American Prospect editor-at-large Michael Tomasky has written a brave critique on The Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” Blog of Hillary Clinton’s reasons for not saying “sorry” after her supportive votes of President Bush’s Middle East military adventure.
One aspect of this debate about Hillary and acknowledging past errors I had not read or considered before was the role of the “Foreign Policy Establishment” in Washington — and how this establishment has been cutting increasingly towards the right.
I slightly disagree with Tomasky on this point as I think “Right” and “Left” don’t get us very far in understanding the civil wars regarding foreign policy going on inside both parties. I think that the foreign policy establishment has been cutting increasingly towards a values-driven messianism that is dramatically at odds with traditional realism and with liberal internationalism.
Nonetheless, my difference is nuanced, and I like what he has written, including about the New America Foundation:
So why can’t Clinton just say it [sorry]? Two explanations are generally proffered. The first is that she wants to play to centrist voters, who care far less about any sort of apology and who will be important not in the primaries but in the general election.
The second is that if she does offer a mea culpa, she opens herself to the charge of being a flip-flopper, a particularly resonant fear among Democrats after the workout the phrase got from the Republican National Committee to describe John Kerry in 2004.
Both of these are true enough. But I’d like to posit a much less-discussed third reason, and it’s the most important one, because it tells us far more about how she might actually conduct foreign-policy as president. It has to do with what we know in Washington as the “Foreign-Policy Establishment”.
The FPE consists of intellectuals, analysts, and scholars, many of them former government officials, collected at the various think-tanks in Washington DC (and to some extent New York, home base of the Council on Foreign Relations). If you lived here and worked in politics, you would note quickly their ubiquity and influence. They’re forever holding panels and issuing papers, and the resident fellows and scholars advise many a candidate on both sides.
And the FPE, you see, is fairly conservative. There’s one house, the New America Foundation, that has admirably made itself the center of the foreign-policy opposition in Washington. But outside of New America, the FPE is dominated by conservatives, neo and otherwise in redoubts like the American Enterprise Institute, and centrist Democrats. This last category is typified by Kenneth Pollack, of the nominally liberal Brookings Institution, whose 2002 book, The Threatening Storm, made a case for the Iraq war which many liberals endorsed. In fact, it’s fair to say that most of the FPE was pro-war, and even today, many of its prominent members will admit only to botched execution on the administration’s part, not to any broader problems with the whole idea from the start.
This is a bunch whose views are well to the right of the Democratic primary electorate. And it is a bunch in whose good graces Hillary Clinton, a cautious and establishment politician at her core, is fervent to stay. And as was once said of love in the movies, so it must be said today that staying in the FPE’s good graces means never having to say you’re sorry.
And this is where a potential Clinton presidency becomes a concern. If she is elected, she will likely draw most of her foreign-policy brain trust from this world — not from the neoconservative wing, but from the pro-war neoliberal wing; in other words, from a group of people who got Iraq completely wrong.
Her secretary of state, for example, might be Richard Holbrooke, who was belligerently pro-war in the beginning. All this points in a certain direction, as to how she’d handle the Middle East, particularly (doubted by Jewish Israel hawks back in 2000, she has taken pains to become one of their darlings), but also for just about every major question the next president will face, including how she’d clean up the Iraq mess.
— Steve Clemons
P.S. — At the request of some of my readers, I have moved this picture below to the bottom of the post as they were able to find a good picture that expressed what I was trying to. Nonetheless, the picture of Hillary with Sharon also appealed to some who emailed me — and this pic actually came from Senator Clinton’s own website.
— Steve Clemons