Monday, February 15, 2016

What is Missing from the Democratic Debate on Foreign Policy

During the last Democratic debate in Wisconsin, Bernie Sanders brought up an issue he has mentioned before in the context of Hillary Clinton's vote on George Bush's Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq.
Now I think an area in kind of a vague way, or not so vague, where Secretary Clinton and I disagree is the area of regime change. Look, the truth is that a powerful nation like the United States, certainly working with our allies, we can overthrow dictators all over the world.
He went on to talk about the U.S. military intervention in Libya, noting that the overthrow of Gaddafi resulted in chaos in that country. But then he made an interesting historical reference.
But this is nothing new. This has gone on 50 or 60 years where the United States has been involved in overthrowing governments. Mossadegh back in 1953. Nobody knows who Mossadegh was, democratically-elected prime minister of Iran. He was overthrown by British and American interests because he threatened oil interests of the British. And as a result of that, the shah of Iran came in, terrible dictator. The result of that, you had the Iranian Revolution coming in, and that is where we are today. Unintended consequences.
In the context of the Republican Party's commitment to military adventurism in the Middle East, a reference to the disastrous results of our involvement in the 1953 Iranian coup is always welcome. But what I found startling was that Sanders equated the history of our government's involvement in those kinds of interventions and the situations in Libya and Syria. In Iran, as well as all over Central and South America, the United States was a mostly silent partner in propping up or installing dictators whenever the people of a country rose up in support of democracy. That is the exact opposite of what happened in Libya and Syria.

In past debates, Clinton has used the opportunity to clarify that the United States joined NATO in the military intervention in Libya - not necessarily to overthrow Gaddafi - but because he was broadcasting his intention to slaughter the rebels in Benghazi. That is actually the opposite of the kind of regime change in which this country engaged in the past.

It also seems as if Sanders has completely forgotten the role that Clinton played as Secretary of State during the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned on Sunday that removing President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt too hastily could threaten the country’s transition to democracy.

Her remarks were the Obama administration’s most explicit sign yet of its growing emphasis on averting instability in Egypt, even at the expense of the key demand from the Egyptian protest movement: Mr. Mubarak’s immediate removal.
As the saying goes, I'm old enough to remember that most of the progressive community was in an uproar at this move on the part of Clinton and the Obama administration. And yet, there she was doing exactly what Sanders is talking about...avoiding involvement in regime change because it destabilizes the situation and leads to unintended consequences.

I am the first one to applaud the fact that, with the end of the Cold War, this country seems to have finally stopped meddling in the affairs of other countries as a way to thwart the will of the people. But we need to think about what - if anything - our role should be when those people rise up against dictators and are threatened with the genocide of Gaddafi and/or the brutality of Assad's civil war.


  1. I have come to the sad conclusion that there is no genocide the modern Left won't approve of, provided the alternative would be US involvement. That's a harsh way to put it but it's also the only real way to put it.

    Remember the Syrian chemical weapons issue from a few years ago, and how much of the Left thought Obama was the out-of-control warlord while Assad and Putin were the adults in the room? Yeah.

    1. Some on the Left still view Obama as the out-of-control warlord/dictator while looking on with fond eyes at Assad and Putin (see Ray McGovern, Stephen Cohen).

      When Obama was looking into airstrikes against Assad's chemical weapons, I remember Medea Benjamin of Code Pink railing against Obama and declaring that he was going to invade Syria. Trouble is, Benjamin had been quiet as a church mouse when it came to Syria and Assad's slaughtering his own people. It was only when the idea was broached about US intervention that she suddenly cared about what was going on in Syria.

    2. Yep, I heard a lot of the same noise too. It was also Obama's prelude to invading Iran, well he'd better hurry up if he wants to destroy our relations with Iran by the end of his term. (That whole nuclear treaty with Iran is just going to get in the way of Obama's warmongering. Can't he do ANYTHING right?)

      And with Libya, why Qaddafi was a perfect angel who would never launch harsh reprisals on his own people! Never mind his troops shooting protesters to death by the hundreds (protesters, not rebels). Never mind how the Arab League was the first organization to sound the alarm about Libya, or how the UN Security Council voted 10-0 to establish the no-fly zone that Hillary gets so much criticism over. As far as much of the Left is concerned, there was no problem in Libya until the US got involved.

    3. ... forgot to mention, (much of) the Left describes Libya as a "Neocon" effort. Because there's nothing more in keeping with the Neocons than acting at the behest of the United Nations, keeping objectives limited, refusing to put any boots on the ground, and then removing our military forces once the UN-mandated mission is complete.