The primary is long over, and while most polls still put Hillary Clinton in the lead, her supporters have made clear that there is no excuse for the Left not to rally around her — and against Donald Trump. Their tactics for making this argument are varied: Some have been diplomatic: Obama, in an appeal to Bernie voters in his Democratic National Convention (DNC) speech, noted that “if you agree that there’s too much inequality in our economy, and too much money in our politics, we all need to be as vocal and as organized and as persistent as Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been.” But others have taken a less delicate tack.
One of the most common arguments on social media in support of Hillary Clinton — often made with scorn for Bernie-or-Bust protesters — is that voting third-party would be an act of privilege. A Quartz piece entitled “Privilege is what allows Sanders supporters to say they’ll ‘never’ vote for Clinton,” which was written earlier in the election season but resurfaced on social media following the DNC, typifies this argument.
Essentially, those who refuse to vote for Clinton are supposedly those who would be least affected by Donald Trump’s policies: straight white Christian men. And to abstain or vote third-party on principle, or due to the misguided belief that Bernie had the election stolen from him, would constitute an exercise in white privilege and an abandonment of marginalized Americans. “How privileged do you need to be to imagine that it’s a good idea to risk the actual lives of vulnerable Americans because you ‘hate’ Clinton so much that you vow to stay home if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination?” the article asks.
While these arguments have their strengths and weaknesses, they unwittingly raise an overlooked reality: that voting at all, even — perhaps especially — for Hillary Clinton, is an exercise in privilege, too.
Not the privilege of being white in America, or straight in America, or a man in America, but the privilege of being in America. By choosing to vote for Hillary Clinton and embracing her as a positive, progressive choice, her supporters are exercising a privilege restricted to American citizens who, in all likelihood, won’t experience the deadly results of her foreign policy.
Looking to Clinton’s checkered past of foreign interventionism should give us a strong idea of how she’ll act in the Oval Office. The first and most obvious decision is Hillary’s vote for the war in Iraq — a war that has left more than 100,000 civilians dead. This was what Barack Obama hammered her on in the 2008 primary, and is a decision she has since renounced.
Clinton has not, however, seemed to learn from the mistake. As Secretary of State, her support for intervention and regime change continued unabated. In 2009, she helped enable the perpetrators of the military overthrow of the democratically elected President of Honduras, refusing to label it a coup despite immediate condemnation from the rest of the international community, and also declining to cut off U.S. aid to the country. In the years since, dozens of indigenous leaders, activists, LGBT people, and other marginalized Hondurans have been killed by the new regime. These killings only top off what The Nation’s Greg Grandin terms “an all-out assault on [the Honduran] people — torture, murder, militarization of the countryside, repressive laws, such as the absolute ban on the morning-after pill, the rise of paramilitary security forces, and the wholesale deliverance of the country’s land and resources to transnational pillagers.”
In subsequent years, Clinton continued to meddle in Latin America — most notably in Haiti, where her State Department engineered the ascension of their preferred candidate to the country’s Presidency. Michel Martelly, the ally in question, found himself in in third place after the first round of voting, narrowly missing the runoff behind second-leading vote-getter Jude Celestin. That is, until Clinton told Haiti’s then-President René Préval to put him in the run-off anyway, ahead of Celestine, or else Congress would cut off aid to the island nation. Since then, Martelly has operated under a neoliberal, business- and NGO-friendly framework that has led to increased political turmoil and impoverishment of the Haitian people.
Then, of course, there is the crowning achievement of Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the ultimate intervention — Libya. As the North African country devolved into a state of chaotic civil war in 2011, it was ultimately Hillary who persuaded President Obama to intervene with a NATO air campaign. When Colonel Gaddafi, the nation’s dictator, was killed in October, Clinton crowed to CBS, “We came, we saw, he died.”
Yet, that wasn’t the end of the Libya legacy. A democratically-elected government failed to disarm the fractious militias that had unseated the Colonel, and soon the country had returned to civil war once more. In the years since, the Islamic State has gained a foothold in the northern port city of Sirte, and rival armed governments vie for power from Tripoli and Benghazi.
Even worse, Libya’s fall destabilized much of the surrounding region. Tuareg mercenaries hired by Gaddafi during the 2011 war looted the dictator’s armories afterwards and returned to their native Mali, triggering a series of coups and insurgencies. These weapons also spread to other terrorist groups, including those in countries as far as Yemen, Nigeria, and the Gaza territory.
It’s difficult to estimate — or even to summarize — the precise destruction wreaked on the world by Clinton’s term as Secretary of State. As President, she could have an even greater impact, and these past precedents are not the only evidence we have that her interventionism hasn’t dampened since she left office. Indeed, her statements about the problems besetting the world today have many progressives worried.
In dealing with Syria, for example, Clinton has promised an even stronger approach than Obama’s, and has blamed the rise of jihadists on the President’s reluctance to arm Syrian rebels. This is despite the fact that such schemes resulted in the disaster in Libya, and when Obama finally gave in and armed Syrian rebels, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front received many of those weapons.
In fact, although the Obama Administration has refrained from advocating for regime change, seemingly having learned the lesson from Libya, Clinton advisor Jeremy Bash told the Independent recently that “dealing with Syria would be Ms. Clinton’s ‘first key task’ if elected and she would work to get President Assad ‘out of there.’” This was just days after a coalition air strike hit a cluster of houses fleeing the besieged town of Manbij in Syria, killing at least 73 civilians, including 35 children.
On the subject of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, which would mark its fiftieth anniversary less than six months after the President takes office in 2017, Hillary has also disappointed. She has unequivocally condemned the nonviolent Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement. At the same time, when discussing Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza, she has repeatedly argued that Israel had the right to defend itself from Hamas’ rocket attacks, refusing to call out Israel’s disproportionate force. kIn a speech to AIPAC in March, she said that the United States and Israel must “take our alliance to the next level.”
At the same time, Clinton remains silent as Israeli soldiers shoot unarmed Palestinian terrorists, or even family members of terror suspects. Her unequivocal support of Israel’s 2014 war implies such support for the killing of almost 1,500 civilians in that war. And, killings aside, there are still the routine abuses of basic human rights — the freedom of movement, habeus corpus and access to water, to name a few.
Lastly, Clinton has wholeheartedly endorsed one of the Obama administration’s deadliest policies: drone warfare. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes may have killed more than 1,000 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. In her memoir Hard Choices, Hillary described drones as “one of the most effective and controversial elements of the Obama Administration’s strategy.” Were she to expand drone strikes to other countries embroiled in the War on Terror, or even keep them going at their current rate, those casualty numbers could balloon even further.
In both her past actions and her promises for the future, Clinton has displayed a brash brand of American interventionism characterized by a shocking disregard for civilian casualties. A vote for Clinton is a vote for hawkish policies supported by neoconservatives that prioritize America’s military supremacy over foreign lives.
Voting for Hillary is exercising the privilege denied to a Syrian civilian who might lose their life to coalition airstrikes intensified after her election.
Voting for Hillary is exercising the privilege denied to a Palestinian civilian who might lose their life to oppressive Israeli policies that she supports.
Voting for Hillary is exercising the privilege denied to a civilian anywhere in the Global South who might lose their life to an unaccountable drone program that could well be expanded if she is elected.
None of this is to say that Trump would by any means be a better President. He would certainly be far worse for marginalized groups in the United States., and would likely be disastrous for civilians abroad as well. The point is that, no matter what, there are hundreds of thousands of people who would be directly and materially harmed by Clinton’s militaristic foreign policy, and they literally cannot vote.
Americans have the privilege of voting for Clinton knowing that we won’t be killed by Predator drones or air strikes gone wrong. We have the privilege of viewing her as a progressive because we like some of her domestic policies, while casting from our minds the thousands of civilians around the globe that would inevitably be killed by a President Clinton.
Were I to vote for a third-party candidate, that would certainly represent an act of privilege because Trump’s domestic policies would harm me far less than they would women or people of color. But in a similar vein, voting for Hillary Clinton would be an immense privilege, because I know I’m not at risk of being killed by a bomb or drone strike in Western Massachusetts, unlike innocent civilians across the globe.
As activists and as progressives, we are well within our right to vote for Hillary Clinton to stop the threat to the world and to American democracy that Trump represents. But we cannot delude ourselves into whitewashing or sugarcoating Clinton’s interventionist tendencies, and we must understand that our work does not stop at the ballot box.
In April 2008, the great socialist historian Howard Zinn wrote an article for The Progressive entitled “Election Madness,” in which he argued that any election must be followed by direct action and holding our elected leaders accountable to their constituents. “Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes — the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.
“But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”
If Clinton makes it to the White House, then our work has just begun — we must organize a robust opposition to her foreign policy, lest we abuse the privilege we exercised in placing her there.
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