The Hillary Conundrum: What Does She Really Believe, and When Did She Believe It?

Hillary Clinton’s recent Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg has produced a storm, both by comments from the usual pundits as well as among the ranks of the left-wing of the already very liberal/left Democratic Party. Many conservatives have responded by calling attention to Hillary’s obvious failures, to write off what she has had to say as of no consequence except for revealing her hypocrisy. No one put it better than Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. He dubs her arguments as nothing but her “self re-invention as a hawk,” made because she “belatedly needs to disavow the consequences of the policies she once advocated,” and possibly because “she believes in whatever she says, at least at the time she's saying it.”

I fully understand Stephens’ reaction to what Hillary Clinton said in the interview, but I think he neglects to take into consideration evidence that indicates she, while serving as his secretary of State, privately fought him tooth and nail, and presented advice that Obama rejected.

Read this article by Daily Beast writer Josh Rogin for a presentation of evidence for this argument. Rogin writes:

Clinton and her senior staff warned the White House multiple times before she left office that the Syrian civil war was getting worse, that working with the civilian opposition was not enough, and that the extremists were gaining ground. The United States needed to engage directly with the Free Syrian Army, they argued; the loose conglomeration of armed rebel groups was more moderate than the Islamic forces -- and begging for help from the United States. According to several administration officials who were there, her State Department also warned the White House that Iraq could fall victim to the growing instability in Syria. It was all part of a State Department plea to the president to pursue a different policy.

Stephens correctly cites Hillary’s well-known errors: favoring diplomatic engagement with Iran; the early praising of Bashar Assad as a “reformer”; favoring a “reset” of relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia; her attacks on Bibi Netanyahu when demanded by the president; and her support for Mubarak in Egypt. Others add what they see as her attempts to cover up her failures over the murders by Islamists of four Americans in Benghazi.

But see what Hillary had to say in her interview. She includes the neglected advice on dealing with Syria and Assad by arming moderate rebels, and her equation of the fight against both communism and fascism with the fight against Islamism -- her understanding that jihadist groups' “raison d'être is to be against the West,” and hence they must be contained, deterred, and defeated. She also called for a tough policy to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and showed that she opposes the Obama policy one can rightfully call appeasement. She continues to argue that Obama’s Syria policy was a complete failure, one that led to ISIS, a group far more extreme than even the Taliban.  She writes that during the Cold War, “we did have a kind of overreaching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism,” an objective which the U.S. “achieved.” As she said in the most quoted part of the interview, “Don’t do stupid stuff” is “not an organizational strategy.”

Most importantly, Hillary Clinton defended Israel in the strongest possible terms, at a moment when most Democrats are turning away from any support of the Jewish state, and when the entire Western Left is opposed to its very existence. She cites anti-Semitism as one great motive behind the attacks on Israel, calling the gang-up on Israel “uncalled for and unfair.” She blasts Hamas as the sole culprit responsible for the recent Gaza war, for stage-managing what journalists could be allowed to report from Gaza, noting: “There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict and wanted to do so in order to leverage its position.” Finally, she says that “the ultimate responsibility [for the Gaza war] has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”

She went so far as to praise Netanyahu by saying: “If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over security [on the West Bank], because even if I’m dealing with Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience.”

Republicans and conservatives cannot complain that Democrats are abandoning Israel, and then when a leading Democrats boldly comes to Israel’s defense, attack them for doing so. After all, Hillary is hardly endearing herself to the left-wing base of the Democrat Party by taking this stance.

Indeed, recent polls show that the position she has staked out is causing her support to quickly erode, making many Democrats favorable to a challenge to Hillary from her left. According to these polls, she is also losing ground among the vital independent vote. Joe Scarborough has a few times called Hillary “a neo-con’s neo-con,” and as if to prove that point, the Weekly Standard wickedly ran her comments online as a guest editorial, signed “Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the editors.”

It is also clear that today, many Republicans and conservatives are leaning towards the non-interventionist position advocated by Senator Rand Paul and libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, as well as the editors and writers of Reason magazine and The American Conservative. Hillary’s position may lead Paul’s supporters to double their effort to make him the Republican presidential candidate in 2016.

Is she being politically shrewd? I doubt it. Perhaps these are really her views, and she believed that for the good of the country, she had to present them. She may have indeed not acted upon them when she was in the administration, and did things she privately did not believe in, such as her soft policy on Putin. Hypocritical or not, I thank Hillary for saying what had to be said, and for espousing a policy that harks back to that of the Cold War liberals in Harry Truman’s days -- that of a muscular liberal interventionism that was committed to fight tyranny and destroy totalitarian regimes.