by William Skink
Democrat strategists like Stephanie Cutter are trying to cast foreign policy as a Republican base issue. Here’s how a Huffington Post piece starts out:
There’s a decent chance the 2016 presidential election will be about national security.
If that’s the case, recent spin by Democratic pundits may undercut former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign before it has much of a chance to establish itself.
“I think foreign policy is a Republican base issue, which is why you see Republicans coming out of the gate talking about it,” Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter said on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 14. Challenged on that, she said, “It’s a Republican establishment issue, and it always has been.”
Really? The article continues:
From the rise of ISIS, to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chest-thumping, to Israel’s struggles with the Palestinians, to the nuclear negotiations with Iran, to cybersecurity, trade, China’s rise and tensions with North Korea, foreign policy has become all-consuming for the executive branch and will take up a huge chunk of the 45th president’s time and energy.
But one of the most prominent Democratic strategists in the country is ready to cede foreign policy to the Republicans about nine months before each party knows who its nominees will be. And this idea — that foreign policy and national security are topics that simply fire up the Republican base — is a theory I’ve heard repeated by multiple Democratic operatives in the past week, meaning it’s a line of spin some of the party is beginning to adopt.
If you’re interested in the plausible angles of this strategy, read the rest of the article. I’m not because the way in which the list of foreign policy issues is framed already contains enough manipulative spin to suit me fine. Let me try to pick a few things apart.
Describing Putin as “chest-thumping” ignores U.S. complicity in igniting a civil war in Ukraine. Israel’s “struggle” with Palestinians is the criminal and inhumane struggle to kill or displace every last one of them. Cyber security is for corporations, not citizens. For us citizens we get out constitutional rights violated on pretty much a daily basis by the national security state. Trade? You mean the continued corporate takeover the Obama administration is trying to facilitate with all those secret trade agreements?
Foreign policy will be difficult terrain for Democrats to navigate, so I can understand the avoidance strategy. Not avoiding it, the way Bernie Sanders did with his comments to Wolf Blitzer supporting more Saudi-led proxy wars to further atomize Middle East nation states, just leads to attack the messenger and disparage the source tantrums.
And don’t even get me started on the Neocon darling herself, Hilary Clinton.
Robert Parry, who has a website that isn’t called Counterpunch, put up a piece today, titled Will Peace Find a 2016 Advocate? In that piece he gives credit to Sanders’ opposition to the Iraq war:
Though Sen. Bernie Sanders, her [Hilary Clinton] principal challenger, also has chosen to downplay foreign policy issues in favor of economic ones, the Vermont “democratic socialist” can at least point to his prescient opposition to the Iraq War in 2002.
In a Senate floor speech, Sanders cited five reasons for voting against President George W. Bush’s war resolution: the death and destruction that would result, the dangerous precedent of “a unilateral invasion,” the damage to the war on terror, the “extremely expensive” price tag of “a war and a long-term American occupation,” and the “unintended consequences.”
On the last point, Sanders asked: “Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in [an] ensuing civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists? Will the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority be exacerbated? And these are just a few of the questions that remain unanswered.”
Those were all prescient questions to ask. Now the question to ask is this: what happened to that Bernie Sanders?
I don’t have an answer. Instead, here’s more from Parry:
When Sanders has spoken about the Mideast, he has framed his comments in ways that make them acceptable to Official Washington but that ultimately make little sense. For instance, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Sanders suggested that Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich sheikdoms replace the United States as the region’s policeman in the fight against Sunni terrorists in the Islamic State (also called ISIS).
“Saudi Arabia is the third largest military budget in the world,” Sanders said. “They’re going to have to get their hands dirty in this fight. We should be supporting, but at the end of the day this is fight over what Islam is about, the soul of Islam, we should support those countries taking on ISIS.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Sanders’s Screwy Mideast Strategy.”]
Frankly, it’s hard to believe that Sanders is that naïve. A core reality of the Mideast crisis is that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni Gulf states have been the principal funders and ideological supporters of the Sunni extremists who have organized into violent jihadist movements, including Al Qaeda, its Syrian affiliate Al Nusra Front, and a hyper-violent spinoff, the Islamic State.
Vice President Joe Biden blurted out this reality at Harvard’s Kennedy School last October, when he said: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria … the Saudis, the emirates, etc., what were they doing? They were so determined to take down [President Bashar al-] Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” [Quote at 53:20 of clip.]
Biden had confirmed something that was well-known in the region and inside the U.S. intelligence community, that many of these terrorist groups were supported, directly and indirectly, by elements of Saudi Arabia’s royal family and by oil-rich sheiks around the Persian Gulf who see themselves fighting a sectarian war against Iran and the Shiites. The Vice President later apologized for speaking the truth, but the cat was out of the bag.
The cat is out of the bag only for those paying attention. The task of Democratic strategists is to ensure its base pays as little attention to foreign policy as possible. They are so far doing a great job.
Right now, Bernie Sanders has a tremendous platform to speak to enthusiastic crowds of people. Despite the freakout by white progressives against BLM targeting Bernie in Seattle, the Sanders campaign reacted adeptly by diversifying staff and specifying policy. Unfortunately there is nothing similar coming from the anti-war movement because there isn’t really an anti-war movement to speak of.
Pete Talbot pushed back against that assertion with this:
“do we even have anti-war protesters anymore or have progressives conceded that ground to the military-industrial-congressional complex for good?” says Skink. Wow. I don’t know where to start, do you? Should we meet at Daines’, Zinke’s or Tester’s office with our protest signs? We could re-instate the draft. That might get a few more people out in the streets. Tell me – I’m a progressive as are many of my friends at the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center – what should we do? After you’ve answered my first question about obtaining peace in the Middle East, you can tell us progressives how to go about dismantling the military-industrial complex.
Since Pete, keeping it local, drags in the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center to our disagreement, I’ll provide an answer he can relate to his progressive friends there: speak up, and speak accurately. Write an op-ed about the crisis in Yemen and America’s role, be critical of Hillary’s role in destroying Libya, acknowledge the purposeful silence on foreign policy by Democrat strategists. Start a campaign to strip Obama of his Nobel Peace Prize.
A bunch of origami peace cranes looks pretty when displayed, but what else is the Peace Center doing? Feel good repositories of trinkets and free trade coffee is nice and all, but while that day-to-day is managed, a Democratic President has solidified and extended dangerous war powers that will be passed on to the next war criminal, Democrat or Republican, it really doesn’t matter.