Exclusive: The U.K.’s “Brexit” vote underscores the power of this year’s anti-establishment politics, a warning to Democrats as they nominate status-quo candidate Hillary Clinton, a “safe” choice who may prove very risky, says Daniel Lazare.
By Daniel Lazare
With Hillary Clinton the all-but-official Democratic nominee, growing numbers of liberals are trying to talk themselves into backing someone they dislike (Hillary Clinton) versus someone they downright loathe (Donald Trump).
Noam Chomsky paved the way last January by announcing that he would “absolutely” vote for Clinton if he lived in Ohio or some other swing state instead of Massachusetts, where he teaches at MIT.
More recently, Nation columnist Gary Younge advocated voting for Clinton regardless of which state you live in because while she’s “merely bad,” Trump “represent[s] an existential threat to basic democratic rights.”
Frances Fox Piven said roughly the same thing at last weekend’s “People’s Summit” in Chicago: “I’m going to vote for Hillary, but I’m not going to work for her. … Lesser-evilism may be a curse word, but I think it’s reasonable. Another four years of a deceptive neo-liberal government, I’m going to swallow it.”
All of which begs not just one question but two. The first, obviously, is whether Clinton really is the lesser evil. The answer: domestically, there’s no argument. Say what you will about Clinton, at least she’s not a raging bigot the way Trump is.
But things are not so clear once you leave the U.S. and venture out into the great wide world beyond. Trump’s foreign-policy ideas are all over the map. He has vowed to tear up the nuclear accord with Iran and blasted Obama for “abandon[ing] our missile defense plans with Poland and the Czech Republic.” In practically the same breath, he then calls for better relations with Russia even though Russia sees any such forward-based anti-missile system as a direct threat.
Trump wants closer relations with Israel if such a thing is possible given Washington’s long record of obsequiousness to Tel Aviv, and he wants to expand the military. But he’s also an opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even if it took him until 2004 to wake up to what was going on, and says that U.S. “actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have helped unleash ISIS,” which is of course correct. Last but not least, he opposes military action aimed at ousting Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Weighing Foreign Policy
So Trump’s foreign-policy stances are contradictory and ill thought out, yet at times almost reasonable and sane, especially by Washington standards. This is not the case with Clinton. To the contrary, she is a hawk through and through. Her rhetoric was every bit as ferocious as George W. Bush’s in the days after 9/11, if not more so.
She voted for the Authorization to Use Military Force, which gave the go-ahead for the invasion of Afghanistan, and also for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. She persuaded President Obama to pursue “regime change” in Libya and spent much of March 2011 recruiting ultra-rich Qatar to join in the effort. But she said nothing when Qatar then poured $400 million into the hands of Islamist rebels who proceeded to spread chaos throughout the country. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Entangled’ Foreign Policy.”]
Clinton has been no less reckless with regard to Syria. She beat Obama to the punch in calling for Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow, she’s consistently pushed for stepped-up support for the rebels, and, as recently as April, she reiterated her call for a “no-fly zone” even though it would require massive military intervention and would almost certainly mean a confrontation with Russia.
So if Clinton is ahead on domestic policy, Trump is better abroad. It’s a choice between racism and war, which itself is an indictment of America’s increasingly rightwing political system. But since U.S. foreign policy directly affects 20 times more people than domestic – i.e. seven billion versus 322 million – then there’s no doubt as to whom the “lesser-evilism” award goes to. It goes to Trump.
But the other question that the pro-Clinton argument begs is one of political viability. People such as Chomsky, Younge, and Piven wouldn’t urge a vote for Clinton if they didn’t think she could win. Instead, they’d vote Green, Socialist Equality, or for some other leftist party. So they argue in favor of pulling the lever with one hand and holding one’s nose with the other because they think she can pull it off.
But can she really? Again, the picture is less clear than is generally assumed. To be sure, Trump is currently going through a rough patch. He’s having trouble transitioning from the primaries to the general election, and his campaign is such a shambles that The New Republic recently predicted that he’ll lose as big in November as Barry Goldwater did in 1964.
But forecasts like this are not terribly meaningful this early in the game, especially in an election year as topsy-turvy as this one. Rather than polls, what matters at this point are politics, i.e. a sense of the candidates’ relative ideological strengths and weaknesses. And it’s in this regard that Clinton is more vulnerable than her backers apparently realize.
Her speech in Cleveland following the June 12 Orlando massacre is a good example why. She began – inappropriately in view of the tragic circumstances – with the usual glib shout-outs to local pols:
“I want to thank your extraordinary senator, Sherrod Brown, for his leadership. … I want to thank your congresswoman, Marcia Fudge, who is both indomitable and indefatigable…. I want to acknowledge the mayor, Mayor Jackson, who was here, County Executive Budish….”
It’s the kind of thing that Clinton can do in her sleep, and it sounds like it too, i.e. robotic and impersonal. When she got to the serious stuff, the clichés only multiplied:
“This is a moment when all Americans need to stand together … we must attack it [i.e. terrorism] with clear eyes, steady hands, unwavering determination, and pride in our country and our values … the barbarity that we face from radical jihadists is profound…”
Once again, the effect was thoughtless and frozen. But then came something truly bizarre:
“Now, the third area that demands attention is preventing radicalization and countering efforts by ISIS and other international terrorist networks to recruit in the United States and Europe. For starters, it is long past time for the Saudis, the Qataris and the Kuwaitis and others to stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations. And they should stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.”
Why bizarre? Simply because Clinton has been a national figure for two decades as First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State, yet this was a rare recognition that there was something wrong with the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Otherwise, there has been almost nothing but praise. When the State Department negotiated a record $60-billion arms deal with Riyadh in 2010, for instance, her officials stated (somewhat redundantly) that the sale would benefit the Middle East “by deepening our security relationship with a key partner with whom we’ve enjoyed a solid security relationship for nearly seventy years.”
How do you have a solid security relationship with a country that funds extremist mosques that function as a terrorist breeding ground?
When King Abdullah died in January 2015, she and her husband put out a statement praising the Saudi monarch “for his support of efforts for peace in the Middle East” and “the kingdom’s humanitarian efforts around the world.” Since when do you advance the cause of peace by funding Al Qaeda?
To be fair, Clinton was surprisingly frank – once. In December 2009, she wrote in a State Department memo:
“While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority. Due in part to intense focus by the USG over the last several years, Saudi Arabia has begun to make important progress on this front and has responded to terrorist financing concerns raised by the United States through proactively investigating and detaining financial facilitators of concern. Still, donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
Double-Talk about Saudis
The language was tough and unsparing. But the memo is the exception that proves the rule since it was a secret in-house communication that only saw the light of day when Wikileaks put it on the Internet – a disclosure, by the way, that Clinton assailed as “an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.” (Full quote here starting at 1:34.)
If it’s long past time now for the Saudis to cease funding extremist organizations, why wasn’t it long past time then? Why has Clinton repeatedly assured the American people that everything is fine when, as she now concedes, America’s “friends” are funding extremist forces that are trying to kill Americans in the streets?
Trump can be counted on to hammer at such themes, and the more he does, the more voters will want to know. Indeed, Trump followed up her remarks in Cleveland by posting a few hours later on Facebook: “Crooked Hillary says we must call on Saudi Arabia and other countries to stop funding hate. I am calling on her to immediately return the $25 million plus she got from them for the Clinton Foundation!”
Actually, the problem is worse since, if one includes other Gulf states such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as high-ranking businessmen, the amount of Persian Gulf money flowing to the Clinton family foundation is not $25 million, but anywhere from $51 million to $75 million. That’s a lot of dough. So voters will want to know whether Clinton intentionally held off criticizing the Gulf monarchies because she wanted them to fork over as soon as she stepped down as Secretary of State and that she is only doing so now because the money is in the bag and there is nothing to lose.
Trump plays the politics of fear, as everyone knows. But he also thrives by citing examples of corruption, hypocrisy and incompetence, and Clinton exemplifies all three. Since she entered the Senate, Al Qaeda has grown from a tiny band of conspirators to a major military force wreaking havoc from Indonesia to California. Yet now she expects voters to show their thanks by propelling her into the White House.
Voters just might do it – if, that is, Trump is unable to get his campaign in proper working order, if there are no more terrorist outrages like San Bernardino and Orlando, and if the economy stays afloat. Otherwise, voters may declare themselves fed up with an establishment candidate who obviously doesn’t know what she’s doing. In that case, they may vote for a know-nothing bigot who at least stands for change.
That’s just what voters have done in Britain by deciding to leave the European Union – and a similar anti-establishment uprising may occur in the United States. If so, liberals may once again find themselves in bed with not just a “lesser evil” but with a loser.
Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).