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In major speech delivered on Thursday, Hillary Clinton showed that she is “positioning herself to the right of Trump on foreign policy,” said Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies.

“She’s keeping the focus on her credibility as a warmonger,” said Bennis. “And I think the problem that that poses for people across this country is that the choice between the kind of chaos of Trump’s foreign policy, versus a very clear, very committed, very militaristic commitment to regime change and U.S. domination reflected in the Hillary Clinton foreign policy.”

“That’s not much of a choice,” says Bennis.

The catastrophic interventions in Libya and Iraq, both of which Clinton strongly supported, were notably absent from her remarks.

As Secretary of State, Clinton often chose military force over diplomacy, says Bennis.

Bennis also argues that progressive social movements need to do a better job of pushing candidates to offer an alternative to war in their foreign policy platforms.

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday unleashed a scathing critique of the dangerous foreign policy of the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. HILLARY CLINTON: Making Donald Trump our commander in chief would be a historic mistake, and it would undo so much of the work that Republicans and Democrats alike have done over many decades to make America stronger and more secure. It would set back our standing in the world more than anything in recent memory, and it would fuel an ugly narrative about who we are. That we’re fearful, not confident. That we want to let others determine our future for us instead of shaping our own destiny. NOOR: The former secretary of state over President Obama, Clinton sought to distinguish her foreign policy platform from that of Trump’s. Clinton, considered a foreign policy hawk for aggressive interventionist tendencies, including initial support for the invasion of Iraq as a U.S. senator, and lobbying for the intervention in Libya as secretary of state. Now joining us to discuss this is Phyllis Bennis. She’s a fellow and director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. Author of many books, including Understanding ISIS, and A New Global War On Terror: A Primer. Thanks so much for joining us. PHYLLIS BENNIS: Good to be with you. NOOR: So, Phyllis, give us what you think is the most important takeaway from what Secretary Clinton said, or actually didn’t say, in this major speech today. BENNIS: This was not a major foreign policy speech, which was what we were promised. This was a major partisan attack on Donald Trump. That’s very easy to do. She did a good job dismantling the lunacy of many of his policies, giving nuclear weapons to ever country in the world, et cetera. Having said that, she didn’t give much of what her policy would be, particularly in the arenas where her earlier experience, which is what she’s really running on here, experience is all, and where her earlier experience was such an abject failure. We didn’t hear too much about that. So I think that’s what we’re really looking at here. She hyped her own experience in some places, but she left out the places that she led. For example, Libya, for example, Iraq, for example, Israel-Palestine, where as secretary of state she was supposed to be playing the major role, and what we saw was major failure. That’s what we saw from this speech. She simply didn’t mention any of those examples. NOOR: And she talked about, you know, stepping up the air campaign against ISIS, helping Kurdish security forces. CLINTON: We need to take out their strongholds in Iraq and Syria by intensifying the air campaign and stepping up our support for Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground. We need to keep pursuing diplomacy to end Syria’s civil war and close Iraq’s sectarian divide, because those conflicts are keeping ISIS alive. NOOR: Versus Trump, you know, possibly wanting to use nuclear weapons, or sending tens of thousands of ground troops into that conflict. Talk about what’s important for viewers to know. And you know, of course, she didn’t mention her support for the Iraq war, which many say birthed ISIS in the first place. BENNIS: Absolutely. I don’t think anyone disagrees that it was the Iraq war, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, that set the conditions for the creation of ISIS, which of course was born in a U.S.-Iraqi prison. The U.S. prison in Iraq that was holding some of the tens of thousands of Iraqis that were arrested in those early days of the war. But what she talked about was a set of sort of broad ideas. We have to take out ISIS strongholds by intensifying the air campaign. Well, she’s been saying that for a long time. President Obama has been doing that for a long time. That hasn’t ended ISIS, and it hasn’t ended the war. It’s done some things, like sending a lot of new ISIS recruits away from Syria and having them be directed, for example, to Libya. She didn’t talk about Libya, which she really was the cheerleader for the U.S. intervention in Libya, when we’re talking about regime change and her support for regime change. She didn’t mention, for example, that Donald Trump has asserted, and I don’t know that I want to believe anything that Donald Trump says in terms of policy. It’s a very dangerous reality that he flip-flops so much. You don’t know from one day to the next whether he will say we should send tens of thousands of troops, or whether he would say we should pull out all the troops. But one thing he has said is that he does not support regime change as a U.S. strategy. Hillary Clinton has made cheerleading for regime change what she’s perhaps most famous for. And the most famous example of that, of course, was in Libya, when she was the main cheerleader, persuading a, at that time, reluctant President Obama to join the NATO assault on Libya, that resulted immediately in a regime change war that left Libya in absolute chaos, absolute violence. The release of Libyan weapons that are now being seen in conflicts throughout Africa, across the Middle East. It’s been absolutely disastrous. And for that reason it’s not really a surprise, I suppose, that we never heard the word Libya cross Secretary Clinton’s lips today in her speech. So she talked about we have to go after ISIS. Well, okay, but exactly how are you going to do that? She talked about the crazy stuff that Trump has said. That’s really easy. You know, it’s easy to say that when Trump says Syria should maybe be a free zone for ISIS, that’s crazy. And it’s a good thing that she points that out and says it’s crazy. But her alternatives, her proposals, are not working, either. What I find so striking is that her experience is as senator and as secretary of state. She was not the secretary of defense. She was the secretary of state, the diplomat in chief. And as the diplomat in chief, whether it was about Iraq, whether it was about Libya, whatever it was about, her choice was military. She left it to the military to say maybe we should use diplomacy first. Even when she was touting her own involvement in the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran, the global nuclear deal with Iran. CLINTON: Take the nuclear agreement with Iran. When President Obama took office, Iran was racing toward a nuclear bomb. Some called for military action, but that could have ignited a broader war that could have mired our troops in another Middle Eastern conflict. President Obama chose a different path, and I got to work leading the effort to impose crippling sanctions. We brought Iran to the table. We began talks. And eventually we reached an agreement. BENNIS: She focused on her job was to get those sanctions tougher. So she’s keeping the focus on her credibility as a warmonger. And I think the problem that that poses for people across this country is that the choice between the kind of chaos of Trump’s foreign policy, so incredibly dangerous, versus a very clear, very committed, very militaristic commitment to regime change and U.S. domination reflected in the Hillary Clinton foreign policy, that’s not much of a choice. That’s not much of a choice. And that’s why it’s important that this speech is coming out before the California primary, for instance, where there still is a choice in the Democratic Party between this kind of war-based foreign policy that Hillary Clinton has put forward, and a much different foreign policy that Bernie Sanders’ campaign has put forward. That is not yet settled. She is not yet the official Democratic Party nominee. NOOR: And Phyllis, it seems as though Secretary Clinton was sort of appealing to potential Trump supporters, and sort of not really, you know, except for a few minor parts in her speech where she said we need to address income inequality at home, she condemned Trump’s bigotry against Muslims by saying they also served in the military, this wasn’t a speech aimed at progressives, it was a speech aimed at Republicans, centrists, independent voters, that are considering voting for Trump. She actually wanted to seem like she was tougher on foreign policy that Trump was, more coherent, and as you said, more interventionist in some cases. BENNIS: I think there’s no question that she’s positioning herself to the right of Trump on foreign policy. She’s not nearly as far to the right as he is on domestic policy, including some things that go between domestic and foreign policy like his horrific immigration policy that’s so extreme. And she spoke about that in the context of its impact on foreign policy, and that’s appropriate. That’s a useful thing to remind people of. But it’s also true, I think it’s absolutely right that she was aiming in this speech to win over what she sees as centrist voters, perhaps independents, perhaps moderate Republicans, however she’s defining them. But she was positioning herself as if she were already the nominee of the Democratic Party and that this was the only option to Trump, leaving out the possibility that, for example, you could say that of a candidate whose experience is based on their work as secretary of state might be proposing that we should have a foreign policy based on diplomacy instead of war. Not just diplomacy as one weapon in war, which is how she talked about it. It’s a very different approach than that of not only Bernie Sanders’ campaign, but many other candidates. NOOR: And finally, Phyllis, we’re almost out of time, but do you think that, you just mentioned Bernie Sanders, do you think thus far he has provided a clear alternative to this vision that Hillary Clinton has outlined? We know in the speeches he cited her friendship with Henry Kissinger. He’s, you know, cited other aspects, things that she supported, her Iraq war vote. But do you think he’s done a good enough job in this area? BENNIS: You know, I think that if it were up to me, I would draft a very different kind of foreign policy. I wrote a piece in the Nation a couple of months ago about what a Sanders doctrine could look like based on the idea of no war for the billionaire class. I think that that reflects certain things that he’s said. I wish that he would spend a little more time focusing on foreign policy. But I think it is a reality that among progressives, and this is something that is very much a question of our movements, our movements have not demanded of our candidates and the candidates that view themselves as accountable to social movements, we have not demanded collectively enough focus on foreign policy, on alternative foreign policy, on foreign policies based on diplomacy instead of war, rather than war that includes diplomatic weapons. So I think it’s very much a question of movements, and I think there’s very little question that when you look at the various candidates it’s, there is one campaign, and that’s the Bernie Sanders campaign, that has made clear its sense of accountability to a social movement in the United States. That’s certainly not true of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It’s not true of Donald Trump’s campaign, although he is at the same time inspiring an incredibly dangerous racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, xenophobic movement of its own. But in terms of progressive social movements, if we look at the difference between the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Bernie Sanders campaign, I think that it’s very clear that one of them, the Sanders campaign, has made its interest in engaging with social movements a much more critical part of what it means to run for president in this country, rather than running on the basis of I can wage war better than the other guy. NOOR: And I’m sure Jill Stein of the Green Party would also say that, even though she’s been excluded from these debates and these discussions in the mainstream, that her foreign policy is much more aligned to the values that you’ve laid out, as well. Phyllis Bennis, we want to thank you so much for joining us. BENNIS: Thank you. NOOR: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.


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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.  Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.