In the 1992 presidential election, the campaign team of Bill Clinton had the remarkable insight to simplify the choice before the American electorate in November, encapsulating the whole thought process in the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid.” Following this advice, voters ignored the foreign policy triumphs of President George W. Bush’s administration, including the recently won war against Iraq to liberate occupied Kuwait, and the slightly more remote “victory” in the Cold War, which Bush recalled to the nation in the forlorn hope of eliciting gratitude. Indeed, going into the elections, the economy was anemic, for cyclical reasons, and it was not to the incumbent’s advantage that this fact be highlighted.
Today, as another Clinton faces off with an unconventional and widely demonized Republican candidate, the economy is once again anemic, though this time under the stewardship of a Democratic administration, and again for cyclical reasons, but the economy and the domestic welfare programs that are so dependent on vibrant performance are not what the election is all about.
Voters will not confront a typical Right-Left choice, although supporters of Hillary Clinton would like to play it that way. It will not be about who gets more of the economic pie and who gets less, who is more equal than others and who is less equal.
Charges that Hillary is in the pocket of Wall Street and big business, who have generously financed her campaign, were first brought against her very effectively and persistently by her opponent in the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders, who embodied the Left by his persona and points in his platform. He lost to Hillary, the Centrist. Meanwhile, across the court, notwithstanding the support he has consistently received from Tea Party Republicans for his anti-establishment rhetoric, Trump is in many ways more of a Nelson Rockefeller Republican on domestic economic issues, that is to say a Centrist, who, unlike that quintessential Tea Party campaigner, Ron Paul, has no desire to tear down the Federal Reserve and deconstruct the federal government.
In matters of substance as opposed to character assassination that both parties’ candidates have engaged in freely, what separates the candidates and makes it worthwhile to register and vote on November 8th is the domain of international relations. This, as a general rule, is the only area where a president has free hands anyway, whatever position his party holds in the Congress. Here the choice facing voters is stark, I would say existential: do we want War or Peace?
Do we want to pursue our path of global hegemony, which is bringing us into growing confrontation with Russia, meaning a high probability of war, (the policy of Hillary Clinton), or do we want a harmonious international order in which the U.S. plays its role at the board of governors, just like other major world powers (the policy of Donald Trump).
Let me go one step further and explain what “war” means, since it is not something that gets much attention in our media, whereas it is at the top of the news each day in Russia.
“War” does not mean Cold War-II, a kind of scab you can pick to indulge a pleasure in pain that is not life threatening. War means what our military like to call “kinetics” to mask the horror of it all. It means live ammunition, ranging from conventional to thermonuclear devices that can devastate large swathes of the United States if we play our hand badly, as would likely be the case for reasons I explain below should Hillary and her flock of Neocon armchair strategists take the reins of power in January 2017.
Let us consider the following:
1. Where we are presently in relations with the world’s only other nuclear superpower, Russia, which, I remind you, together with the United States, has 50:50 ownership of 95% of all nuclear warheads on earth.
Briefly, we are in an escalating confrontation with the Russians, who have said openly and clearly that they view our ongoing build-up of NATO forces at their borders in the Baltics and Poland as posing an unacceptable threat to their security. They have also said openly and clearly that our completion this spring of what is called an anti-missile defense base in Romania and construction of a similar base in Poland, due for completion in 2017, threatens to upset the strategic nuclear balance by giving the United States a first strike capability. Whether they are right or wrong in their assessment of our words and deeds is beside the point. They are laying down their response based on their view of us, not our view of us.
For the past year or more, the Kremlin has said vaguely that host countries of the missile defense bases would be in their “crosshairs.” Russian positions have become more specific and more threatening following the NATO summit in Warsaw in early July that approved an American led program of provocative military exercises near Russia’s borders and stationing in the Baltic States of 4 brigades with mixed NATO Member State contingents. This has forced the Russian military to move to the previously ‘safe’ and undefended Western frontier region near St Petersburg large masses of troops and equipment from the center of their country, east of Moscow. By their public statements, the Russians have made no secret of their intention to act preemptively, as necessary, to wipe out the US bases in Romania and Poland and restore what they see as strategic parity.
Just a couple of weeks ago, on a widely watched Russian state television run political talk show, Duma deputy and leader of the nationalist LDPR party Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that Germans risked utter destruction if they continued on their present track of operating Bundeswehr forces in the Baltics. Zhirinovsky would never make such threats without tacit Kremlin backing.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky explaining that NATO's current course will result in war
For his part, in a recent press conference, President Vladimir Putin asked rhetorically why Western leaders “don’t get it” – why they are not heeding Russia’s warnings on its determination to protect vital security interests, including by means of preemptive strikes.
In this press conference from June 2016, Putin explains in detail why Russia sees NATO's behavior as threatening, and why Russia will be forced to react unless NATO changes course. Strongly recommended!
Indeed, why are we tone deaf when our very survival is at risk?
2. Why is it that the American political Establishment, of which Hillary Clinton is the standard bearer in this presidential election, does not take the Russians seriously?
Back in the 1960s and 70s, when the bard Tom Lehrer was touring college campuses with his irreverent song devoted to the nuclear Armageddon “We’ll all go together when we go,” Americans feared and even respected the USSR for what its military arsenal signified.
Our sense that we had “won” the Cold War when the USSR collapsed in 1992 was followed by our witnessing the economic collapse of Russia as it struggled to make a transition from directed to market economy in the 1990s. Meanwhile Russia’s national wealth was siphoned off by newly emerged “oligarchs.” The vast majority of the population was pauperized in that period, as we plainly understood when our religious communities sent assistance packages to the Russian people.
And Russia’s political infrastructure fell apart, replaced by regional satrapies and would- be successor states from among minority nationalities. The net result is that the United States Establishment’s respect for Russia degraded into open mockery. The fact that Russia was led in the 1990s by a confirmed alcoholic with multiple health problems that took him away from his desk for weeks at a time, only contributed to the sense that Russia had become the “Sick Man of Europe” both literally and figuratively.
This image of Russia has persisted in the thinking of our Establishment, when it is not jostled by images of a tin-pot dictator named Vladimir Putin who holds onto power by making frightening poses against foreign powers, in particular, against the United States. For our establishment, Russia remains, as Barack Obama said a couple of years ago, “just a regional power,” “ a bully” in its neighborhood who has to be put in his place, and also a country that produces nothing that anyone wants, to which no one willingly emigrates (all patently false statements). In sharing all of these views, Hillary is no different from the rest of our political Establishment.
It is Donald Trump and his questioning the wisdom of poking the Russian bear in the eye who is the odd man out. What makes Hillary different from her Establishment peers is the opportunity she has had in the Obama administration to act on her beliefs with all the powers of Secretary of State.
We should have given our view of Russian capabilities a serious rethink following their military action in Crimea in March 2014, when they engineered a bloodless takeover of the peninsula notwithstanding the local presence of nearly the same number of Ukrainian armed forces (20,000) as their own. Another jolt back to present reality could have emerged from Russian military action in Syria as from October 2015, which they used as a proving ground for their most up-to-date military gear and troops.
However, the U.S. response, with Hillary as cheerleader, has been to double down, ignore the potential risks of conflict, and continue to drive the Russians to the wall, so as to “negotiate from a position of strength” if indeed we have any intention of negotiating with the Russians at all.
3. Why do I say that Hillary Clinton is the War Party candidate?
The record of Hillary Clinton on foreign policy issues has been very well documented in a recent article that appeared in Consortium News, entitled, The Fear Of Hillary's Foreign Policy, and was republished in Russia Insider. The author, James Carden, is a former State Department employee with concentration in Russia who left the service in the George Bush Jr. years to become a journalist and now is a regular contributor to The Nation.
I will not repeat blow for blow Carden’s chronology of Hillary's terrible foreign policy baggage, going back to the decisions taken in Bill's second term that brought us more US military interventions abroad than any other similar period in the country's history while also setting up the dangerous confrontation with Russia, the New Cold War, that dominates headlines today. As James Carden shows, the baggage carries through to Hillary's consistent behavior as Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, where she was always among the most hawkish, pro-military action voices, working hard to overcome the passive resistance of Obama to anything resembling policy decisions.
Here I will focus on one non-Russian issue, for the sake of simplification and clarification: Libya. No, not the Libya of the Benghazi catastrophe and the killing of our US consul. That has been discussed endlessly in our media, but misses the point entirely regarding Hillary's culpability and why she will be a disastrous president.
The Libyan intervention to remove Colonel Gaddafi had the full support of Hillary within the Administration. She was a cheerleader in this exercise of American global (mis)management and regime change leading to chaos. It was fully in line with her basic instincts, call it all-American hubris or arrogance. And the most revealing proof of her unfitness to be Commander in Chief is the now widely publicized video sequence of Hillary, face distorted in glee, celebrating (!) the savage murder of Gaddafi following his being sodomized and grievously wounded: "we came, we saw, he died."
It is not for nothing that the Neocon vultures that took control of US foreign and military policy under Bush-Cheney are now avid supporters of Hillary's candidacy.
As regards Russia, Hillary has been pouring oil on the flames of potential conflict for years now. She has publicly likened Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, an insult that no one dared to apply to Russian (Soviet) leaders during the 50 years of the Cold War. That coming from our nation’s senior diplomat virtually closes the door on diplomacy and reason, leaving us with brute force to settle our differences. She has called repeatedly for providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, which, if implemented would put us on a direct collision course with Russia. She has called for establishing a no-flight zone in Syria well after the Russians introduced their air force assets, including a highly advanced air defense system covering all of Syrian air space/ The result of implementing her recommendations in Syria would be direct armed conflict with the Russian forces in the region if we attempted to enforce an interdiction. And de jure, we would be in the wrong, because Russian presence has the express support of the Syrian government, whereas ours does not.
Hillary’s public statements on Russia are highly irresponsible and make sense only if we were prepared to launch a war on that country here and now. I doubt that is the case. Meanwhile, the asymmetrical structures of political decision making in the USA and Russia, whereby the Russian President can act with full authority far more quickly than his American counterpart, render this kind of US bluffing and posturing extremely dangerous. Russia is not Iraq. Russia is not Libya. The Russian leadership is tough, experienced and…brave.
For reasons of Hillary’s past record of ill-considered adventurism abroad and for reasons of the mad advisers from the Neocon camp whom she has in her inner circle today, it could be a fatal mistake to vote Hillary Clinton on November 8th.
About Trump’s past record in power, there is not much to say. About his present promises on foreign policy, one may have doubts. However, the bad blood between him and the Neocons ensures us that a Trump presidency would finally put them out on the curb, where they belong. And if we step back from our present policies on Russia, Moscow will surely reciprocate and seek accommodation. After all, even as late as 2008 Vladimir Putin harbored hopes of his country joining NATO.