This November’s “Choice” for President

DEM 2016 Clinton
So many flags, but where’s the fresh thinking? (AP Photo/John Locher)

W.J. Astore

Andrew Bacevich has written a whip-smart article at TomDispatch.com on this November’s choice for the presidency.  Here are a few excerpts:

Trump is a bozo of such monumental proportions as to tax the abilities of our most talented satirists.  Were he alive today, Mark Twain at his most scathing would be hard-pressed to do justice to The Donald’s blowhard pomposity.

Similarly, how did the party of Adlai Stevenson, but also of Stevenson’s hero Franklin Roosevelt, select as its candidate someone so widely disliked and mistrusted even by many of her fellow Democrats?  True, antipathy directed toward Hillary Clinton draws some of its energy from incorrigible sexists along with the “vast right wing conspiracy” whose members thoroughly loathe both Clintons.  Yet the antipathy is not without basis in fact.

Even by Washington standards, Secretary Clinton exudes a striking sense of entitlement combined with a nearly complete absence of accountability.  She shrugs off her misguided vote in support of invading Iraq back in 2003, while serving as senator from New York.  She neither explains nor apologizes for pressing to depose Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, her most notable “accomplishment” as secretary of state.  “We came, we saw, he died,” she bragged back then, somewhat prematurely given that Libya has since fallen into anarchy and become a haven for ISIS.

She clings to the demonstrably false claim that her use of a private server for State Department business compromised no classified information.  Now opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) that she once described as the “gold standard in trade agreements,” Clinton rejects charges of political opportunism.  That her change of heart occurred when attacking the TPP was helping Bernie Sanders win one Democratic primary after another is merely coincidental.  Oh, and the big money accepted from banks and Wall Street as well as the tech sector for minimal work and the bigger money still from leading figures in the Israel lobby?  Rest assured that her acceptance of such largesse won’t reduce by one iota her support for “working class families” or her commitment to a just peace settlement in the Middle East.

Let me be clear: none of these offer the slightest reason to vote for Donald Trump.  Yet together they make the point that Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate, notably so in matters related to national security.  Clinton is surely correct that allowing Trump to make decisions related to war and peace would be the height of folly.  Yet her record in that regard does not exactly inspire confidence.

Not much of a “choice,” right?  Donald Trump is a loose cannon, with no apparent rangefinder, whereas Hillary Clinton is a “fire-at-will” cannon, with a known record of pounding a select list of targets.  Trump doesn’t know what a nuclear triad is and asks why the U.S. has so many nuclear weapons while not using them (good question, actually, but I don’t think The Donald wants to follow this to the logical conclusion that we should eliminate our nuclear arsenal).  Clinton is hopelessly compromised on Israel and so many other issues and is a card-carrying member of American exceptionalism and neo-conservative military adventurism.

Here’s another telling excerpt from Bacevich:

When it comes to fresh thinking, Donald Trump has far more to offer than Clinton — even if his version of “fresh” tends to be synonymous with wacky, off-the-wall, ridiculous, or altogether hair-raising.

The essential point here is that, in the realm of national security, Hillary Clinton is utterly conventional.  She subscribes to a worldview (and view of America’s role in the world) that originated during the Cold War, reached its zenith in the 1990s when the United States proclaimed itself the planet’s “sole superpower,” and persists today remarkably unaffected by actual events.  On the campaign trail, Clinton attests to her bona fides by routinely reaffirming her belief in American exceptionalism, paying fervent tribute to “the world’s greatest military,” swearing that she’ll be “listening to our generals and admirals,” and vowing to get tough on America’s adversaries.  These are, of course, the mandatory rituals of the contemporary Washington stump speech, amplified if anything by the perceived need for the first female candidate for president to emphasize her pugnacity.

A Clinton presidency, therefore, offers the prospect of more of the same — muscle-flexing and armed intervention to demonstrate American global leadership — albeit marketed with a garnish of diversity.  Instead of different policies, Clinton will offer an administration that has a different look, touting this as evidence of positive change.

Yet while diversity may be a good thing, we should not confuse it with effectiveness….  

So the question needs be asked: Has the quality of national security policy improved compared to the bad old days when men exclusively called the shots?  Using as criteria the promotion of stability and the avoidance of armed conflict (along with the successful prosecution of wars deemed unavoidable), the answer would, of course, have to be no.  Although Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Clinton herself might entertain a different view, actually existing conditions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and other countries across the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa tell a different story. 

The abysmal record of American statecraft in recent years is not remotely the fault of women; yet neither have women made a perceptibly positive difference.  It turns out that identity does not necessarily signify wisdom or assure insight.  Allocating positions of influence in the State Department or the Pentagon based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation — as Clinton will assuredly do — may well gratify previously disenfranchised groups.  Little evidence exists to suggest that doing so will produce more enlightened approaches to statecraft, at least not so long as adherence to the Washington playbook figures as a precondition to employment. (Should Clinton win in November, don’t expect the redoubtable ladies of Code Pink to be tapped for jobs at the Pentagon and State Department.)

In the end, it’s not identity that matters but ideas and their implementation.  To contemplate the ideas that might guide a President Trump along with those he will recruit to act on them — Ivanka as national security adviser? — is enough to elicit shudders from any sane person.  Yet the prospect of Madam President surrounding herself with an impeccably diverse team of advisers who share her own outmoded views is hardly cause for celebration. 

In short, if you want more endless foreign wars and the abridgment of rights here at home in the name of “security,” vote for Hillary.  If you want “rogue” actions based on knee-jerk sentiments and biases backed by inexperience and a stunning ignorance of even the most basic world facts, vote for Trump.

Quite a “choice,” right?

Be sure to read the rest of Bacevich’s article here.

12 thoughts on “This November’s “Choice” for President

  1. This no-choice “choice” presents the near-definition of a null hypothesis. Were it not for the fact that The Dumbald is a clear wackjob, I’d be tempted to pass on the whole fauxcratic charade of voting this cycle. Given the potential havoc The Dumpster would almost certainly wreak on the nation and world, he has had the effect of pushing me to the polls to prevent his assumption of the presidency. I would hope that others similarly situated would be so moved…

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  2. Two easy take-aways from this article:

    (1) “Trump doesn’t know what a nuclear triad is.”

    How about “nuclear missles launched from land, sea, and air.” There you go. It only took one sentence to educate Mr Trump on this question. I think he could handle it.

    (2) [The Donald] “asks why the U.S. has so many nuclear weapons while not using them (a good question, actually, but I don’t think The Donald wants to follow this to the logical conclusion that we should eliminate our nuclear arsenal).

    I don’t get it. Why call Donald Trump insane and then berate him for following a line of thought to its logical conclusion. Doesn’t every sane person do this? Whatever on eath does an illogical conclusion have to recommend it? Someone has something very backwards here.

    In any event, Mao Ze Dong already gave us the answer to that “deterrence” thing: “I only need five bombs,” he said. Typical practical Chinese person. If we can’t use any of them, why do we need thousands of them? Why not just 5 each, for everyone? Thus the question becomes not the “elimination” of nuclear weapons, but a reduction in their number. If I recall correctly, several U.S. and Soviet leaders spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to effect just such a reduction. Did anyone call them insane or uneducable?

    At any rate, judging from the unholy mess that the last twenty-five years of U.S. presidencies have “accomplished” — at least acccording to Andrew Bacevich — why would comparing Donald Trump to this collection of amoral psychopaths make The Donald look insane? I think a good case could be made for just the opposite conclusion.

    One word best describes Donald Trump: “unpredictable.” That has the Ruling Corporate Oligachy and its two Republican parties (thank you Dr. Paul Craig Roberts) in a near panic. He could do just about anything. Several million people in the United States hope that he gets the chance to do just that. .Just explain the “triad” and 5-bomb thing to him in two sentences and I think he could get it.

    But we can absolutely predict what You-Know-Her the Wall Street hooker and war-vulture will do. She will bring the world more chaos and suffering in abject service to the One Percent and the Zonist Occupation of Palestine. Benjamin Netanyahu will probably have his own office in the White House, right next to the Goldman-Sachs slot machine. Therefore, she must lose. Whoever else wins will probably constitute an improvement. The United States could use some people at the top who ask refreshing questions and seek to arrive at logical conclusions. What an unheard of novelty in the United States of Amnesia, the Land that Forgot Time.

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    1. Mike: To clarify my points:

      1. Any candidate for president should have some basic knowledge of national defense. To cite your comment, it’s not hard. The triad is sea-air-land, subs/bombers/ICBMs. One sentence. So why didn’t Trump know this? Because he’s lazy. Because he thinks he doesn’t need to know. He’ll just wing it. And I simply don’t think this approach is defensible for the job he’s running for.

      2. Trump’s question about, if we have all these nukes, why aren’t we using them? I could be wrong, but I thought Trump was basically saying, “If we have them, let’s use them.” Not, “If we can’t use them (except for deterrence), let’s get rid of them.”

      I would like all nuclear weapons everywhere on earth eliminated. If Trump wants this, I’ll applaud. But that’s not the way I understood his comment.

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  3. A question that I would ask the Queen of Chaos (or the Damsel of Distress):

    Why does the Zionist Occupation of Palestine (ZOP) require 200 nuclear weapons?

    Against whom does Benjamin Netanyahoo plan to use them? Lebanon? Jordan? The Gaza Strip? Syria? Egypt? Iraq? Iran? Does not the proximity of these countries (or outdoor refugee penal colonies) to the ZOP make bombing them equivalent to bombing the ZOP itself?

    I remember when the Iraqi Army withdrew from Kuwait under the savage bombing of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush who so-very-much desired a cheap, quick, kick-ass slaughter to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” On their way out, the Iraqi Army set fire to a large number of oil wells, sending columns of greasy black smoke up into the atmosphere for months. Now, just consider what setting off a single thermonuclear bomb anywhere in the middle east would do, igniting an underground ocean of oil and gas, sending an inverted tornado of greasy black smoke up into the atmosphere for years and years and years and …

    So does Benjamin Netanyahoo actually intend to use nuclear weapons against the ZOP’s next-door neighbors? Or does he have a different list of potential targets far enough removed from the ZOP to make nuking them an actual possibility? I have in mind the so-called “Samson option.”

    Anybody else want to jump in here with a follow-up question for You-Know-Her?

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  4. So what matters is “ideas and their implementation. To contemplate the ideas that might guide President Trump…is enough to elicit shudders from any sane person”. Right. Ring the alarm bells for Trumpian insanity, yet characterize Clinton in the same vein as “hardly cause for celebration”. “Clinton is surely correct that allowing Trump to make decisions related to war and peace would be the height of folly”. Yet Clinton “does not exactly inspire confidence”. Such characterizations seem reversed. Clinton elicits shudders from sane people and represents folly to an exponential degree. Trump is hardly cause for celebration and does not inspire confidence.
    Bacevich is also keen to highlight Trump as ignorant and dismiss whatever “fresh thinking” he might bring as inevitably “wacky”. Perhaps it’s fresh to reconsider wasteful expenditures and the value and/or purpose of NATO. Perhaps it’s fresh to think in terms of possible partnerships as opposed to insane demonizations. Perhaps it’s fresh to think we don’t need a trillion dollar re-up on nuclear weaponization.
    Yes, Bacevich pillories Hillary to an extent…but really soft-pedals it. Clinton is “conventional”, and semi-excuses her campaign postures as “mandatory rituals”. I call bullshit. Not all of it. But definitely the slant.

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  5. Maybe, Greg. But Trump’s apparent wildness may be more curse than asset. Lord knows I’m no defender of Hillary, but in a chaotic world, she’s more or less predictable. In other words, she contributes in a strange way to world stability. She’s unlikely to be misunderstood. She’s unlikely to be a fly in the ointment.

    Trump? Well, who knows? Maybe he sets America on a better path. Or maybe he’s so reckless (or seemingly so) to provoke another world war.

    In sum: Hillary is more of the same. Trump at this point is god knows what. I don’t like either choice.

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    1. Pepe Escobar, for one, calls You-Know-Her “the Queen of Chaos.” I call her “the Damsel of Distress.” Either way, she does represent predictability: the predicability of chaos and distress. Now that we can see that coming as plain as day — just look at the horde of war-vultures already submitting their resumes for her consideration — she must lose. That means that someone else must win. OK by me.

      Unpredictability at least carries with it the possibility of hope for something different. Therefore, unpredictability it doesn’t scare me. Predictable disaster, on the other hand, does. I realize, as Gore Vidal truly said, that “Americans are among the most easily frightened people on earth.” Who else but a nation of bed-wetting cowards would have to constantly pat themselves on the back and toot their own horns so as to convince themselves of their own “bravery,” “courage,” and “exceptionalism.” Truly brave people do not cringe at the thought that tomorrow might bring somethinig new and interesting. You-Know-Her’s fearmongering and Putin-bashing does have a sort of political utility in the short run, I acknowledge, but all that cheap boasting and bragging only paints her and our country into a corner from which we will not find it easy to escape.

      Donald Trump has had a really fun time with all of this “political” stuff. A real estate agent and tabloid TV personality at heart, he has gotten more media attention and brand recognition from this “campaigning” than he ever could have gotten had he remained solely in the billionaire country-club circuit. He has obviously grown bored with that. He defies comparison. He is sui generis. He has single-handedly hijacked a political party — or at least one of the two American right-wing factions — and given the entire political structure of the country a severe shock. Good for him. The people who will vote for him don’t care about the details of his policies. They only want him to do that thing in Washington D.C. that he used to do on his reality TV program. They want him to fire a whole lot of apprentices to power. Naturally the apprentices to power find the prospect of their imminent unemployment a rather terrifying prospect. May the unpredictable Donald Trump continue to make them soil their collective diapers. Donald Trump’s supporters will just sit back and enjoy the show.

      I don’t say any of these things to defend Donald Trump. He doesn’t need my help. On the other hand, I obviously wish to undermine the political prospects of You-Know-Her in any way I can. I can’t vote for either Donald Trump or You-Know-Her because (1) I never vote for Republicans and (2) I never vote for anyone who won’t do their utmost to demobilize the U.S. military and return my country to civilian control.

      So, I’ll vote for Dr. Jill Stein because I share her views and her suggestions for U.S. policy at home and abroad. But if by any chance my vote could also result in You-Know-Her losing, then I can live with that. As long as You-Know-Her loses.

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      1. I’ll say one thing from Trump: He’s definitely not a “scripted” candidate. More like stream of consciousness. He doesn’t let lack of knowledge get in the way of speaking and pontificating. He’s Archie Bunker with money.

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    1. Interesting article. I agree that Trump has raised valid points. With the Warsaw Pact long gone, why NATO? Why not work more closely with Putin? Why continue endless costly wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere? Why not take the trillions we’d save in ending these wars and invest them in our nation’s infrastructure?

      These are valid questions. Trump deserves some credit for raising them. But they get lost in the shuffle as he attacks Muslims, Mexicans, women …

      Trump is undisciplined as a candidate and seems to have a remarkably short attention-span. The few good ideas he blurts out get lost among all the wild and uninformed things he says each and every day.

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      1. I agree that Trump is undisciplined, uncoordinated in thought, and wholly unattractive as a Presidential candidate. And he has his own unique way of raising disgust levels. But wouldn’t Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush do the same in their own special way? Wasn’t it a given that the Republican nominee would be fraught with bad baggage and bad ideas, a la Clinton? He just doesn’t seem any “worse” or offensive to me than the other so-called candidates…or many prior Presidents for that matter. Sure I appreciate eloquence, manners, and the ability to project human decency. But really, someone who is a straight shooter some of the time (not counting on anything from Trump) is preferable to someone who can say the right things in the right way but is eminently deceitful.

        Yet Trump gets all the more criticized & marginalized by the press for his “few good ideas” because they go against the grain. But he is the only one of the four mentioned who has the wherewithal to even begin to question foreign policy except when trying to double-down on the current and long-standing wave of demented destructiveness.

        Yes Clinton is predictable. That’s why she must lose. The chaotic world we live in is just so because of people like Clinton. I don’t see any contribution to stability here. And yes, she won’t be misunderstood because people who are threatened tend to open their eyes. I’m sorry to have to come to the conclusion that there is perhaps half a chance in hell that, if Clinton gets in, we can come out the other side of it with any good prospects. She will consolidate and further the neocon agenda of the past 16 years to points of no return. If Trump “gets to be President”, a phrase the Queen of Chaos once used when referring to her sense of entitlement, I’ll feel slightly better about the two chances in hell as opposed to the half-chance.

        It would be fascinating to see, providing Stein could somehow get in the debates, the interplay. Stein would be able to really set the table. She and Trump together could give Clinton conniptions. And the Donald would have to sharpen his positions. With just Trump on stage, Clinton can roll her eyes, put on her superior and “in the know” act, and get away with it. Stein could force the conversations in ways that would get Clinton’s goat and leave her scrambling for composure.

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  6. I would love to see Trump and Clinton joined by the Libertarian and Green candidates. A real democracy would insist on at least those four. But no — not in America. We can’t have a real debate. We can’t have a range of choices.

    Because — because — democracy!

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