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I finally finished it. Whenever a Presidential candidate has written a book, I try to read it. I read both of Obama’s books prior to the 2008 election and Obama’s own words (or his ghost writer’s) were the reason I didn’t vote for him.

So, Hillary Clinton wrote “Hard Choices” about her time as Secretary of State. I had previously (back when Bill was King) read “It Takes a Village”. The statist tyrant I found within those pages was one reason I came out early as a “NeverHillary”. But, despite that, I still read “Hard Choices”.

This primary season has been a great example of historical blindness. I winced during the primaries when Republican candidates promised to “kick ass” in Iraq, make the “sand glow” in Syria, and face down the Russians in Europe. The Democratic aspirants came off as a little more measured, but they generally share the pervasive ideology that America has the right and duty to order the world’s affairs. Without us, the world would go to hell in a hand-basket. Yah! Roar!

Hillary Clinton takes on a certain messianic quality when she routinely quotes former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s line about America as “the indispensible nation” whose job is to lead the world. At a rally in Iowa, she said “Senator [Bernie] Sanders doesn’t talk much about foreign policy, and when he does, it raises concerns because sometimes it can sound like he really hasn’t thought things through.”

She was absolutely correct. Sanders considers foreign policy to be an afterthought to his signature issues of economic inequality and a national health care system. Now she’s aiming the same criticism toward Donald Trump, who also considers foreign policy to be secondary to the economy and border security. What I noted was the implication that she has thought things through. Having just finished her book, I don’t think she has. (Note here – my minor in college was political science with a foreign policy emphasis so I read the book from that perspective).

Hard Choices covers Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State and tracks a litany of American foreign policy disasters: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, and the “Asia pivot” that’s dangerously increased tensions with China. Maybe she didn’t realize that was what she was doing.

At the heart of Hard Choices is a version of “American exceptionalism” that claims the right of the U.S. to intervene in other countries at will. She attempted to construct a coherent rationale for interventionist foreign policy and to justify her decisions as Secretary of State. The evidence she presented was unconvincing, perhaps because it is built on a shaky rationale.

I think Clinton is intelligent. I don’t think she’s an idiot, so I was surprised at how remarkably shallow the book was. It wasn’t thoughtful in any way. She admitted to some regret for her vote to invade Iraq, but then quickly moved on. She failed to examine how the U.S. had the right to invade and overthrow a sovereign government that hadn’t attacked the US. For Clinton, Iraq was only a “mistake” because it came out badly.

The book shows a deep inability to see other people’s point of view. The Russians are portrayed as aggressively attempting to re-establish their old Soviet sphere of influence rather than reacting to the steady march of NATO eastwards. She utterly ignores that the first Bush administration explicitly promised Russia that NATO would not expand eastward if the Soviets withdrew their forces from Eastern Europe.

In this, Clinton is not different from most of the Washington establishment. They fail to understand that Russia has been invaded three times since 1815 and lost tens of millions of people. Of course, they’re a little paranoid about their borders. Yet, in Clinton’s book, there is no mention of the roles U.S. intelligence agencies, organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy, and openly fascist Ukrainian groups played in coordinating the coup against the elected (if corrupt) government of Ukraine.

Clinton takes credit for the Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot,” which she boasted “sent a message to Asia and the world that America was back in its traditional leadership role in Asia.” While she’s patting herself on the back, she doesn’t consider how this returned emphasis might be interpreted in Beijing.

Truthfully, the United States never left Asia. The Pacific basin has long been home to major U.S. trading partners, and U.S. military presence in Japan, Korea, and the Pacific is huge. To the Chinese, the “pivot” means the U.S. plans to beef up its military presence in the region and construct an anti-China alliance system. The US has done both.

Clinton often characterizes military intervention in the philosophy of “responsibility to protect,” but her application is selective. She takes credit for overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, but in her campaign speeches, she avoids mentioning the horrendous bombing campaign being waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. She cites “responsibility to protect” (identified as R2P in the book) for why the U.S. should overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but is silent about Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain against the majority Shiite population’s demands for democracy.

Clinton, Samantha Power (the U.S. ambassador to the UN) and Susan Rice (National Security Advisor) has pushed for muscular interventions without considering the consequences, which have been dire.

Afghanistan: Somewhere around 220,000 Afghans have died since the 2001 U.S. invasion, and millions of others are refugees. The U.S. and its allies have suffered close to 2,500 dead and more than 20,000 wounded. You can’t just blame the Bush administration for this. Obama has had seven years to get us out of the war, but it is far from over. The cost to the US Treasury is around $700 billion, not counting long-term medical bill for disabled veterans that could run as high as $2 trillion.

Libya: Some 30,000 people died and another 50,000 were wounded in the intervention and civil war. Hundreds of thousands have been turned into refugees, who are now invading Europe. The cost to Washington was only $1.1 billion, but the war and subsequent instability created a tsunami of weapons and refugees and, though the media has moved on, the fighting continues. To me, nothing epitomizes Clinton’s lack of morality than her tasteless remark regarding Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.” The Libyan leader was executed by having a bayonet rammed up his rectum. Nobody deserves that.

Ukraine: The death toll now exceeds 8,000, some 18,000 have been wounded, and several cities in the eastern part of the country have been heavily damaged. The fighting has tapered off, although tensions remain high. And, yes, the US CIA under Clinton’s watch destabilized the legitimately elected government of Ukraine, which set off the unrest.

Yemen: Over 6,000 Yemenis have been killed and another 27,000 wounded. The UN reports most of the killed and injured are civilians. Ten million Yeminis don’t have enough to eat, and 13 million have no access to clean water. Yemen is highly dependent on imported food, but a U.S.-Saudi blockade has choked off most imports. The war is ongoing.

Iraq: Anywhere from 400,000 to over 1 million people have died from war-related causes since the 2003 invasion. Over 2 million have fled the country and another 2 million are internally displaced. The cost is close to $1 trillion, but it may rise to $4 trillion once all the long-term medical costs are added in. The war grinds on as a bloody turf war with the Islamic State, which emerged from the Sunni insurgency against the U.S.-installed government.

Syria: Over 250,000 have died in the war, and half the country’s population has been displaced. Something like four million Syrian refugees have invaded Europe, destabilizing the EU. The country’s major cities have been ravaged. The war continues.

There are other countries like Somalia we could add to the butcher’s bill, but what concerns me more are the countries that reaped the benefit from the collapse of Libya. Weapons looted after the fall of Gaddafi largely fuel the wars in Mali, Niger, and the Central African Republic.

We can’t yet calculate the cost of the Asia Pivot for the United States and the allies we’re recruiting to confront China. Since the “Pivot” got underway prior to China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, we could start by asking a “which came first” question: Is the current climate of tension in the Pacific basin a result of Chinese aggression or U.S. provocation?

To be fair, Hillary Clinton is hardly the only politician who thinks American exceptionalism gives the U.S. the right to intervene in other countries. That point of view is pretty much bi-partisan. Sanders voted against the Iraq War and has criticized Clinton’s eagerness to intervene elsewhere, but the Vermont senator backed the Yugoslavia and Afghan interventions. The former re-ignited the Cold War and the latter just never ends. At least Sanders seems to recognize what the problem is. He observed, “I worry that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences may be.”

Since she is running for President, it is fair to ask if she would be more aggressive in the Oval Office than other candidates might. The book suggests she would certainly be more aggressive than Obama and Bush. Clinton pushed the Obama White House to intervene more deeply in Syria, and was far more hardline on Iran. On virtually every foreign policy issue, Clinton led the charge inside the administration for a more belligerent U.S. response. As aggressive as the Obama administration was while she was Secretary, it would have been more aggressive had she been in charge.

Clinton has said she’s proud to call Iranians “enemies,” and attacked Sanders for his entirely sensible remark that the U.S. might find common ground with Iran on defeating the Islamic State. Sanders, perhaps intimidated by her “credentials”, backed off and said he didn’t think it was possible to improve relations with Tehran in the near future.

The danger of Clinton’s view of America’s role in the world is that of old-fashioned imperial behavior wrapped in the humanitarian rationale of “responsibility to protect”.  Her rhetoric is more politic than the “make the sands glow” atavism of the Republicans, but it’s still death and destruction in a different packaging.

So, I’m still a member of the Never-Hillary camp because I don’t think we need another warmonger in the White House. The national treasury can’t afford it and increasingly, the government’s muscularity is making things more dangerous here at home. We the people can’t afford Hillary.

I also have no intention of voting for Trump for entirely different reasons. I honestly believe he is not interested in conducting wars around the world because he recognizes that would be bad for trade. That’s not enough reason for me to vote for him, but it’s a plus in his column.

I remain committed to voting for the lesser of available potential tyrants – which remains Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.

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