The first Presidential debate revealed a Democratic candidate who believes she has all the answers even though her failed performance as Secretary of State led directly to the formation of the Islamic State (ISIS), aided the rise of Iran, and furthered much of the chaos in the Middle East. She cannot learn anything while she believes she already knows everything. Electing her promises more of the same, and ‘the same’ has been a disaster.
The Republican challenger, meanwhile, has much still to learn about the security structure he would command as President. Clinton’s strongest moment against him on foreign policy came as she chided him for appearing to suggest that America would not honor its mutual defense treaties with Japan or South Korea. Nothing is more important to the world than the reliability of America’s word. Clinton should know that: it was her former boss, President Obama, who personally kicked off the refugee crisis bedeviling Europe by failing to enforce his red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people. His failure to keep his word on a security agreement gave the Syrian regime free rein to wage war on its own population, putting millions on the road to Europe.
Trump’s strongest moment against Clinton came when he accused her of bad judgment in the formation of ISIS. She attempted to respond by saying that George W. Bush had negotiated the withdrawal from Iraq, and that “the only way that American troops could have stayed in Iraq is to get an agreement from the then-Iraqi government that would have protected our troops, and the Iraqi government would not give that.”
That’s all true, but whose job was it to obtain such an agreement? That was her job. She was the one who was supposed to obtain that agreement, and she failed utterly. As our earlier coverage states:
It was her job to negotiate an arrangement with the Iraqi government that would do two things: allow a stabilizing US military presence to remain in Iraq, and allow the US Department of State the freedom of movement it would need to step up as guarantors of the peace. The peace, you see, had been purchased not only by the US military’s victory on the battlefields, but also by its patient negotiation with militants formerly aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq. These tribes, mostly but not exclusively Sunni, had rejected the terrorism of al Qaeda in Iraq in return for promises of fair treatment from the Iraqi central government. This included jobs, assistance for communities recovering from the war, and many other things that the government promised to provide in return for the support of these former enemies. The United States helped to negotiate all these agreements, and promised to see that they would be kept faithfully.
Instead, the Secretary of State failed to produce either a new Status of Forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq, or an agreement that would allow State Department personnel to move about the country safely to observe whether agreements were being kept. In the wake of the precipitous withdrawal of US forces, Prime Minister Maliki moved to arrest Sunni leaders in government, and broke all his promises to the tribes.
The result was that the western part of Iraq once again became fertile ground for an Islamist insurgency.
Clinton was similarly unreflective when she argued that Trump had supported “the actions we took in Libya,” without pausing for a moment to acknowledge what a destabilizing mistake it was. Effecting regime change with no capacity to control the outcome is what allowed radical groups, including ISIS, to expand into the vacuum. That one is also her fault personally, as she pushed President Obama to take this action. Her own President says that he considers ataking her advice on Libya to be his “worst mistake.” Yet again, she has learned nothing, and does not seem to be aware that there is even anything to learn.
A similar failure to understand the lessons of the recent past occurred in their exchange on NATO. Trump is right to be critical of the institution’s continuing relevance, but he is criticizing it on the wrong grounds. That the other nations do not pay their way is true, but it is not the problem with NATO. That it does not focus on terrorism is partly true, but it does not render the organization obsolete because a resurgent Russia remains a security challenge for western Europe.
Nevertheless, Clinton’s smug response is un-reflective and wrong.
You know, NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5, and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side.
What Clinton fails to mention here is that, like all of NATO’s decisions, invoking Article 5 must be done unanimously. The reason to question NATO’s continued relevance is that the Turkish drift into Islamist politics makes it unlikely that a unanimous vote could still be reached. Turkey has also shown signs recently of falling into Russia’s orbit. If Turkey becomes a Russian ally in the way that China is, NATO may be rendered obsolete simply because it can never take a decision. If Turkey becomes a Russian satellite, NATO will indeed have been rendered obsolete. In either case, NATO’s continued relevance turns on figuring out how to swing Turkey away from Islamist thought and Russian influence, eliminating the unanimity requirement on NATO actions, or else developing a mechanism to expel the Turks from the alliance. None of that exists, and since Turkey would have to agree to any of those changes, none of it is likely to come to exist.
Finally, on Iran, Clinton is wedded to a policy that Trump rightly describes as a disaster.
You look at the Middle East, it’s a total mess. Under your direction, to a large extent.
But you look at the Middle East, you started the Iran deal, that’s another beauty where you have a country that was ready to fall, I mean, they were doing so badly. They were choking on the sanctions. And now they’re going to be actually probably a major power at some point pretty soon, the way they’re going.
The horror show in Syria is linked to the Iran deal, as Obama decided to let Syria fester in order to pursue Iran’s approval of his deal. Clinton’s role in this deal is something she herself has celebrated, so she cannot walk away from it. Since then, Iran has developed new ballistic missiles that make sense only as a delivery mechanism for nuclear payloads. It has bought advanced anti-aircraft missiles, and installed them around one of the nuclear sites allegedly to be made harmless by this wonderful “deal.” Why is it hardening this site against air strikes if it intends to live by the deal? Why develop a delivery mechanism for weapons you don’t intend to build?
Clinton cannot even ask these questions, because she is wedded to her failures.