Hillary Clinton’s Unlearned Lessons

Exclusive: The Democrats sound self-satisfied that there is so little internal opposition to Hillary Clinton for President, but this rush to a coronation is ignoring questions about her judgment as a New York Senator and Secretary of State — and whether she is prone to war, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As President Barack Obama tries to pick his way through a minefield of complex foreign policy issues – from Iran’s nuclear program to the Syrian civil war to Israeli-Palestinian peace to unrest in Ukraine – he is beset by incessant criticism from much of Official Washington which still retains the neocon influences of the last two decades.

Indeed, the failure to impose any meaningful accountability on Republicans, Democrats, senior editors and think-tank analysts who cheered on the Iraq War disaster makes it hard to envision how President Obama can navigate this maze of difficult negotiations and trade-offs needed to resolve conflicts in the world’s hot spots.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Successful negotiations require both an objective assessment of ground truth, i.e. a cold-eyed view of the actual power relationships between the disputing parties, and flexibility, i.e. the readiness to make concessions that accommodate the realistic needs of the two sides.

Yet, Official Washington has become a place of “tough-guy/gal” bluster where the only purpose of negotiations is for the “anti-U.S.” side to come in and surrender. That is why the likes of Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt are always calling for the U.S. to issue military ultimatums to disfavored foreign leaders, giving them the choice of doing what they’re told or facing U.S. attack.

We saw the same attitude before President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003: Bush’s escalating demands that Saddam Hussein surrender his stockpiles of WMD, American outrage when the Iraqi government insisted that the WMD no longer existed, and then the need to respond to Iraq’s arrogance and intransigence by going to war to protect U.S. “credibility.”

The fact that Iraq was telling the truth about its lack of WMD did not lead to mass firings of Official Washington’s opinion leaders, nor serious consequences for politicians who collaborated in this war crime. Bush won reelection; most of the war hawks kept their seats in Congress; and Hiatt and the other neocon media personalities remained employed.

Odds-on Favorite

Perhaps most interestingly, a top Democratic war hawk, Hillary Clinton, is now considered the odds-on favorite to get the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Her defenders even cite bipartisan Republican praise for her foreign policy attitudes from the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney and neocon Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain.

As for buying into Bush’s bogus case for invading Iraq, Clinton’s backers insist that she learned from this “mistake.” But there is new information in Robert Gates’s memoir, Duty, that shows how little Clinton and other Democrats did learn from the Iraq War deception, even when it came to later chapters of the Iraq War.

Sen. Clinton was among the leading Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee who were completely fooled by the significance of Gates’s nomination in November 2006 to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary. They again followed blindly the conventional wisdom, which at the time held that President Bush picked Gates to wind down the war and that he was essentially ceding control of U.S. foreign policy to the wiser national security team of his father’s administration.

There were clear warnings to the contrary, including some published at Consortiumnews.com, that Sen. Clinton and other senators were again getting the narrative wrong, that Gates’s nomination foreshadowed an escalation of the war and that Rumsfeld was getting the boot because he backed the field generals who favored shrinking the U.S. footprint in Iraq.

Writing on the Wall

This reality was even spelled out by right-wing pundit Fred Barnes in the neocon Weekly Standard, writing that Gates “is not the point man for a boarding party of former national security officials from the elder President Bush’s administration taking over defense and foreign policy in his son’s administration.” Barnes wrote that “rarely has the press gotten a story so wrong.”

Barnes reported that the younger George Bush didn’t consult his father and only picked ex-CIA Director Gates after a two-hour face-to-face meeting at which the younger Bush got assurances that Gates was onboard with the neocon notion of “democracy promotion” in the Middle East and shared Bush’s goal of victory in Iraq. [The Weekly Standard, Nov. 27, 2006]

But the mainstream press was enamored with its new storyline. A Newsweek cover pictured a large George H.W. Bush towering over a small George W. Bush. Then, embracing this conventional wisdom, Clinton and other Senate Armed Services Committee members brushed aside the warnings about Gates, both his troubling history at the CIA and his likely support for a war escalation.

Facing no probing questions, Gates offered up some bromides about his “fresh eyes” and his determination not to be “a bump on a log,” while Clinton and other Democratic senators praised his “candor” before joining in a 21-0 vote to endorse his nomination, which went on to a 95-2 confirmation by the full Senate.

However, once installed at the Pentagon, Gates became a central figure in the Iraq War “surge,” which dispatched 30,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq in 2007. The “surge” saw casualty figures spike. Nearly 1,000 additional American died along with an untold number of Iraqis. And – despite another conventional wisdom about the “successful surge” – it failed to achieve its central goal of getting the Iraqis to achieve compromises on their sectarian divisions.

In the end, all the Iraq War “surge” did was buy President Bush and his neocon advisers time to get out of office before the failure of the Iraq War became obvious to the American public. Its other primary consequence was to encourage Defense Secretary Gates, who was kept on by President Obama as a sign of bipartisanship, to conjure up another “surge” for Afghanistan.

Gates’s Recollections

So, it was enlightening to read in Duty, Gates’s recollection of his 2006 nomination and his insights into how completely clueless Official Washington was. Regarding the conventional wisdom about Bush-41 taking the reins from Bush-43, Gates wrote about his recruitment by the younger Bush: “It was clear he had not consulted his father about this possible appointment and that, contrary to later speculation, Bush 41 had no role in it.”

Though Gates doesn’t single out Hillary Clinton for misreading the significance of his nomination, Gates wrote: “The Democrats were even more enthusiastic, believing my appointment would somehow hasten the end of the war. If I had any doubt before the calls [with Democrats] that nearly everyone in Washington believed I would have a one-item agenda as secretary, it was dispelled in those calls. …

“They professed to be enormously pleased with my nomination and offered their support, I think mainly because they thought that I, as a member of the Iraq Study Group [which had called for winding down the war], would embrace their desire to begin withdrawing from Iraq.”

In Duty, Gates also acknowledges that he was always a supporter of the Iraq invasion, writing that in 2003, “I supported Bush 43’s decision to invade and bring Saddam down.” The failure of Clinton and other Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee to fully vet Gates’s attitudes on the Iraq War was a stunning failure of their own duty.

Regarding the mainstream news media’s wrongheaded take on his nomination, Gates wrote: “There was a lot of hilarious commentary about a return to ‘41’s’ team, the president’s father coming to the rescue, former secretary of state Jim Baker pulling all the strings behind the scenes, and how I was going to purge the Pentagon of Rumsfeld’s appointees — ‘clean out the E-Ring’ (the outer corridor of the Pentagon where most senior Defense civilians have their offices). It was all complete nonsense.”

Cheering on the ‘Surge’

Yet, the mainstream press didn’t get any closer to the mark in 2008 when it began cheering the “surge” as a great success, getting spun by the neocons who noted a gradual drop in the casualty levels. The media honchos, many of whom supported the invasion in 2003, ignored that Bush had laid out specific policy goals for the “surge,” none of which were achieved.

In Duty, Gates reminds us of those original targets, writing: “Prior to the deployment, clear benchmarks should be established for the Iraqi government to meet during the time of the augmentation, from national reconciliation to revenue sharing, etc. It should be made quite clear to the Iraqi government that the augmentation period is of specific length and that success in meeting the benchmarks will determine the timetable for withdrawal of the base force subsequent to the temporary augmentation.”

Those benchmarks were set for the Iraqi government to meet, but “national reconciliation to revenue sharing, etc.” were never achieved, either during the “surge” or since then. To this day, Iraq remains a society bitterly divided along sectarian lines with the out-of-power Sunnis again sidling up to al-Qaeda-connected extremists.

Playing Politics

In possibly the most shocking disclosure in Duty, Gates recounts a 2009 White House meeting regarding the Afghan War “surge.” He wrote: “The exchange that followed was remarkable. In strongly supporting the surge in Afghanistan, Hillary told the president that her opposition to the surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary [in 2008]. She went on to say, ‘The Iraq surge worked.’

“The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.” Obama’s aides have since disputed Gates’s suggestion that the President indicated that his opposition to the Iraq “surge” was political, noting that he had always opposed the Iraq War. The Clinton team has not challenged Gates’s account.

Of course, Official Washington’s misreading of Gates’s nomination in 2006 and its mistaken belief in the “successful surge” may pale in comparison to the fundamental crime of invading Iraq under false pretenses in 2003. But this benighted behavior continues to show how the lack of individual accountability for one failure ensures another and another.

It also adds to the complications facing President Obama as he tries to find solutions on Iran, Syria, Israel-Palestine and Ukraine. Though he opposed the Iraq War and has sidestepped demands for U.S. military attacks on Iran and Syria, his maneuvering room is tightly constrained by the many hawks in his own administration and the neocons who still dominate the major U.S. op-ed pages and think tanks.

Beyond the fact that many of these old Iraq War cheerleaders still hold down seats at influential media outlets, inside Congress and even in the Executive Branch, Democratic leaders are moving toward nominating one of the party’s staunchest war supporters to be the next President of the United States.

One has to wonder whether rank-and-file Democrats will insist on grilling Hillary Clinton about what she has and hasn’t learned from the Iraq War disaster and other aggressive use of U.S. military force before she wraps up the party’s nomination. [For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Is Hillary Clinton a Neocon-lite?”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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21 comments on “Hillary Clinton’s Unlearned Lessons

  1. Tony Vanderperk on said:

    Obviously as usual, a great article. The photo of Hillary Clinton is one of the most beautiful and glamorous I have ever seen of her. The photo scared me beyond belief, it is the ultimate of deception.

  2. rosemerry on said:

    What a really depressing but vital post! Gates is so bad, yet remains, like Reagan, someone inexplicably admired. Obama is terrible, but Mme Clnton will be worse! Supported by McCain and Lindsey Graham, Hillary may as well be a neocon herself.
    Considering how many of us ordinary “folks” could see the situation much more clearly than these experts with so much “intelligence” (but not brainpower) available, why do we get saddled with such leaders? Oh, I know, the electoral system and the legal system leave a great deal to be desired.

    • lexy677 on said:

      How do we get saddled with such leaders? Ask AIPAC and Zionist Jews and their supporters. You don’t get ANYWHERE near the American policy making establishment unless you are with them and support their satanic activities around the world.

  3. Joe Tedesky on said:

    Let’s face it there is a plan, and we are going to follow that plan no matter who is in office. Wesley Clark said, the plan was 7 middle east nations in 5 years. Well?

    Hillary is determined to become our first woman president. I would lover to elect a woman president, but not Hillary. Hillary, and people like her love using our military. I mean, us Americans really don’t realize just how big our military is. We are the biggest. Because of that I worry that Hillary and people like her will always resort to using that stick.

    We should expect probably if Hillary runs that she will run against someone much worst. Would you like a President McCain or a President Romney. Really, us Americans never really get a great choice when it comes to these elections. Besides if nothing else we have the Supreme Court!

    • Amanda Matthews on said:

      The reason we’re in this mess is because they know that the prevailing attitude of ‘vote for the least of the two evils’ will prevail.

      So we always get ‘evil’. And they never have to change. Because ‘who else will they vote for’.

      Hillary has been anointed by TPTB anyway. She’s who we’re being given to vote for. And she’s totally in the pockets of the MIC and the 1%.

  4. Hillary Clintons keeps being guilted by association. Just because Hillary Clinton has access to the type of connections that many condemn does not mean she is one of them. If she were one of them, why did George Soros throw her under the bus in 2008 for Barack Obama?

    I believe because Soros knew that Obama would be a wall street and banking lap dog, whereas Hillary Clinton would not.

  5. F. G. Sanford on said:

    We haven’t heard Hillary take positions on the minimum wage, on equal pay, on quantitative easing, on unemployment, on off-shoring jobs, on so-called ‘free trade’, on deregulation of derivatives and investment banking scams, on fracking, on pipelines, on the student loan crisis, on Social Security issues, on energy policies, on union busting, antitrust, internet freedom, 1st and 4th amendment protections, NSA over-reach, global warming, foreclosures, homeless issues, income inequality, nuclear disarmament, or any of the grand and defining issues of our time. We do know that she and her cohorts either supported or did little to resist what became the three major foreign policy debacles of our era: Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Currently, some of her former compatriots in the State Department along with the likes of Lindsey Graham and John McCain have fanned the flames of human tragedy in Ukraine, the prime movers of which have been revealed as ideological descendants of the Galician wing of the Waffen SS. In response to this crisis, “diplomats” with whom she has been formerly acquainted through think tanks and mutual financial interests are proposing sanctions, a move that will hurt not the perpetrators, but those capable of enhancing a stabilizing modicum of legitimate statesmanship. This is consistent with the Neocon strategy of destabilization, privatization, austerity measures and financial looting that is currently being carried out worldwide. It goes without saying that Wall Street has insured that her ‘War Chest” is stuffed with more money than any of her potential rivals.

    So far, Hillary’s supporters have come up with only one good slogan: a bumper sticker that says, “I’m ready for Hillary!” There are rumors that Joe Scarborough has his eye on the Republican nomination, along with Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Eric Cantor and a slew of others. As much as I despise the guy, Scarborough would be the “least worst option” in a race against Hillary. Hillary’s supporters appear to be counting on the only two qualifications nobody has yet questioned: female and Democrat. So far, I’m not sure the record confirms either attribute. Democrats would be wise to start cultivating some alternatives, lest they desire to hand off everything to a propaganda talk-show host…or worse.

    • incontinent reader on said:

      Brilliant list.

    • Frances in California on said:

      You say she hasn’t addressed union-busting; she has, tho’ not overtly. Mark Penn ran her ’08 campaign – that says it all. If the Supes install her as Pres. AMERICA IS TOAST, no matter how egregious her opponent.

  6. elmerfudzie on said:

    Hillary is an appalling creature of today’s politics. Didn’t she give Vince Foster such a dressing down in front of his co-workers that it would cause anyone who wasn’t lobotomized to blush? something to the effect that he, Foster, being a country hick attorney who’d never rise to maintain his WH position? Wasn’t it Hilary who blatantly announced, again in public, her eagerness to follow whatever dictates the Council On Foreign Relations intended for the country? Isn’t it obvious to everyone that she’ll have to “overdo it” to demonstrate a profound hawkishness on military matters solely because a woman must prove to be as war mongering as her male presidential predecessor(s)? Hasn’t Hillary’s public pronouncements proved that perpetual war for perpetual peace is embedded into her philosphy and mirror those ideals held within neo-con circles? Pity us all should she come to occupy the WH. Our first woman president would mimic another real political boondoggle, Obama, and again be symbolic of our citizens straining to prove that the USA is egalitarian enough to elect a black or a woman into the highest office? Didn’t our voter flirtations with attempts to show the world that “we’re all not a bunch of racists” really evolve into endless war and illegal domestic spying? What new horrors will flower from her election? pray tell, God only knows, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to know what He knows, especially on this point! This time, “duck and cover” will be back, and it won’t just be a scare tactic folks!

  7. Shirley Smith on said:

    I am one of the few who does not thin Hillary Clinton would be good candidate, and I expect the GOP to pretend to be afraid of her, but the truth is that a wome will never become president in this patriarcial socity and she will help put a Republican in just by running.

  8. Shirley Smith on said:

    I apologize for my earlier post. I didn’t re-read it. I am on my laptop and not used to typing on it. However, My thought was that a woman will never become president in our patriarchal society. Hillary, in my opinion, would help to put a GOP into office. And, as I pointed out, the GOP will act like they are afraid of her.

  9. stuarte@ix.netcom.com on said:

    Hillary IS listed as a member of the Bush Family drug and financial syndicate as was her husband that is why she is a Republican favorite.
    She was fully aware of McCain activity in Libya and the Benghazi result.

    • Very true; goes all the way back to Bubba Clintons drug smug op when he was Atty Gen in Arkansas. Dirty money dogs all of ‘em …

    • Indeed, she too, is Bush-diving for Poppy; and the JEB Is UP!

  10. Ed Swezey on said:

    This seems to be an article aimed at disgruntled low-info voters, and reading the comments confirms this.

  11. Gregory Kruse on said:

    Hillary has been attached for so long to Bill Clinton that her presidency would be the same as her husband’s would be, could he be re-elected. His presidency would be not unlike that of Barak Obama. Whatever we have been progressing on, and whatever we have been regressing on over the last six years will continue, and whatever has stayed the same will stay the same. It is the world that will change around us in predictably terrifying ways.

  12. As Muammar al-Gaddafi and the Benghazi brotherhood would say if they Were STILL ALIVE; get DFH (Deady For Hillary)!

  13. REDPILLED on said:

    No Democrat, and certainly no Republican, is ever going to challenge the very existence of the murderous U.S. Global Empire, nor state the truth that we must end use of all fossil fuels ASAP if we are to have a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren, and get rid of all nuclear weapons ASAP.

    All other issues, important as they are, pale by comparison.

  14. It’s stupid to commit to a candidate this early, we don’t know anything yet. Last time when Obama and Clinton were competing to get the nomination, we almost ended up with a lot of bad results because people in the corrupt Democrat party were so set on giving it to Clinton that they wouldn’t admit Obama had a better chance, people were too committed so they wouldn’t be objective.

    However, Clinton is not as bad this time around as she would have been in 2008 as the nominee. The same with John Kerry, because 2004 and 2008 were both referendums partly on the stupid and pointless disaster in Iraq. Kerry and Clinton had both like stupid fools chumped themselves out by being corrupt cowards trying to act tough, they both lost, they lost because of their stupid vote in 2002, voting YES on Bushs Authorization for Use of Military Force.

    The stupid corrupt fools John Kerry and Hillary Clinton should have god damn known that their vote for Bush’s war would cost them, instead like stupid entitled spoiled brats they ran for it nomination anyway, knowing they would lose.

    This time at least I think Clintons vote for Bushs war in 2002 is less important, because Americans got to vote against that un-patriotic piece of junk already, in 2009 – but to act like it has to be Clinton no matter what – that’s just stupid – for one thing what if another even more centrist bi-partisan traitor Democrat were to come along who was BETTER than Clinton in the opinion of these scum, then the un-patriotic corrupt stupid centrists of the Democrat party would have cut off their options.

  15. sonface on said:

    Anyone else remember when Rupert Murdoch hosted a fundraiser for Hillary’s 2008 campaign? That alone disqualifies her as a Democrat in my mind, and I will not be voting for her in 2016.