This weekend, Hillary went on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Parry to discuss President Obama’s address—delivered, ironically enough, on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks—laying out his administration’s “strategy” for dealing with the Islamic State. Listening to the speech, we thought it confirmed that political and policy elites have essentially learned nothing from a thirteen-year trajectory of hugely counterproductive foreign policy choices—choices made ostensibly in response to 9/11. In her segments (see videos above or here, here, and here), Hillary sought to explain why this is the case:
“There are two sets of people that the president has around him. One is a set of people who made their way among powerful domestic constituency groups, and [the other are] are people who made their way through the party. This isn’t just a Democratic Party thing; the same thing happens on the Republican side…Then, on the so-called ‘expert’ side, you have people from the CIA and the Pentagon, the Department of Defense. They are not there to provide facts, to provide information. Remember, in 1947 both the Department of Defense and the CIA were created—after World War II—not to provide the president with facts, but to provide the president with a basis for power projection. And this is what both parties fall into, both [post-9/11] presidents across the board fall into.
Remember, President Bush started his presidency with wanting to have a ‘humble’ foreign policy (if we can remember that). What happens is that both of these presidents, President Bush and President Obama, are captured by their parties and a bipartisan commitment to American dominance, to American hegemony, to power projection. Then they are fueled by ‘information’ coming from the CIA and the Pentagon, that are there for that purpose, for power projection, not to give simple facts or to inform.”
These dynamics are an important driver for many of the disastrously self-damaging foreign policy decisions American presidents have made in the post-Cold War period. For, as Hillary explains, once a president is “captured and paralyzed by the bipartisan buy-in for dominance,” he is left “without another option.”
In fact, as Hillary notes, “there is another option, there is a diplomatic way forward, there is conflict resolution. [Obama] could be not just going to Saudi Arabia and having regional governments that are totally dependent on us for their security—he could have Iran at the table, he could have the Syrian government at the table. These things are never said to the American public, but they are essential for conflict resolution. He could go to the United Nations and not just give a speech, but get the Russians to buy in” for a legitimate international effort at conflict resolution.
But that’s not what Obama will do. Instead, he has Secretary of State John Kerry say that having Iran at the table would be “inappropriate” until Tehran accepts the fatally flawed premises of Washington Syria policy and stops supporting the Assad government. Moreover, Obama is asking for—and getting—bipartisan support for more U.S. assistance to so-called “moderate” Syrian oppositionists—who, as Hillary points out, “are the rebels who kidnapped Steve Sotloff and sold him to ISIS to be beheaded. So you have bipartisan buy-in for that.”
Obama’s speech on the Islamic State provides damning testimony as to how little he has done to challenge the foreign policy orthodoxies embodied in the “bipartisan commitment to dominance” described by Hillary. In his initial presidential campaign, Obama seemed, to some extent, to run against those orthodoxies, which have done so much to weaken America’s international position since it came out of the Cold War as the most powerful state in history. Now, the public presentation of his Islamic State “strategy” makes all too clear just how thoroughly Obama has embraced them.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett