the Democratic spectrum when it comes to foreign policy.
Albayati paints Clinton as an unabashed proponent of regime change, linking her enthusiasm for the Iraq war a decade ago with her more recent role in encouraging intervention in Libya. Any contrition about her Iraq vote that occurred in between, the author contends, was probably political calculation rather than a genuine change of heart, because “almost everyone in Washington knows that a politician, especially one as seasoned as Hillary Clinton, rarely undergoes a real change of heart.” She must, Albayati and other liberals insist, be just as “unapologetically hawkish” now as she was in 2002.
Aside from the absurdity of the claim that a seasoned politician is never entitled to change his or her mind, there are two problems with Albayati’s argument. The first is the poor evidence used to make sweeping generalizations about Clinton’s supposed pro-regime change philosophy. Libya is the only example offered to support the thesis that Hillary has held these views since 2003. But given the differences between both the actual interventions in Iraq and Libya and, crucially, the decision-making leading up to each one, it’s a stretch to argue that Hillary’s stances together amount to evidence of unabashed hawkishness.
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