Hillary ‘the Hawk’ Clinton

As the Democratic Party grimly marches toward Hillary Clinton’s nomination, little thought has been given to her extraordinary record as a war hawk and what that could mean to the world, observes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Mark Landler has an interesting extended article in the New York Times about how Hillary Clinton came to views about the use of military force that have made her, in Landler’s words, “the last true hawk left” in this year’s presidential race.

Landler poses the question of Clinton’s motivations as a traditional dichotomy between “calculated political maneuver” and “deeply felt core principle,” and suggests that in the case of Clinton’s hawkishness it is more the latter than the former. But much of what the article describes is less a matter of principle than of sociology.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. on March 21, 2016. (Photo credit: AIPAC)

Maybe what we are witnessing is to some extent long-term compensation for what otherwise might have been seen as a weak spot for Clinton. Landler relates a story that Clinton herself has told, about being rebuffed when she went to a Marine recruiting office in the mid-1970s and expressed interest in joining the Corps, at least in a reserve capacity, as an attorney.


Reporters have cast doubt on the story, but it would not be surprising for a woman, a Democrat, and the wife of a clever draft-evader to see advantage in establishing a connection with the military and establishing herself as a military wonk.

That much may indeed be a calculated political maneuver, but once the maneuvering began, much of the further development of the fledgling into a full-fledged hawk was through a sort of osmosis from the outlook of some of those around her.

Her experience as First Lady living in the White House, which as Landler notes is “in many ways, like living in a military compound,” deepened her positive feelings toward the military. Then when she really began schmoozing with generals, it was as one of the boys.

The former commander of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York relates how when then-Senator Clinton first visited the post, “She sat down, took her shoes off, put her feet up on the coffee table and said, ‘General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here?’?”

She later developed a close relationship with retired Army general and resident Fox News hawk Jack Keane, to whom Clinton quickly took a liking because, according to one former associate, “She loves that Irish gruff thing.”

By contrast, she had chilly relationships, and differences over Afghanistan, with some cerebral officers who had risen high in the Army: Karl Eikenberry, the former U.S. military commander and then ambassador there, and Douglas Lute, a White House coordinator on Afghanistan. One of her former aides explained, “She likes the nail-eaters”—people like Keane, Stanley McChrystal, and David Petraeus—“Real military guys, not these retired three-stars who go into civilian jobs.”

The relationship with Keane was an entree into relationships with other active and retired senior officers such as Petraeus, and the advantages accrued to both sides of the relationship.

David Petraeus, a two-star general during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.

David Petraeus, a two-star general during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace.

“It worked to their mutual benefit,” Landler writes. “Petraeus was building ties to a prominent Democratic voice in the Senate; Clinton was burnishing her image as a friend of the troops.”

There was more mutual benefit in the debates within the Obama administration over policy on Afghanistan. Tom Nides, a former senior official in Clinton’s State Department, says that Pentagon leaders looking for a bigger surge of troops in Afghanistan “knew that if they walked into the Situation Room and they had her, it made a huge difference in the dynamics.”

In the course of providing that sort of political cover and playing the role of uber-hawk on Afghanistan, Clinton — as later observed by Afghanistan hand Sarah Chayes — “contributed to the overmilitarizing of the analysis of the problem” while never following through on a talked-about civilian surge.

What is disturbing about this whole portrait is how much positions apparently are being determined, if not by narrow political calculations, by dynamics and relationships that really are more the province of sociology than of national security policy analysis. It is disturbing not just as a statement about Hillary Clinton — who, like Barack Obama, is smart enough to be able to do careful policy analysis on national security matters — but as a broader statement of how much of that manner of arriving at positions on the use of military force infuses overall debate on foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton is a mainstream candidate who mostly plays according to what Mr. Obama would call the Washington “playbook.” A pattern such as overmilitarization of analysis of a subject such as Afghanistan is a recurrent problem and not unique to any one figure such as Clinton.

If Hillary Clinton is elected president — a probable outcome — an important question is whether once in office, given the changes in relationships and thus in the sociology, not to mention her sitting at the desk where the buck stops, her postures on use of military force also will change.

Will those postures be an output of feet-on-the-coffee-table affinity with favored military officers, or more the product of detached and careful analysis as exhibited by her predecessor?

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon.”]

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

21 comments for “Hillary ‘the Hawk’ Clinton

  1. John XYZ
    April 24, 2016 at 09:13

    In 2008, I went with the assumption whoever the major parties put forward as a candidate would be reasonably competent, and that anyone who was exceptionally good wouldn’t be likely to show up amidst the torrent of corruption and abuse that had been stirred up during the prior administration(s). Either one you chose would be limited by the burden of working against corruption, so you couldn’t have gone in with huge expectations, and likewise you couldn’t really go wrong either way. McCain might have been a hawk, but at that particular moment, weighed down by the responsibility of not allowing the country to accelerate towards self-destruction, I don’t thing he would have been an irresponsible choice. With the choice framed thusly, I figured that even if they were capable, the Republicans didn’t deserve to win right after Bush, and I really had zero problem with finally giving an African-American a chance. I didn’t have any illusions that selecting Obama would mean the end of civil rights struggles, but I didn’t have any reservations about the pick.

    After an abuse-laden administration (like W. Bush), it isn’t easy to steer things in the right direction, because there is still a lot of momentum in unhealthy directions. Someone who wanted to do the right thing might not even be able to, at least not without creating personal danger. Obama’s Presidency was far from perfect, it saw the creation of more unnecessary wars, and the expansion of assassination policies, among other things. It was possible that the best we could hope for in the immediate future was to bring some of the abuses to light (thank you Manning, Snowden, Kiriakou, etc), and to allow ourselves to realize that certain sensible approaches (for example, diplomacy) were preferable to stupid, overused ones. There are certain ways that I look at the situation critically but I’m still satisfied with Obama.

    Clinton vs Trump, however, would be a non-choice. Neither should come anywhere near the Presidency, based on their records and to the behaviors they’re willing to tolerate. Their success in the votes owes, if not directly to election corruption and media control, then to the fact that people are often programmed to support celebrity. You can see the ugly side of either party when you run into circumstances where nobody succeeds. The Republicans will tell you how great they did, all they need to do is neutralize the critics. And the Democrats will tell you that the only ones who’ve failed were the Republicans. Clinton and Trump are the embodiment of these sorts of antics.

    • Stephen Berk
      April 28, 2016 at 13:00

      Much as I do not like Trump or the Republicans in general (though they are trying as hard as they can to reject him for a much more hard line Cruz), he has said he would get along with Putin and Russia. He has also said he would lay primary emphasis on getting trade deals more favorable to the American people and bringing jobs back here. These are economic foci, not militaristic. Clinton is obsessed with war and militarism. Trump freely states that our policies have reduced the Middle East to a shambles. He states he would not continue them. That is why the neocons, who control the Washington Post and are very influential in the New York Times, hate Trump, not for his political incorrectness. Trump would indeed be far less dangerous in office than Clinton. Indeed, Hillary Clinton is the most dangerous likely occupant of the White House I have seen in my 72 years of life, and fifty as professor of US History. That includes Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, neither of which were trying to do “regime change” in Russia. Military confrontation with Russia, which a Clinton presidency would like bring, could easily go nuclear, and that would spell the end.

  2. RHarwell
    April 24, 2016 at 03:47

    How Hillary became a Hawk (NYT) is a great article and gives a frightening insight into this sociopath. Her history speaks for itself and once she is in office (I still hope that is not the case), Syria will be next immediately and all her focus will be on Iran thanks to her kneeling at the feet of the Terror Jews. There will be more conflicts, more wars, more destruction, more deaths (ours and theirs) since she seems incapable of learning from her mistakes. This refugee crisis the US/West has created doesn’t seem to have affected her rethinking process or the desire to step-up for any of these people. She loves the military so, well, hell, let’s put her in her own custom-made uniform (compliments of Bush 2 and Obama) and put her on the front line. Let’s give her a real sniper story. A real IED explosion tale. Let’s give her artificial limbs to brag about as she promotes her bravery under fire. You go girl!

  3. Wm. Boyce
    April 24, 2016 at 00:52

    So, you’re going to vote for Ted Cruz? Or the Donald? You’ve got to be kidding. I hope you’re sober.

    • Monte George Jr
      April 24, 2016 at 03:20

      Ok then, let’s get sober for a moment. Sanders and Trump are the only two candidates who show any reluctance to start trouble with any & all states who are not submissive to Washington. Hillary is a psychotic, neoconservative full-spectrum-dominatrix who will bully her way into war with Russia (and China), and Ted probably would also. Russia does not bluff and will not back down. They will fight. They have the will and the capacity to destroy this country ( and our allies) in the space of a single hour. The prospect of mutual destruction will not deter them; they will choose to die on their feet rather than live on their knees. Are we sober yet?

      Hopefully, I will vote for Bernie in November, but if Hillary is the Dem candidate, then Trump will get my vote. It’s a matter of survival.

      • Stephen Berk
        April 28, 2016 at 12:51

        You have a good point. I may well go the same way, much as Trump is far from my ideal, and I can’t stand the Republicans in general.

  4. April 23, 2016 at 15:53

    Hillary’s actions make me think she is actually a warmongering neocon. The neocons are based on the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (http://deism.com/neoconsbible.htm) and Hillary just this week sent an essay out to Jewish voters in the New York primary which tied here policies to Passover (http://www.veteranstoday.com/2016/04/21/hillary-clintons-policies-tied-to-passover/).

    Progress! Bob Johnson

    • Stephen Berk
      April 28, 2016 at 12:49

      See Robert Parry’s excellent piece on this site, “Yes, Hillary Clinton is a Neocon.”

  5. Truth
    April 23, 2016 at 07:44

    Who are we kidding, they are ALL hawk puppets playing a huge game of make believe fooling everyone who wastes their time voting. The 50% who do not vote are not under any illusion that the US is a “democracy”, it is the 50% who DO vote that are under the illusion, living a fantasy.

    Maybe if they stopped and took a second to ask themselves the following questions, they might find their answers:
    Is it possible to vote a corrupt government out of power, especially one operating under no laws?
    Why do we have only one day to vote, a workday at that? Why isn’t it a holiday?
    Why can’t we vote over a period of weeks or on a weekend or over the course of a year?
    Why are votes not counted in public? Have trillions to spend on wars, but no money to count votes?
    Can’t you program voting machines to output the results you want? Why can’t people be employed to count?
    If I vote for the lesser of two evil, aren’t I ultimately voting for evil, an evil that is growing greater over time?
    The candidate I voted for broke their promise and did the exact opposite of what they campaigned on. Who’s going to hold them responsible?
    We’ve been voting for x years yet government policy contradicts the wants of the voters. What gives?
    Why do I still trust the media? They continue to lie about “evil states” and even got us to go to war based on those lies. At what point does the media lose credibility? What about the candidates it parades as the solutions before the public?
    Can change for good be made simply by ticking a box every few years?

  6. Joe Tedesky
    April 23, 2016 at 00:33

    You want to knock the gung-ho out of Hillary? Then suit her up, and send her off into the next fire fight that comes along, and then let’s see how gung-ho she still is. Armchair generals always come up with the best made plans, because they won’t end up onto the list of the fallen once implemented. This military fetish of Hillary’s sounds like a dangerous thing, and we should all be aware of that for our own good. I mean someone could get hurt, with her around. The world right now needs more Ghandi, and less Churchill, that’s for sure. Please, somebody give Hillary some MLK speeches to read, before she blows us all up. What makes her most scary is how badly she seems to want this damn presidency. It’s one thing to be driven, it’s another to be obsessed. At least, that is my take on her. What’s yours?

    • Realist
      April 23, 2016 at 02:48

      Did you forget? She proved her combat skills by artfully dodging sniper fire whilst deplaning in Bosnia. ROTFLMAO still to this day over that comment.

      • Joe Tedesky
        April 23, 2016 at 11:43

        You are so right. I hope Hillary Rambo’s heroism is properly portrayed in the movie, when it is released. Thanks, for the reminder.

    • Bob Van Noy
      April 23, 2016 at 11:13

      Exactly, Joe. It takes someone with “boots on the ground” experience, or, at least, real empathy, to resist constant war. And, that is the missing element in the neocon empire so embraced by Hillary. I do think although, that our military personnel are “used up” and that is where Pax Americana ends…

      • Joe Tedesky
        April 23, 2016 at 11:50

        What these Neocon’s are doing to our people in uniform, is nothing short of abuse. We should not only thank these fine Americans for their service, we should tell each and everyone of them, ‘you have my deepest sympathy’. So much death, and yet so little good to show for it.

        • dahoit
          April 23, 2016 at 12:32

          I would say yes,to the enlisted men,but the officer class is raised to do this exact stuff,make war,and most are probably gung ho,as then they win prizes,and higher retirement pay.

          • Joe Tedesky
            April 23, 2016 at 23:23

            dahoit you are a bugger. Once a long time ago I served as an enlisted man, and I can dig what your saying, but having made some officer friends along the way I seriously can’t throw down on all of them….but yes many of the gentleman class are truly creepy, and deserve nothing for what their troops have died for.

            Once in Spain I shared a cab back to our ship with three officers. When it came time to pay the cabby these fine officer class dudes took off. Yeah, they left leaving me (the 40 dollar a month Seaman) the one to do the right thing, and pay the poor overworked cab driver…who thanked me with his sympathic eyes. I can still see that cab driver, as I can still hear those low life Ensigns asking me why didn’t I run away with them….nice guys, ah.

            In time, and as I look back, I met more good officers than bad. Still dahoit I get what your saying, and I always enjoy reading your comments…take it easy.

        • nexusxyz
          April 24, 2016 at 05:32

          To an external observer the US military is no more than an offensive mercenary army of the bankers and 1%. Valiant defense of the homeland is a long and lost principle. Major General Smedley Butler commented…..

          1. War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

          2. War is just a racket… I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else.

          • Mort Walco
            May 2, 2016 at 13:28

            Right on, nexusxyz. I’m a Vet of the Korean conflict and had my share of fine officers, but one A-Hole gung-ho major made our lives miserable because he was a CO of our Squadron with no combat experience who treated those of us in his command as cattle and abused us constantly because he could.

            On the other hand, I had other officers under whom I served whStrykero were great guys and gentlemen in every sense of the word. I would have gone to hell and back for Lt. Brown and Lt. Stryker. They treated their troops with care and thoughtfulness. They motivated their troops; not abused them in any way.

    • April 23, 2016 at 15:50

      Great and profound honest and accurate observation – thanks! If they changed the rules to require all politicians who vote for a war to be the first to actually fight in it, we would have world peace.

      Progress! Bob Johnson

    • filosofoeduardo
      April 24, 2016 at 03:55

      Couldn’t be more true. Isn’t it all made so evident by her choice of word alone: “We came, we saw, he died!”. “We”?

      So much can be analysed and extracted from this one short sentence, none of it bringing forward even a fragment of anything positive or good – it’s all frightening. So frightening that probably all the Republican candidates have a less desperate compensatory urge to show that there really is a penis within that pair of trousers.

    • Stephen Berk
      April 28, 2016 at 12:47

      I completely agree with you. She is a neocon, with their Israel First, narrow and militaristic, black and white view of the world. She thinks there is a military solution to every problem, and she believes wholeheartedly in the neocon policy of regime change, including in Russia. This could very well lead to a third world war, which, as Paul Craig Roberts, former Reagan Treasury undersecretary believes, would likely go nuclear. She is indeed a military extremist, and with the possible exception of Cruz, the most dangerous candidate out there. She is more dangerous than Cruz, in my opinion, because she is more likely to win.

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