Neocon War Hawks Want Hillary Clinton Over Donald Trump. No Surprise—They’ve Always Backed Her

With Trump’s impending nomination, neocons are reaffirming what they’ve always thought: Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is right up their alley.

Branko Marcetic March 23, 2016

Hillary Clinton and George Bush embrace at Nancy Reagan's funeral.

The neo­con­ser­v­a­tive Right would have you believe this elec­tion affords them a unique­ly tough choice. On the one hand, there’s Hillary Clin­ton, lib­er­al bogey­woman and hat­ed embod­i­ment of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment. On the oth­er, there’s Don­ald Trump, who has repeat­ed­ly called the Iraq war a mis­take, accused the Bush admin­is­tra­tion of lying to drag the Unit­ed States into said war, claimed he would be neu­tral” in his deal­ings with Israel and just recent­ly sketched out an unabashed­ly non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist approach to world affairs” for the Wash­ing­ton Post edi­to­r­i­al board.

Clinton, one neoconservative writer wrote, had “begun the campaign as the former First Feminist” and “ended it as the Warrior Queen, more Margaret Thatcher than Gloria Steinem.”

Whether or not Trump believes any of this is, as usu­al, up for debate. But some neo­cons are so dis­gust­ed with his rejec­tion of for­eign pol­i­cy estab­lish­ment think­ing that they’ve declared the unthink­able: They’re going to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Con­cerned that Trump would destroy Amer­i­can for­eign pol­i­cy and the inter­na­tion­al sys­tem,” author Max Boot told Vox that Clin­ton would be vast­ly prefer­able.” His­to­ri­an Robert Kagan has also come out in favor of Clin­ton, say­ing he feels com­fort­able with her on for­eign pol­i­cy.” Eliot Cohen, a for­mer Bush admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial who has been called the most influ­en­tial neo­con in acad­eme,” declared Clin­ton the less­er evil, by a large margin.”

It would be con­ve­nient to accept that this sup­port is just part of a Faus­t­ian bar­gain neo­cons have reluc­tant­ly entered into because of the loom­ing specter of Trump. But the truth is, neo­cons and assort­ed war hawks have long had a soft spot for Clin­ton and her views on for­eign policy.

When Pres­i­dent Oba­ma nom­i­nat­ed Clin­ton for sec­re­tary of state in 2008, Richard Per­le, one of the Iraq War’s pri­ma­ry cheer­lead­ers and chair­man of the Defense Pol­i­cy Board in the lead-up to the war, said he was relieved.” There’s not going to be as much change as we were led to believe.”

Per­le, who was some­times referred to as the Prince of Dark­ness” and who once pre­dict­ed there would be some grand square in Bagh­dad that is named after Pres­i­dent Bush,” made clear his sup­port for Clin­ton was not due to a lack of choic­es. I heard about oth­ers on the list [for sec­re­tary of state] that I would­n’t be hap­py about,” he said. Those were most­ly Republicans.”

In the same inter­view, George Shultz, sec­re­tary of state under Ronald Rea­gan and an ear­ly pro­po­nent of what would come to be known as the Bush doc­trine,” stat­ed that: I think she could be a very good sec­re­tary of state.” Deem­ing her well-informed” and curi­ous,” Shultz’s only con­cern about her selec­tion was that, hav­ing com­pet­ed against Oba­ma in a some­times vicious cam­paign for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion, their rela­tion­ship might be weakened.

That same year, con­ser­v­a­tive writer Noemie Emery, writ­ing for the neo­con Week­ly Stan­dard, dubbed Clin­ton The Great Right Hope.” She wrote about the relief” felt by con­ser­v­a­tives that she was bring­ing her steely-eyed stare” to the posi­tion of sec­re­tary of state, saying:

As for the con­ser­v­a­tives, many of those who began 2008 will­ing to do any­thing to defeat her tend­ed to end it feel­ing sor­ry she lost. They began to tell them­selves and each oth­er they would sleep bet­ter at night if she were the nom­i­nee of her party.

Clin­ton, she wrote, had begun the cam­paign as the for­mer First Fem­i­nist” and end­ed it as the War­rior Queen, more Mar­garet Thatch­er than Glo­ria Steinem.”

Three years lat­er, Dick Cheney, the neocon’s neo­con, appeared to urge Clin­ton to launch a pri­ma­ry chal­lenge against Oba­ma. I think it’s not a bad idea,” he told ABC. Asked if she would have been a bet­ter pres­i­dent, Cheney replied:

Hillary Clin­ton is a pret­ty for­mi­da­ble indi­vid­ual and I think she’s prob­a­bly the most com­pe­tent indi­vid­ual they’ve got in their — in their cab­i­net. And — frankly, I thought she was going to win the nom­i­na­tion last time around…maybe there will be enough fer­ment in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty so that there will be a pri­ma­ry on their side.

While no doubt an exam­ple of some high-lev­el trolling by Cheney, who would have been thrilled to see a dys­func­tion­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty hob­bling into the elec­tion, there’s a rea­son he said this of Clin­ton and not, say, Joe Biden.

It’s not just neo­cons specif­i­cal­ly. War hawks of all stripes have been hap­py to show­er praise on Clinton’s for­eign pol­i­cy. In 2011, Lind­sey Gra­ham told the Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions: This is an out­stand­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty team put togeth­er by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma. I hope he will lis­ten to them. Sec­re­tary Clin­ton is a great choice to be our sec­re­tary of state.”

Any time Lind­sey Gra­ham, who eager­ly sup­port­ed the Iraq War and has repeat­ed­ly called for a war with Iran, endors­es your nation­al secu­ri­ty team, it should stop and give you pause. Then again, giv­en that Clin­ton threat­ened to total­ly oblit­er­ate” Iran in 2008, per­haps it shouldn’t be surprising.

John McCain, anoth­er out­spo­ken sup­port­er of untold num­bers of Amer­i­can wars, had this to say about Clin­ton on Chris Matthews’ Hard­ball in 2014:

MCCAIN: Do I think that she is good on for­eign pol­i­cy issues? I think it’s a — this is a legit­i­mate ques­tion. Look, it is well-known that Sec­re­tary — Hillary Clin­ton and I have a good rela­tion­ship. We have…

MATTHEWS: Well, don’t you agree on a lot?

MCCAIN: But — yes, we do agree on a lot.

Dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign, Clin­ton did at one point appear to praise McCain’s life­time of expe­ri­ence” at the expense of Oba­ma, so maybe he was just return­ing the favor.

Jim Inhofe, a Repub­li­can defense hawk who was once so eager to involve the Unit­ed States in Ukraine that he held up old pho­tos from 2008 as evi­dence of Russia’s pres­ence in the coun­try, was sim­i­lar­ly effu­sive after vot­ing for her con­fir­ma­tion to sec­re­tary of state.

I appre­ci­ate her recog­ni­tion of the need to com­bat al Qaeda’s efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa,” he said in a press release. I strong­ly agree with her sup­port of Israel’s right to defend itself. Final­ly, I appre­ci­ate her chal­lenge to Iran to end its nuclear weapons pro­gram. … I also trust and will ensure that where stronger efforts need to be made, U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy will include the strong arm of mil­i­tary where diplo­ma­cy fails.”

The list goes on. Despite recent­ly going all-in on Trump and pay­ing lip ser­vice to Clinton’s dis­as­trous for­eign poli­cies,” her one-time neme­sis Newt Gin­grich sang a very dif­fer­ent tune in 2014. Cit­ing an inter­view giv­en by Clinton’s in which she crit­i­cized Obama’s refusal to arm the Syr­i­an rebels in 2011, he said was impressed.”

If you read it care­ful­ly, she makes some com­ments about the need for a strate­gic plan, the need to take on the jihadists across the whole region,” Gin­grich said. He also added that she was very clear­ly, deci­sive­ly on the side of [Ben­jamin] Netanyahu, the prime min­is­ter of Israel, and on Israel’s right to defend itself — much firmer than either Sec­re­tary [John] Ker­ry or Pres­i­dent Oba­ma on the issue of Israel or Hamas.”

Con­doleez­za Rice, for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er and lat­er sec­re­tary of state under Bush, con­grat­u­lat­ed Clin­ton on doing a fine job” as sec­re­tary of state, despite her mis­giv­ings about the Oba­ma administration’s approach as a whole. The prob­lem isn’t Hillary Clin­ton, who’s great,” she assured her audi­ence. Rice won infamy for her claim that we don’t want the smok­ing gun to be a mush­room cloud” by delay­ing war against Iraq for the sake of find­ing evi­dence of nuclear weapons. She also denied that the war on ter­ror” con­tributed to the growth of ter­ror­ism and lat­er implic­it­ly crit­i­cized Oba­ma for advo­cat­ing talks with Iran.

Clinton’s rela­tion­ship with Nixon and Ford’s Sec­re­tary of State Hen­ry Kissinger — no neo­con­ser­v­a­tive him­self, though one might say that some of his best friends are — has already been well-cov­ered in this cam­paign, but deserves men­tion. Clin­ton has called Kissinger, who accord­ing to one con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate may be respon­si­ble for any­where in the range of 3 – 4 mil­lion deaths, a friend,” and he in turn called her an out­stand­ing appoint­ment” for sec­re­tary of state and pre­dict­ed she would be a good president.”

This week, Clin­ton demon­strat­ed exact­ly why such a wide assort­ment of neo­cons and right-wing war hawks have been so quick to com­pli­ment her over the years. In a wide­ly panned speech at the Amer­i­can Israel Pub­lic Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annu­al meet­ing on Mon­day, Clin­ton pledged her undy­ing loy­al­ty to Israel, promised to go to war with Iran if nec­es­sary, and implied the Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions Move­ment was anti-Semit­ic. The speech was inter­pret­ed as an attempt to move to the right of Trump on Israel.

Per­haps noth­ing sums up Clinton’s for­eign pol­i­cy bet­ter than a recent pho­to of her warm­ly hug­ging George W. Bush at Nan­cy Reagan’s funer­al — an almost too-per­fect metaphor for Clinton’s embrace of neo­con poli­cies. And as the pic­ture makes clear, the war hawks are just as hap­py to cud­dle her back.

Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin mag­a­zine and a 2019 – 2020 Leonard C. Good­man Insti­tute for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing fel­low. He is work­ing on a forth­com­ing book about Joe Biden.
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