During the Democratic debate in South Carolina, I heard something I never expected to hear: Hillary Clinton coming out against U.S. military intervention.
At least I think she was coming out against U.S. military intervention. Asked if U.S. troops should be sent to Darfur, the New York senator made a valiant effort to dodge the question by declaiming about sanctions, divestment and UN peacekeepers. But when pressed, "How about American troops on the ground?" she finally said, a bit awkwardly, "American ground troops I don't think belong in Darfur at this time."
But don't bet that she'll stick to that position if she's elected. It goes against type. Clinton favored intervention in Haiti in 1994. She favored intervention in Bosnia in 1995. She favored intervention in Kosovo in 1999. As first lady, Clinton said, "I am very pleased that this president and administration have made democracy one of the centerpieces of our foreign policy." Before the Kosovo war, she phoned Bill from Africa and, she recalled later, "I urged him to bomb."
Among her critics, Clinton is known for a mother-knows-best domestic policy that relies on overbearing interference from Washington to remake the landscape to her specifications. The flip side is a mother-knows-best foreign policy that relies on overbearing interference from Washington to remake the landscape to her specifications.
Democrats hope that when it comes to international affairs, Clinton would represent a big change from George W. Bush. Republicans harbor that fear. In truth, this is one realm where the two are more alike than different. It's no accident that she voted for the resolution authorizing the president to invade Iraq. And it's no mystery that she was slow to admit the war was failing.
She didn't support the war because she was hoodwinked by Bush. She didn't do it for strictly political reasons. She supported it because of her conception of America's proper role in the world -- which combines a thirst for altruistic missions with a faith in the value of military force to get what you want. Those same impulses, of course, motivated the neoconservatives who urged Bush to go into Iraq.
On the morning after the South Carolina debate, the Clinton campaign trotted out former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to gush about the senator's declaration that she would not meet with various dictators "until we know better what the way forward would be." Said Albright, "She gave a very sophisticated answer that showed her understanding of the diplomatic process."