Saturday, June 4, 2016

President Hillary Clinton - Wars and Assumptions of Wars

We're gonna keep on getting what we have been getting
I determined fairly early in the primary cycle that I preferred Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders for a number of reasons - electability, experience, knowledge/expertise and her willingness to tell me the hard truth, that political change is hard and no matter how hard we clap we ain't getting a pony. And heaven knows, I prefer almost anyone to egomaniac ignoramus Donald Trump. Having said that, and despite what Senator Sanders' most fervent supporters will tell you in repeated spittle-flecked tirades, no candidate is perfect. In the case of Ms. Clinton, I'm not concerned about the breathless innuendo around corruption, but I AM concerned about her willingness to use the US military in ways I believe to be inappropriate and counterproductive. Now, let's be clear - this is not because she is a bloodthirsty warmonger - I think she knows enough about the human cost of modern urban warfare to be reluctant about it - but rather because she comes out of a long tradition of Democratic interventionists, liberals who saw the use of America's overwhelming military power as a way of containing and even rolling back the more brutal, oppressive regimes around the world.

It's important to remember, however, that these Democrat-supported or even initiated interventions tended to be small, sharp engagements - think Mayaguez, Grenada or Panama - characterized by a small, focused objective against an overwhelmingly weak opposition force with little chance of becoming a larger, longer-lasting conflict. Those types of applications of US military power were coupled with ongoing support for strategic deterrence against peer-power expansion and an explicit or implicit promise to defend smaller allies against aggression. So the belief (or, common among many on the left, the certainty) that President Clinton II will initiate one or more GW Bush style large scale invasions/occupations in the third world and engage in belligerent saber-rattling against Russia and China is, historically, entirely unjustified.

But even if you honestly believe her instincts or downright bloodthirsty nature will drive her to engage in more large-scale combat, you have to examine that belief by thinking through the where and why of these presumed new wars. There are four regions of concern - South Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Eastern Europe and the South and East China Seas. And frankly, no matter how much you believe that Senator Clinton WANTS to use American Military power in some or all of those hot spots, I submit that you'll find it hard making a compelling case that she will.

The middle east is a non starter. Too many factions, too many allies and adversaries and proxies, too much history both regional and domestic. Large scale US troop presence in Iraq? The Iraqis don't want it, the Iranians don't want it, and the American people would sour on it very quickly. In Syria? Maybe, but risking war with Russia, Iran and even Turkey over what is essentially a regional multi-factional sectarian war? If you believe Clinton is delusional, perhaps. I don't believe that. Saudi Arabia loves having the US fight its wars, but they do NOT want the US to damage their Sunni Islamist proxies, so they'd be very selective about what they would permit in their neighborhood. All in all, there's nothing for American troops to do in the middle east at this point that wouldn't harm US interests and Clinton's own standing. No matter what you believe are her motivations, there's no fruit left on that tree to be picked.

South Asia is a mess. You can count on American troops remaining in Afghanistan for years to come, even if Jesus was the American President. There's just no politically viable path to drawing down to zero. But for the same reasons, there's no politically viable path to a large scale escalation, either. Pakistan is toxic - they (along with Saudi Arabia) represent the root of the Islamic terrorism problem, and yet we must pretend they are our allies. Obama started a cautious creep away from Pakistan and towards India, but in this particular part of the world any destabilization risks an immediate nuclear exchange. Hillary Clinton, no matter what else she is, is not in favor of nuclear war.

Eastern Europe will become increasingly problematic over the next few years, but despite America's traditional bellicose rhetoric, it has become fairly obvious to all concerned that the US is not going to actually risk a nuclear war with Russia over the likes of Latvia or Poland. And even more so, Germany, France and the UK are actively working to make sure they aren't turned into a smoldering radioactive wasteland because the US and Russia didn't know when to back down. The NATO treaties all come with asterisks today, and while the tensions will rise and fall from event to event, ultimately the US and her western allies will acquiesce to any small scale Russian aggression like we saw in Ukraine. The appetite for a shooting war with a near-peer adversary in Europe is exactly zero.

That leaves the waters off eastern China. And while Clinton would continue the Obama 'pivot', increasing ties to our allies in the region while challenging any Chinese limits on freedom of navigation through those international waters, it ultimately matters more what China does (and what Japan does) than what the US does. The US, for all it's bluster about the most powerful military in the world, is at a tremendous tactical disadvantage in east Asia. In a conventional war, China is fighting within a thousand kilometers of the mainland, while the US is trying to operate in those same waters from a distance that approaches ten thousand kilometers. Recognizing this asymmetric condition, the Chinese began working on a regional warfighting doctrine called A2/AD over a decade ago. A2/AD is shorthand for Anti Access/Area Denial - the concept that all China has to do is make it impossible for US navy surface combatants to operate within that 1000 km arc. Using a combination of missiles, submarines and aircraft and small littoral vessels with modern anti-ship missiles they are well on the way to accomplishing this.

Even now, if the shooting started, the US will almost certainly lose at least one and probably more than one aircraft carrier. The loss of life - and the blow to global American prestige - would be devastating. This is the one potential regional conventional war that America would very likely lose. And let's remember that accepted wisdom is that it is the nation in the process of losing a conventional war that is likely to turn to nuclear weapons. That's the concern in Europe, in Pakistan, and it must be the concern in the China Sea. As president, Hillary Clinton will get the briefings, and will understand that the US is not in the dominant military position it claims to be in Asia, and will therefore work very hard to avoid conflict with the Chinese.

So there you have it. If you believe Hillary Clinton is a demented bloodthirsty warmonger, then I have nothing to say to you - I'd merely direct you to your patron saint, Alex Jones. But if you believe that she is an intelligent - even brilliant - professional politician and statesman, then you need to explain where she would go to war and why. I'll stipulate that American forces will remain in action in dozens of places around the globe, mostly utilizing SpecOps and drone attacks, but I remain unconvinced that the US will fight another large scale war like Iraq during her Presidency.


  1. Well, I believe she is highly intelligent and her tenure at State shows that she is a very gifted politician when in talks and/or negotiations. I also think her time there has really tempered her original hawkishness (which, IMHZO, doesn't really have much in the way of supporting data).

    I do wish she was better at retail politics. But her speech on Thursday indicates that she is fucking great at hammer-and-tongs political hardball.

    Afghanistan. I wish that America had learned the lessons from Russia's entanglement there. But then, that was initiated by idiots who had little interest in learning from history. Russia must be greatly amused by our situation.

    But nice article mikey. Make yourself a drink...

  2. Think Bill is going to have a slot at the Democratic Convention? Obama? Both? I am betting both.

  3. I also think her time there has really tempered her original hawkishness

    AIPAC doesn't. Neither does "my one issue is Irael" Haim Saban, her biggest contributor. Do you think the Iran deal will survive President Hillary? I don't.

    And I'll remind you about Honduras, again, mikey. She supported a military coup there, lied about it, and then supported sending children back to the hell hole she helped create.

    If you believe Hillary Clinton is a demented bloodthirsty warmonger, then I have nothing to say to you...

    Link after link, showing what she's done, and who paid her off for doing it, and all you have is blather.

    I was told on the internet "You're right, but you don't have to be a dick about it." Go look in the mirror mikey.

    1. The really, REALLY fun part is we're going to find out. REAL soon. And I can't wait to ask you about all your certainty in what she'll do when NONE of it happens. I'll be happy to admit it if I'm wrong about her, but I really don't think I am. When she doesn't sign TPP and doesn't start any wars and drives what progressive legislation is possible and the world slowly comes grudgingly to the conclusion that she's a really good President I'm going to be interested in your reaction, Thunder.

      You know, whether you'll 'look in the mirror'?

  4. Well, gosh. I recall being told - in no uncertain terms- that Obama was going to start endless wars, cut Social Security, destroy Medicare, appoint conservatives to the SC, gosh I really forgot but his perfidy would be legendary. Neo-Liberal was often the term. I forget the source....

    But exactly none of that actually happened. The economy was strengthened, a large (admittedly not large enough) stimulus package was passed, historic expansion of health care, changes to the structure of American marriage and LGBT rights, reduction of American military adventures in nearly every venue, rescue of the American car industry. I guess I am forgetting a few.

    If Clinton is HALF as successful at not doing all the fear-mongering horrorshow that her detractors claim is inevitable, she will be remembered as a great President. And if she makes the Wingnuts, and the Leftier-than thou Purity zealots just as crazy, I, for one, will enjoy it....