How can war-weary Americans possibly vote for Hillary Clinton?
To vote or not to vote? That will be the question.
It's a question that I'll face almost exactly a year from now, when in all likelihood, Hillary Clinton will face off against a Republican nominee I could never support. (Sorry, Bernie Sanders Dreamers — it's not happening.) My choice will be pulling the lever for Clinton, or sitting out the election. (And before you suggest it: I won't be wasting my vote on a third-party candidate, which would probably just help the GOP anyway.)
So why am I tempted to withhold my vote from Clinton?
It's certainly not because, like some Holier Than Thou leftists, I think she's an "enemy of the poor" and a "garbage rich person." (But then, I favored welfare reform, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996, so I obviously hate poor people, too.) It isn't that, like Pig-Pen trailed by a cloud of filth, Hillary Clinton and her husband go through life enveloped by a rank-smelling fog of scandal, though that is and will remain a concern. And it certainly isn't that she's a woman: My daughter and I are eager for a female president. All things being equal, Clinton's gender would strongly incline me to cast a ballot in her favor.
But all things aren't equal. (Are they ever?)
What just might keep me from voting for Clinton is this: Her most recent and most prominent public position was secretary of state. And her biggest accomplishment in that office was helping to persuade President Obama to intervene militarily in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi.
It was easily the dumbest foreign policy decision of Obama's presidency, plunging yet another Middle Eastern nation into anarchy, with the country eventually divided among an array of armed groups, including militias loyal to al Qaeda and bands of ISIS fighters. As one would expect, life in Libya today is markedly worse than it was under Gadhafi's tyranny: Food and electricity are scarce, the economy is at a standstill, crime and violence are rampant, and the nation has become a major migration route for refugees from North Africa to Europe.
It would be one thing if Clinton acknowledged her error in encouraging the president to intervene militarily in Libya and pledged that she'd learned valuable lessons from the mistake. That would be more than a little galling, since those lessons — like that if you topple a dictatorship without making provisions for securing order, chaos is likely to arise in the resulting power vacuum — could easily have been learned from the precisely parallel failure of the Iraq invasion, which she also supported. But at least it would be a sign that the foreign policy of a new Clinton administration just might be made with slightly greater wisdom.
But Clinton has done no such thing. On the contrary, in the first Democratic debate, she stood by the decision to intervene and pronounced it a splendid use American military force that amounted to "smart power at its best."
One might expect the country's other major political party to call out the Democratic frontrunner for the glaring gap between her assessment of the Libyan intervention and the reality on the ground. But alas, the Republicans would rather focus obsessively on "Benghazi" — because, apparently, it's worse to oversee a tragic but relatively minor mishap in the wake of a disastrous policy decision than it is to make the disastrous policy decision in the first place.
Of course, the real reason the Republican candidates don't broaden their criticism of Clinton's decision-making on Libya is that they know that doing so would raise questions about the foolishness of their party's own military misadventure (Iraq) and its endlessly messy aftermath — and because they (like Clinton) continue to affirm the assumptions that inspired both invasions.
Those assumptions can be boiled down to two. First, when bad things happen in the world, the U.S. needs to "do something" about it. Second, when we "do something," the result will always be a net plus for everyone involved because the American military invariably makes things better. This second assumption holds even when things very obviously don't get better, since the presumption then becomes that events surely would have gone even worse had we not intervened.
Heads we win, but tails we also win — that's the delusional thinking that has prevailed among leading members of both political parties since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Which is why instead of tough questions about Hillary Clinton's strategic judgment on foreign policy, we get cartoon indignation about Benghazi trivialities.
Over the past seven years, the Obama administration has made very tentative and halting steps in the direction of reconciling the United States to the recalcitrance of reality — to the limits of American power to shape the course of events in war-torn regions of the world and to produce outcomes that further our interests and the well-being of those swept up in convulsions of violence.
The Libyan fiasco was the administration's single greatest step backwards in this regard — the moment at which the president allowed European allies and his secretary of state to convince him that the U.S. just had to do something about Libyan unrest between anti-government protesters and forces loyal to Gadhafi.
Everything we know about Hillary Clinton up to, including, and beyond Libya indicates that she would abandon Barack Obama's partial and selective embrace of military restraint in favor of a more consistently hawkish foreign policy.
This means that America is almost certainly going to get more military interventionism beginning in January 2017, no matter which party wins the White House. But that doesn't mean I'm willing to give my (almost entirely symbolic) endorsement of such foolishness by voting for it.
If the contrast on domestic policy between the two general election candidates proves to be sufficiently stark — I'm looking at you, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — I may yet be persuaded to cast a vote for Hillary Clinton next November.
But it will almost certainly be a vote against Clinton's opponents, not one in favor of the candidate herself.