Those ‘White Supremacy’ Narratives About Trump are Deeply Problematic

…the tendencies operating in 1948 electoral decisions not only were built up in the New Deal and Fair Deal era but also dated back to parental and grandparental loyalties, to religious and ethnic cleavages of a past era, and to moribund sectional and community conflicts. Thus in a very real sense any particular election is a composite of various elections and various political and social events. People vote for a President on a given November day, but their choice is made not simply on the basis of what happened in the preceding months or even four years; in 1948 some people were in effect voting on the internationalism issue of 1940, others on the depression issues of 1932 and some, indeed, on the slavery issues of 1860.Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Voting (pp. 315-6)
I told ya’ll I didn’t vote, right? But if I would’ve voted, I would’ve voted [for] Trump. Kanye West

Donald Trump talked about his daughter in sexually explicit terms on a nationally syndicated radio program. In a leaked recording, taken shortly into his third marriage, Trump bragged that he could accost women without consequence as a result of his social status—and in fact, several women came forward over the course of his campaign detailing how he allegedly violated them. If an African American aspired towards the presidency with this kind of sexual baggage, his candidacy would have been dead on arrival.

Similarly, a black candidate whose business dealings were defined by accusations of nepotism, shipping jobs overseas, exploiting undocumented workers, stiffing U.S. contractors and exploiting bankruptcy and tax laws to evade financial and civic obligations would not be viewed as the kind of leader America needs. Indeed, an African American who seemed to lack basic knowledge about the major issues facing the country and possessed no experience in government would not even be on the radar as a serious candidate. He would never win his party’s nomination, let alone the general election.

Ta-Neihsi Coates makes this case in his latest Atlantic cover story, “The First White President,” to demonstrate that race matters a lot more in American politics than most pundits and politicians seem willing to acknowledge.

He goes on to highlight how Americans across the socio-economic spectrum often point to the plight of the “white working class” –a plight that white elites are themselves are often responsible for creating—in justifying policies that disproportionately harm blacks and other minority groups. Meanwhile, social problems like drug addiction, which have long plagued minority communities, only seem to grow worthy of an urgent and compassionate response when “working class” whites become affected.

Ta-Neihsi’s exploration of these topics is powerful, as is his condemnation of the President’s inadequate response to the recent violence in Charlottesville. However, a severe paradox emerges with regards to his central thesis:

Coates complains that it is reductive and misleading to “blame” Clinton’s loss on the “white working class” (as many have done) given that Trump decisively won among all whites–across the income and education spectrum, across gender and geographic lines, etc. True enough. But then Coates puts forward an alternative frame which turns out to be no less problematic than the one he is critiquing:  Trump was elected primarily because of racial resentment, and he maintains his hold on power by playing to Americans’ latent sympathies with white supremacists.

As an African American and a Muslim, like Coates I often find myself disturbed by Trump’s rhetoric and policies. However, as a social researcher I have also been consistently troubled by the near-total lack of engagement among pundits and scholars with the pretty robust data confounding the ‘white supremacy’ theory of Trump’s success. For instance: Continue reading “Those ‘White Supremacy’ Narratives About Trump are Deeply Problematic”

In the Trump Administration, Principled Civil Servants Like James Comey Are Critical

Let’s be clear about one thing straightaway: James Comey did not sabotage Hillary Clinton. If that had been his intention, it was well within his power to outright destroy her candidacy. In the wake of Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s improper meeting with former President Bill Clinton, the Department of Justice was scandalized. Under pressure, Lynch pledged to follow through on the FBI’s recommendation, whatever it was. The decision about whether or not the FBI would recommend charges was ultimately Comey’s to make, and his alone (indeed, Lynch was so vulnerable after her impropriety that she couldn’t even bring herself to order the FBI Director not to inform lawmakers about the discovery of new emails; she was in no position to deny his recommendations on prosecution). If Comey were out to sabotage Clinton, he would have recommended charges; the DOJ would have had little choice but to proceed with prosecution. Regardless of how the case ultimately fared in court, it would have certainly persisted throughout the entire election cycle—utterly decimating Clinton’s prospects.

Instead, Comey declined to recommend charges– despite the FBI having uncovered serious violations of protocol which would have likely landed a lower-profile civil servant behind bars. This decision outraged Congressional Republicans, and even many within the FBI, who accused Comey of playing politics on Clinton’s behalf.

This was not the only time the accusation was made: as the media began combing Wikileaks-released emails that strongly suggested inappropriate relations between the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, and wealthy foreign donors (the latest of many apparent Clinton Foundation violations, see here, here, here, here, here, or here), Comey refused to so much as comment as to whether or not the FBI was considering an investigation into the Foundation—prompting a Breitbart conspiracy theory that he was on the Clinton payroll as well.

To assuage concerns about a possible FBI bias towards Clinton, he assured lawmakers that if new information arose which seemed pertinent to the investigation, he would notify them promptly. And multiple times after closing the investigation new evidence was found—and each time, Comey notified the relevant lawmakers. And after considering the new evidence, reiterated his recommendation against prosecution—despite enormous pressure to reverse course.

Continue reading “In the Trump Administration, Principled Civil Servants Like James Comey Are Critical”

An Emerging Democratic Majority? Don’t Count on It.

 
What is at stake in the conflict over representations of the future is nothing other than the attitude of the declining classes to their decline—either demoralization, which leads to a rout….or mobilization, which leads to the collective search for a collective solution to the crisis.
What can make the difference is, fundamentally, the possession of the symbolic instruments enabling the group to take control of the crisis and to organize themselves with a view to a collective response, rather than fleeing from real or feared degradation in a reactionary resentment and the representation of history as a conspiracy. Pierre Bourdieu, The Bachelor's Ball (p. 189)
We’ll let you guys prophesy/ We gon’ see the future first. Frank Ocean, 'Nikes' (Blonde)

In 2008, Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama outperformed his predecessors John Kerry and Al Gore with virtually every single demographic group, handily defeating his Republican rival John McCain. This success spread to down-ballot races as well: Democrats expanded control over the House and the Senate; they controlled most governorships and state legislatures nationwide.

Many progressives came to believe that these results were not a fluke, that Obama’s coalition represented the future: an Emerging Democratic Majority that stood to reshape politics as we know it. The logic was simple: most of those who are young, college-educated, women or minorities lean left. Older white men lean right, but whites were declining as a portion of the electorate due to immigration and interracial unions. Therefore, as the older generation passes away and a younger, more diverse, and more educated cohort steps into the fore, America will become more progressive in an enduring way.

Right now, these predictions are not looking so good. In a virtual inversion of 2008 (only worse), Republicans comfortably control both chambers of Congress. They also dominate state legislatures and governorships nationwide—bodies which arguably matter more to people’s everyday lives than the federal government. Meanwhile, Democrats lost perhaps their best chance in a generation to fundamentally reshape the Supreme Court. And the new Republican Administration seems committed to rolling back many of the signature accomplishments of the most charismatic and successful Democratic President since LBJ.

In the midst of such a bleak reality, it may be tempting to hold onto the faith that the Emerging Demographic Majority thesis remains essentially sound: Trump is an anomaly, certain to self-destruct, ushered into power as a final, desperate act of defiance by a segment of the population that knows its time is up. However, such optimism would be ill-advised–the electoral trend actually seems to be going the opposite direction. Continue reading “An Emerging Democratic Majority? Don’t Count on It.”

Trump’s Victory Should Not Have Been Surprising

As an epistemologist, I generally avoid predictions in favor of trying to determine what is known and how to build upon or utilize knowledge. But when I do feel compelled to go on record with predictions, it is generally with a sense of urgency–to draw public attention to an approaching black swan.

Black swans are phenomena which seem inconceivable relative to prevailing assumptions and beliefs. Black swan events arise when our conception of the world becomes untethered from events “on the ground.”

In this election cycle, the broad consensus was that Trump was an amusing epiphenomenon with little staying power and few prospects. By contrast, since the declaration of her candidacy, there was a pervasive assumption that Hillary Clinton would coast to victory. This cycle seemed to turn conventional wisdom on its head at every turn, but nonetheless, as Americans went to cast their ballots even the most rigorous and gutsy of poll analysts predicted less than a 30% chance for a Clinton loss (and even this was viewed by many as being far too generous to Trump).

To be sure, prediction is a perilous game. But one of the biggest problems in the way we rely on predictions in our public discourse is that pundits are rarely held to account for their reliability. And even in those rare instances where someone actually issues a mea culpa for grievous errors, little seems to be learned in terms of how to approach subsequent developments.

For instance, “no one” saw it as possible that Trump would win the Republican nomination—even down to the final moments. When he did win, there was a lot of handwringing about humility and lessons learned—but then almost immediately the same narrative emerged again: Trump stood no chance at winning the general election. And not just he, the Republican Party was finished, perhaps for generations, as a result of his candidacy. Things look very different today, with the Democrats standing on the brink of irrelevance, while the signature accomplishments of their most charismatic and transformation leader in generations seem set to be erased.

The centerpiece of the Democrats’ (over)confidence was their supposed “electoral firewall”—a safeguard they were so sure of that they scarcely even bothered to reach out to these constituents who were supposed to serve as their last line of defense against Trump (ensuring that even in the unlikely event that they lost the popular vote, they would win the Electoral College). How’d that turn out? Clinton is shaping up to lose the Electoral College by a larger margin than those who were defeated in 1996, 2000 or 2004.

How could this happen?” was the refrain on November 9th. Here’s how: Continue reading “Trump’s Victory Should Not Have Been Surprising”

Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Historic Candidacy?

In March 2016, the Green Party nominated Dr. Jill Stein as their candidate for President of the United States. They have had female vice-presidential nominees on every single ticket since 1996, and ran all-female tickets in 2008 and 2012. But unfortunately, the highest the Green Party has ever performed in a general election was in 2000, when they garnered nearly 3% of the popular vote. The party was relegated to obscurity thereafter—decried as spoilers who bear responsibility for the election of George W. Bush and everything that followed.

And while both the Democratic and Republican parties have previously nominated a woman to be their vice-presidential nominees (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, respectively), Hillary Clinton is the first woman to appear at the top of one of the major party tickets—making her the first viable female presidential candidate in U.S. history. The U.S. has lagged far behind many other countries in achieving this milestone. For perspective, there have been 11 women from Muslim-majority nations that have served as PM or President, and about 1 out of every 10 contemporary governments has a female head of government or head of state.

The significance of Clinton’s achievement transcends mere symbolism: As a black man, the presidency of Barack Obama has impacted me in ways that are hard to describe, despite frequent political differences. Similarly, while adamantly opposed to Hillary’s nomination, I appreciate how meaningful it could be for a generation to grow up experiencing a woman as the “leader of the free world”—even more so at this moment, when women seem poised to simultaneously head up Britain, France and Germany as well (the implications of the fact that most of these are center-to-far right leaning politicians is a matter for a different essay). However, throughout this political season I have also found myself both perplexed and outraged by how little discussion there has been about the historic nature of Ms. Clinton’s principal Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.

Now, with the Democratic primary officially concluded, following Sanders’ concession to Hillary Clinton and his full-throated convention endorsement—it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on just how significant his campaign has been, and what Sanders’ supporters can take from it going forward.

Continue reading “Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Historic Candidacy?”

Why 2016 May Be Donald Trump’s Race to Lose

As the 2016 presidential primaries got underway, there seemed to be a couple incontrovertible truths: Hillary Clinton’s nomination was inevitable, and Trump stood no chance (it was going to be Jeb or Rubio). Yet, here we are six months before the election, and Trump has seized the Republican nomination while Clinton is still working to box out Bernie Sanders’ insurgency (without losing his voters, who it turns out, may be ripe for Trump to peel off after all).

Nonetheless, the prevailing narrative is that while there is now a chance that Trump could actually win in November, it’s basically Hillary Clinton’s election to lose. Pundits focus on “fundamentals,” like Hillary’s superior fundraising, analytics, or ground game; however, these haven’t proven terribly predictive this cycle. And by focusing on conventional elements, analysts seem to be overlooking novel dynamics which are likely more important—specifically, the public’s persistent and negative perception of Hillary Clinton, the incumbency handicap, and a phenomenon I call “negative intersectionality.”

  Continue reading “Why 2016 May Be Donald Trump’s Race to Lose”

Hillary Clinton Is No Friend of Black Empowerment

As an African American, I have struggled to understand why so many of my black brothers and sisters seem to prefer Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

Some have argued that black people are terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency, and so they rally around Clinton under the belief that she is more electable in the November general contest. However, looking at the election results so far it seems clear that Bernie Sanders actually stands the best chance of prevailing over Trump, while Hillary would likely lose.

Then there’s the notion that Hillary Clinton is somehow preserving Barack Obama’s legacy: just a few short months ago she was going out of her way to distance herself from the Obama Administration because she believed it was politically expedient to do so. Now, under threat from Sanders’ insurgency, she is cynically trying to sell herself as Obama’s right-hand. But of course, the moment she locks down the nomination she’ll go back to drawing contrast–the Clintons have always been leaders at “vote capturing.”

But perhaps the most disturbing of all is the insinuation that Hillary Clinton has some kind of proud and storied legacy in the service of black empowerment. She doesn’t. Consider the comparative records of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders:

The Chicago Years

While attending the University of Chicago, Sanders served as a chapter chairman for the Congress for Racial Equality. In this capacity, he worked to end segregation in schools and housing—activities for which he was arrested.

What was Hillary Clinton doing while Sanders was organizing sit-ins and demonstrations? Well, she was also living in Chicago at the time, but she was working for the other team: in 1963-4, Clinton was a volunteer and supporter for the campaign of Barry Goldwater.

For those who don’t know, Goldwater’s claim to fame is that he was the first Republican to win the Deep South since Reconstruction. He achieved this feat by vowing to undermine enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, and to prevent further erosion of white privilege. His campaign was so disgusting that many Republican leaders, such as George Romney and John Rockefeller, refused to endorse his candidacy even after he won his party’s nomination. A good deal of the Republican electorate, who had traditionally championed civil rights and civil liberties, also refused to support him. As a result, those aforementioned Deep South states were literally the only contests he won other than his home state of Arizona in one of the most dramatic landslide losses in U.S. presidential history. Yet, this is the man who inspired Hillary Clinton to get into politics. And she was campaigning for him while Bernie was campaigning for desegregation.

The trend continues: in 1984 and 88, Bernie Sanders endorsed and supported Jessie Jackson’s bids for the White House, which would have made him America’s first African-American president. Rather than endorsing this movement, Bill Clinton infamously sought to elevate himself among white Southern and Rust-Belt voters at the expense of Mr. Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition.

Of course, it’d be easy to write this off–after all, it was a long time ago. However, the Clintons’ tenure in the White House doesn’t look so great in hindsight either:

The Clinton Administration(s)

Bill Clinton’s deregulation of banks and Wall Street helped bring about the 2008 financial collapse that profoundly and disproportionately obliterated black wealth. In the wake of this disaster, and despite their long and sordid history of discrimination and predatory practices against people of color, Hillary Clinton continues to defend the institutions responsible (and is richly rewarded for doing so).

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform further contributed to extreme poverty—particularly for African Americans and other communities of color.  While Bernie strongly resisted these measures, Hillary staunchly advocated for them—referring to people on welfare as “deadbeats” who were largely responsible for their own continued poverty.

And then, of course, there are the Clinton-era “tough on crime” measures, which Hillary Clinton actively lobbied for. While Sanders ultimately voted for the bill for the sake of its assault rifle ban and domestic violence protections, he first took to the senate floor to passionately denounce the draconian sentencing provisions contained therein, which he aptly predicted would be exercised primarily against America’s poor, largely people of color. In contrast, Hillary Clinton referred to the criminalized as animals, describing them as “super-predators” which have to be “brought to heel.”

More Americans were incarcerated under Bill Clinton than any previous president–almost all poor people, overwhelmingly black and brown. Yet as late as 2008, despite the by-then obvious effects of these policies on communities of color, Clinton stood by this record proudly and actually mocked Barack Obama’s opposition to mandatory minimum sentences.

Later in that same cycle, it would be Clinton supporters who first began circulating rumors that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and might be a secret Muslim (launching the “birther” movement). Not only did Clinton fail to denounce these claims from her supporters (then later hypocritically bash Donald Trump for doing the same), her campaign actively attempted to capitalize on this paranoia, dog-whistling that Hillary was “born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century” and bragging about the edge she held over Obama among non-college attending white Americans.

Little Has Changed

Then again, 2008 was almost 8 years ago, right? What about today?

Consider that one of the people currently attempting to slime Bernie Sanders on Clinton’s behalf is her long-time friend and ally, David Brock, who infamously led the hatchet-job against Law Professor Anita Hill when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. For Hillary Clinton to sell herself as a champion of women and African Americans while closely associating herself with someone like Brock is deeply unsettling…much like Clinton taking foreign policy and national security guidance from the same consulting firm that formulates strategy for Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

In a recent debate, Clinton reiterated confederate narratives about the origins of America’s racial dynamics. In the aftermath of Dylan Roof’s massacre at Emannuel AME in Charleston, she went to a predominantly-black church in Ferguson, Missouri—the site of the first Black Lives Matter uprisings following the death of Michael Brown—and went out of her way to emphasize that “All Lives Matter.”

One could go on and on. These are not instances of occasional misspeaking or malformed policies—instead, a consistent pattern of words and actions persisting over decades. This is not to suggest Hillary Clinton is racist, at least not any more than most white people, but the idea that she is or ever has been a stalwart advocate for black empowerment is absolutely ludicrous.

A Generational Divide?

Although black people do vote with more cohesiveness than most other groups, we are not a monolith. And the narrative that people of color unanimously back Clinton over Sanders is misleading, at best:

While much of the “old guard” of African American politicians has rallied around Hillary Clinton, newer leaders–like Rep. Keith Ellison and contemporary black revolutionaries like Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates–have aligned themselves with Bernie Sanders in the conviction that his policies, and his approach, stand the best chance of meaningfully redressing social inequality. Still others, such as Black Lives Matter Chicago co-founder Aislinn Pulley, are demanding substantive action over platitudes or token reforms, and are increasingly refusing to be part of the DNC farce at all.

This bodes ill for Clinton: The longer this race goes on, and the more black voters examine the comparative records, platforms and prospects of Clinton v. Sanders, the more likely it is that the former’s cynical identity politics campaign will once-again implode, as it did in 2008.

Hillary’s record on civil rights is indeed extensive, albeit inconsistent and often ignoble. By contrast, Bernie has a long, proud, consistent record on fighting inequality—often far ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard–and always far, far ahead of Hillary Clinton.

Published 4/3/2016 on Salon

Bernie Sanders is more electable than Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States, and he will have the Democratic National Committee to thank for it. Much has been made of the “math” of the Democratic nomination, and how it favors Hillary Clinton—in large part due to her huge lead in unpledged “superdelegates” (whose decision will determine the election, given that neither candidate is likely to reach the requisite number of delegates to win outright). But for a moment, let’s set aside the math of the Democratic primary, and look at the big picture: What matters for the general election is who can win swing states and ensure high voter turnout and enthusiasm in solidly blue states. In this regard, Bernie Sanders is clearly the more electable candidate.

Swing States, Blue States

The 10 closest races in 2012 were in Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. Six of these have voted so far in primary contests. Of these, Sanders decisively won 3 (New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota), and they virtually tied in 2 others (Sanders narrowly losing Nevada and Iowa). So in terms of swing states, the edge appears to be with Sanders.

As for solidly-blue states, only a handful have voted so far, but the outcome is clear: Bernie Sanders decisively won Vermont and Maine, pulled a huge upset in Michigan, and virtually tied Hillary Clinton in Massachusetts. Clinton has not decisively won even one single solidly-blue state. Instead, virtually all of her pledged delegate lead comes from handily winning in solidly red states which she (or any Democrat) would be highly-unlikely to win in a general election.

Nonetheless, the constant presentation of these numbers (superdelegate votes almost always included in media analyses of the race) reinforces the notion that Clinton is the more electable candidate, and pushes many into her camp as the best choice against the Republicans; this further expands her lead and reifies the perceived electability disparity, ad nauseam. Hence the narrative that Bernie Sanders is the ideological candidate who inspires, and Hillary the pragmatist who can win. In reality, Bernie is both. However, barring a major grassroots revolt, Hillary Clinton will seize the nomination. And she will lose to Donald Trump.

Continue reading “Bernie Sanders is more electable than Hillary Clinton”

What Was Accomplished in Afghanistan?

The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan was justified in large part by highlighting the plight of women under Taliban governance. Within the first weeks of the campaign, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Cherie Blair helped spearhead a highly-effective propaganda effort to convince the public that the U.S. and the U.K. were engaged in a moral war—one which was fundamentally about human rights rather than merely advancing geopolitical or security interests—thereby necessitating a massive ground invasion and state-building enterprise to transform Afghan society, rather than a more limited venture to  dislodge and degrade the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Of course, the U.S. bore significant moral responsibility for the plight of Afghan women, given the central role that the CIA played in sponsoring mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Cold War—before, during, and after the Russian occupation. Leaders trained in these programs would go on to found the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda—groups which were not only responsible for the widespread oppression of the Afghan people, but also for planning and executing the suicide bombings of September 11, 2001.

And so, the moral implications of the war were extraordinary: had Operation Enduring Freedom been successful, it would have not only liberated Afghan women, but avenged 9/11—and in the process, helped to rectify a particularly dark chapter in U.S. foreign policy. And this, it was held, would go a long way towards winning the “hearts and minds” of people around the world.

Unfortunately, the mission was not a success, and most of the promises made at the outset of the conflict, particularly with regards to women’s empowerment, have failed to materialize. In response, insofar as they talk about Afghanistan at all, policymakers have attempted to claim that the primary U.S. interest in the country is, and always has been, about denying a foothold to the Taliban and other extremist groups—although even by this measure, the campaign has been a failure.

Nonetheless, this revisionism cannot be allowed to stand. We must evaluate America’s longest war according to the terms by which the occupation was justified–improving the status of Afghan women. And by this standard, the war must be condemned in the strongest terms: according to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), it is impossible to verify whether any of the U.S. investments in Afghanistan have benefitted women at all.

 

Continue reading “What Was Accomplished in Afghanistan?”

Foreign Policy Fundamentalism

Originally published in The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XXXIX, No. 3 (Summer 2015)

Print version available here.

 

With pomp and polish and platitudes, the 2016 presidential campaign is underway. It began in December, as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced he was “actively exploring” a run for the White House. Bush is more moderate than much of the Republican base on many issues–perhaps too moderate to ultimately win his party’s nomination.[1] On foreign policy issues, however, Bush tows a hawkish line, pushing for a more aggressive U.S. posture against Syria, Russia, Iran, China, and Cuba in order to better promote and defend American ideals and interests throughout the globe.[2]

On the whole, the Republican hopefuls are “racing to the right” on foreign policy, arguing for a more muscular approach to international affairs. A narrative is taking hold that many of the problems facing the world today are the result of the Obama administration’s “failed leadership.” More specifically, they were not brought about by America’s ill-conceived actions, but instead, because of U.S. inaction: a failure to intervene as often or aggressively as “needed” around the world, which (to many conservatives’ minds) projected American weakness and undermined U.S. credibility.[3] The solution? Clear principled American leadership. This line of reasoning permeates the recently-announced campaigns of noted surgeon Ben Carson, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and increasingly reflects the political strategy of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul as well.[4]

The presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is perhaps more aggressive still: unwavering in her advocacy of Israel, comparing Putin to Hitler over Ukraine, pushing for a more confrontational approach to China, championing intervention in Libya and Syria (just as she previously did for Iraq), supporting the troop surge in Afghanistan as well as the likely ill-fated campaign against ISIL, defending the counterproductive drone program, and arguing for increased sanctions and the threat of force against Iran (although she now tentatively supports the nuclear negotiation effort).[5]

During her pre-announcement book tour, Clinton lambasted the Obama administration’s foreign policy, particularly the administration’s aspirational credo:[6] “Don’t do stupid shit.” Her complaint was not that the Obama administration has failed to live up to such an apparently modest goal, but instead, that “don’t do stupid *stuff*” is not an organizing principle, and “Great nations” need doctrines to guide their foreign policy.[7]

On its face, this line of criticism is absurd. Clearly, “avoid doing harm” is, in fact, a maxim designed to guide action (just ask any medical professional).[8] Granted, it’s a principle guiding what not to do, rather than what to do. However, for this very reason, it is more basic (and more important than) any offensive strategy: it constrains what sorts of affirmative policies are desirable or even permissible. But notwithstanding this apparent lack of understanding about what “organizing principle” means,[9] there is a more profound error that Secretary Clinton holds in common with the Republican frontrunners: the assumption that grand strategies are necessary or useful in guiding foreign policy. They aren’t.

 

Continue reading “Foreign Policy Fundamentalism”

Fantasyland Syria and its Horrific Real-World Consequences

In the wake of the Islamic State’s takeover of northern Iraq and Syrian territories, several foreign policy hawks have blamed the Obama administration’s for failing to act in Syria. They claim that had the U.S. provided greater arms to the Syrian rebels or directly intervened on their behalf, Syria’s “moderate” opposition would have long triumphed over both the government and religious extremists.

Since the conflict began in 2011, much has changed in Syria: The rebels’ Supreme Military Council and its political analog have virtually imploded even as transnational extremists increasingly flood the area. At the same time, Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been gaining more ground. Almost as if these developments are irrelevant, the beltway pundits’ policy prescriptions have remained astonishingly the same:  the U.S. should provide better arms for the rebels or directly intervene on their behalf.

Rather than causing the situation to deteriorate further, these critics argue that facing a more capable opposition with more credible foreign backing, the Syrian government will simply capitulate to the demands of Western powers and their regional allies. Meanwhile, better-armed “good” rebels will make inroads against groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State — and the Syrian people will embrace and entrust them to guide the country through a transition.

If this all sounds somewhat fanciful, consider the source: Continue reading “Fantasyland Syria and its Horrific Real-World Consequences”