A Clinton doctrine emerges

There’s an awful lot of handwringing going on in Washington. With each passing day, there seems to be a new excuse for why America can’t work by, with and through our friends and international partners. A leading opponent of interventionist foreign policy, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), recently said of ongoing airstrikes in Iraq, “[I]t concerns me that we would have to do their fighting for them because they won’t fight for their own country, their own cities.” The retaking of towns held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) merely represents the first step in a years-long, not months-long, process. Make no mistake: If elected president of the United States, Hillary Clinton would inherit an abysmal situation in Iraq. Paul’s concern may be warranted, yet isolationism remains an irresponsible foreign policy. So what should be done about it?

Astute observers are already turning to the public statements of former Secretary of State Clinton for answers.

Clinton repeatedly expressed support for arming the moderate Syrian opposition. Besides the highly effective Kurdish forces, the moderate Syrian opposition is the only force with any success combating ISIS. Political dynamics are key to Iraq’s woes, and it would be foolish to think political inaction on behalf of the United States did not exacerbate the Syrian crisis’s impact. Though this idea is in dispute, many commentators believe (rightly, in my view) the United States could have armed the moderate Syrian opposition sooner and turned the tide. Clinton believes, as many in the interventionist sphere do, that the die was cast by 2012.

{mosads}There was a chance, however remote, that the violent ascendancy of ISIS would have been tempered. Since ISIS already has anti-aircraft weapons, the downside of supplying lethal assistance to vetted Syrian opposition groups is vanishingly small. Removing a pillar of legitimization for ISIS by backing the opposition was always a no-brainer. So too was damaging Iran’s regional standing through a series of diplomatic skirmishes and the removal of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from the list of terrorist organizations, a bold but welcome move. This is also a hallmark of Clinton’s past deeds: Hillary’s handpicked team is largely responsible for the unprecedented sanctions levied against Iran.

Speaking of unprecedented, armed drones — a reconnaissance and, later, precision-strike platform created during her husband’s presidency — have no reliable way of distinguishing between enemy combatants and noncombatants without actionable intelligence. With the National Security Agency still reeling from Edward Snowden’s tornado of theft, and a rudderless CIA, Clinton would, as president, preside over the least capable intelligence community in recent memory. As for targeted killings, because the principle of proportionality that guides jus in bello cannot be applied, proportionality becomes immeasurable. This guided President George W. Bush’s and Obama’s thinking when it comes to protecting the homeland; there is no reason to think President Hillary Clinton would be any more restrained.

Evil men may be plotting in a North African nation, with intent to strike America? Take them out! Salafi jihadists have overrun the border of Jordan? Send in the drones! A Caribbean or South Asian nation is throwing off its tyrannical government? Send in the Marines! The ethical challenges targeted killings and conventional military operations present have always paled in the face of raw political utility and the political climate at the time. If there is a resurgent al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or a new offshoot of whatever remains of ISIS in 2017, it should surprise no one if a President Hillary Clinton acts decisively and with overwhelming force. Diplomacy complements defense, and vice versa; development augments both, resulting in equilibrium. And no one wants another 9/11.

The lack of identified combatants in fourth-generation warfare diminishes the effectiveness of conventional military operations. This raises a fundamental issue for the counterinsurgent — and his commander-in-chief — who sets out to use minimum force but does not know who his or her enemy is. Clinton’s past actions seem to indicate a willingness to seize on the political utility that Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA provide, and to utilize them in concert with a lighter, smarter and faster conventional military to throw America’s weight around when necessary. Again, the willingness to strike Osama bin Laden’s compound is a pivotal moment; from her own remarks, she is seen to be determined, clear-eyed, and resolute in her belief that it was a just and necessary action. America has not run out of enemies. It is clear that Clinton is comfortable with targeted killings; but will she be less restrained than Obama? That remains to be seen.

While she may not be in office yet, a probable Iraq policy under a President Hillary Clinton isn’t hard to determine either. When we examine her own memoirs and public statements in favor of intervention in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya and Syria, it becomes apparent a President Hillary Clinton’s Iraq policy would differ from Obama’s. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and nongovernmental organizations would expand their efforts from Jordan and Turkey deeper still into Iraq and Syria. A humanitarian air corridor would be opened established inside Syria. Under Clinton, the Department of State and USAID increased, by several orders of magnitude, their ability to deliver aid to war-torn and famine-ridden areas. Iraq is plagued not just by unrest but by sectarian strife exacerbated by the humanitarian situation. It will require years of American leadership and an attentive Department of State — an executive branch department Clinton knows a little bit about.

In exchange for Iraqis forming an at-least-partially representative government, the U.S. could leverage American political capital in the provincial elections in 2017. Concurrently, the administration would seek a status of forces agreement with the Kurds out to at least 2050. In exchange for the economic stimulus provided by the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, construction could begin on new but austere bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Treated abysmally by the West since the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were made a promise in 1920 of statehood that was later annulled. By a future Clinton administration, America will have closed a circle: The Kurds will have the makings of an autonomous state and, with Kirkuk, the resources to fund and maintain it. If the Kurds ask for American recognition of an independent state, they should have it. After all, America’s real friends are in Erbil. It’s a monumental lift, to be sure. But with cachet and the right personality, the diplomatic assurances necessary for its success can be secured.

In the 21st century, the enemy is not always a state. This will necessitate the use of diplomatic prowess and covert action in concert with overt military force. In an urban environment inland or along the coast, it is incredibly difficult for an opposing force to distinguish enemy combatants from noncombatants. Instead, because the insurgent weaves itself into the fabric of the population and society, future adversaries become almost undetectable. Enemy combatants of the near future will not be soldiers of the state, and therefore it will be difficult if not impossible to seek an Authorization for Use of Military Force. Authorization for what? And, more poignantly, against whom? The language would be outdated in a week. Masked and without a uniform of an armed service, the enemy of the future is impossible to fight with the doctrine of the past. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s views have long since fallen from favor in Washington and, to a certain extent, the financial and intellectual capitals of London and New York. Clinton’s public statements about the bin Laden raid and toppling Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi undoubtedly reflect future actions as president.

Have we begun to see the contours of a Clinton Doctrine emerge over the past few months? Only time — and the presidency — will tell.

Caruso served with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the Department of State, a Joint Task Force, and the Department of the Navy.

Tags 2016 presidential election Colin Powell Department of State Hillary Clinton Iran Iraq ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Kosovo libya MEK Syria USAID

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