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Hillary Clinton, the New York senator, is now officially running for the US presidency. No one is surprised. There was plenty of not-so-subtle foreshadowing – in the 2006 New York senate race, Clinton doled out more than $36 million, six times more than her Republican challenger. She has made visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, and appears to be quicker to weigh in on foreign policy than issues related to her constituent state.
Clinton will set the tone for a big spender election. She has decided not to accept public funds in either the primary or general elections. This means that she is not legally tethered to any spending cap and instead will fund the campaign out of her own pocket – leaving her campaign dependent on corporate contributions. According to the political watchdog website, opensecrets.org, Clinton ranks among the top ten recipients of funds in the senate in eight of the 12 main donor industries, and is among the top two recipients for five of these sectors.
Clinton maintains close ties with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the pro-business, pro-free trade think-tank dubbed the ‘Republican wing of the Democratic Party’ by Howard Dean. She fronts the organisation’s American Dream Initiative, but the ‘national conversation’ that this aims to kick-start is more likely to be with corporate sponsors than with the voters. The DLC is funded by several of the largest US corporations, which have included Philip Morris, Texaco and Enron, as well as right-wing funds like the Bradley Foundation.
If the main goals of progressive Democratic politics in America is to reduce corporate infiltration of the American political process and to advance less militaristic policies abroad – the two themes outlined last month in plain speech by senator Jim Webb’s Democratic response to George Bush’s state of the union address – then Hillary Clinton’s record is one that runs in opposition to the progressive wing of the party.
When it comes to Iran, Clinton’s warmongering has surpassed even that of the Bush administration. Her rhetoric matches the most hawkish in the administration. ‘We cannot take any option off the table,’ she says. She has criticised Bush for not taking the threat of Iran seriously enough.
Clinton’s firm commitment to protect Israel’s security and defend the Israeli regime seemingly comes at whatever cost. Last year at Yeshiva University she expressed concern over ‘the threats that Israel faces [from Iran] every hour of every day’, concluding that it was ‘even more clear how important it is for the United States to stand with Israel’. This, even as the US National Intelligence Estimate predicts Iran won’t be capable of producing a useable nuclear weapon for at least 10 years.
The senator is warmly received at events of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group. She speaks frequently of the ‘deep and lasting bonds’ between Israel and the US, rooted in their shared ‘Judeo-Christian ethic’. She says of US policy in the region: ‘The security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any approach to the Middle East.’ Which sounds like she is either saying Israeli interests come before US interests or that the two country’s security concerns are so overlapping that they are indistinguishable from each other.
One only has to follow the money to understand the political underpinnings of her foreign policy. Only four other politicians in America receive more money from the pro-Israel lobby than Hillary Clinton.
On Iraq, it is her Democratic opponent Barack Obama (‘No amount of American soldiers can solve the political differences at the heart of somebody else’s civil war’) who is coming across as the stronger anti-war candidate.
Clinton voted for the resolution in 2002 that enabled the president to go to war. Obama was not in office then, so avoids having any confusing voting history to defend.
Clinton is stuck in a conundrum. As the war has lost popular support, she has attempted to back out of her once firm commitment to the president’s plans, saying that she was ‘misled’. But with all her political experience, having survived the far-right-launched anti-Clinton campaigns of the 1990s, she will find it hard to explain to voters why she trusted a Bush-authored plan for a pre-emptive war in the first place.
While Obama has levelled effective criticism at Bush primarily based on the disaster pieces left by his administration in Iraq and New Orleans, Clinton has been hesitant. So far she has not been among the voices condemning the war. Nor has she come up with a plan to end it. As her anti-war opponent in the New York senate race, Jonathan Tasini, points out, she still supports the idea that there exists a ‘winning’ strategy in Iraq.