Victory in the New York state primary seems to have all but clinched the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton. I won’t be surprised if this week’s quintet of northeast primaries puts Donald Trump so close to the top as to diminish the suspense surrounding the Republican convention.
So it is an auspicious time for Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle over American Power (Random House, 2016), by Mark Landler, to appear. The magazine of The New York Times contains a scoop today, under the headline, “How Hillary became a hawk.” The deck says,
Throughout her career she has displayed instincts on foreign policy that aremore aggressive than those of President Obama — and most Democrats
The article, at least, reads like a campaign document, consisting mainly of vignettes that have been fed to the journalist: Clinton pivoting towards the center in preparation for the general election. “We’ve got to run it up the gut,” she exclaims to her aides after China warns against sending an aircraft carrier into the Yellow Sea to protest North Korean actions.
When visiting Fort Drum, in upstate New York, for the first time as a newly elected senator, she sits down, takes off her shoes, puts her feet on the coffee table, and asks, “General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here?”
She reads “cover to cover” the counterinsurgency field manual General David Petraeus has given her
She befriends and receives the (qualified) endorsement of retired four-star general John M. “Jack” Keane, Fox news military analyst and promoter of the Iraq “surge.”
And when reporter Landler surfaces a striking disagreement with former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (and for two years previously US commander there), a Clinton aide volunteers, “She likes the nail-eaters, [Stanley] McChrystal, Petraeus, Keane – real military guys, not these retired three-stars who go into civilian jobs.” (For a glimpse of the pressure under which political-insider journalists operate, see this note by just-departed Times public editor Margaret Sullivan.)
As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.
The book itself will be useful in the event Clinton becomes president, as seems increasingly likely. Whether she is a neo-con or liberal hawk or a conservative internationalist is an open question. In the interval, however, better to read America’s War for the Greater Middle East: a Military History (Random House, 2016), by Andrew Bacevich, a scathing assessment of US military policy since 1980.