Hillary Clinton should not be President
by Benjamin Studebaker
Hillary Clinton is currently way out in front of the early polls for the democratic presidential nomination 2016. In January, a full 73% of registered democrats picked Clinton over Joe Biden (12%) and Elizabeth Warren (8%). I think this is deeply unwise, because Hillary Clinton has a remarkably narrow and unsophisticated view of US foreign policy. I say this even though I defended Clinton and her department on the Benghazi affair. Let me show you what I mean.
So, what prompted me to write this piece is this quote from Clinton that just came out in which she compares Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler:
Today Putin basically said in a long press that conference that “All I want to do is protect the rights of the minorities”–namely Russian speakers, and he’s been on a campaign to give everybody who has any Russian connection (and there are a lot of retired Russian military in Crimea), he’s given them all Russian passports. Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30’s. All the Germans that were… the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying, “They’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people,” and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.
While Putin’s claim that military intervention is about protecting Russian-speakers and Russian nationals in Ukraine is indeed somewhat disingenuous (I wrote about the real reasons the other day in a surprisingly popular piece), the implication Clinton is making here is that Putin is pursuing a similar agenda to the one Hitler pursued in the 30’s. Hitler’s agenda in the 30’s was one of aggressive expansionism–Nazi Germany was a huge economic and military juggernaut in Europe and had the capacity to defeat even rival great powers like France and Britain. One way of illustrating how spectacularly powerful Nazi Germany was is to look at the relative share of wealth it controlled in comparison with the other great powers rivals in its region. Here’s what Europe looked like to Hitler in 1940 just before the invasion of France:
Allied with Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler controlled almost 40% of European wealth. If he had not foolishly invaded Russia and declared war on the United States in 1941, he would have been in an excellent position to defeat the Franco-British alliance in the early 40’s. Even after we include the United States in the European balance in 1942, Nazi Germany is still by no means a small fish:
Compare that to the miserable picture Europe presents to Vladimir Putin today:
Counting the Americans, who still keep around 100,000 troops deployed in Europe, makes things even worse:
Nazi Germany had three times the share in 1942 Putin’s Russia has now. This picture worsens further for Putin when the nuclear weapons are taken into account. While Russia has nukes, NATO does too, and this makes it impossible for Russia to invade NATO member states without risking nuclear annihilation. The European balance of power is fundamentally nothing like it was during the Nazi period. Hillary Clinton is inflating the threat by wrongly portraying Russia as a country with realistic military expansionist aims. Russia simply isn’t capable of behaving like Nazi Germany, even if it wants to. And we have further evidence to suggest that it does not–why would Russia offer the Ukrainian government $15 billion to dump the EU deal it was contemplating in late 2013 if its intent was to invade and annex territory? Russia is acting from desperation to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. Putin is fibbing about a lot of things, but when he says that military action is a “last resort” for the Russians, he’s right. Putin knows from Russia’s experience in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War that the Russian military is a disorganized mess and that a conflict in Ukraine is likely to be expensive, both in terms of its military cost and in terms of the potential sanctions the US and EU might impose on it.
This reality is not difficult to see, so why doesn’t Hillary Clinton see it? Because Clinton has a deeply black and white, good guys versus bad guys view of international relations. During the 2008 election campaign, Clinton claimed that Vladimir Putin has “no soul”, a comment Putin did not take kindly to:
By claiming that Vladimir Putin is some kind of soulless zombie Hitler, Clinton not only damages ongoing negotiations between the US and Russia along with the US-Russia relationship more broadly, she illustrates a stunning incapacity that should have disqualified her from being Secretary of State–Hillary Clinton cannot empathize with or understand the alternative worldviews and interests held by foreign states and leaders. When trying to resolve a crisis that involves the Russians, it is absolutely essential that the US President understand how the Russian President thinks, what interests he considers important, and how he is likely to defend those interests. Clinton is completely disqualified to do that job.
What makes Clinton’s poor grasp of the Russian point of view all the more disappointing is the range of issues on which the United States and Russia should be cooperating. The US and Russia have many common interests and shared concerns:
- Nuclear Proliferation
- Rising China
- Climate Change
When the US government believes that the President of Russia is soulless zombie Hitler, it acts to contain that president with sanctions, missile defense, and, most critically, NATO expansion. All these policies serve only to terrify the Russian president, who is as human as you or I and feels tremendous fear when he contemplates a Ukraine that is part of NATO, or a missile defense system that makes Russia’s nuclear deterrent useless, or sanctions that eviscerate his nation’s economy and impoverish his people.
The next president of the United States should be committed to making Russia feel safe and secure so it will feel it can reciprocate on shared strategic interests. Failing that, the next president of the United States should at least understand the Russian position well enough to manage US-Russian relations with some modicum of skill. Hillary Clinton is not equipped to do either. That’s a big problem, because a strong US-Russian relationship is going to be essential if China continues to rise and the planet continues to warm.
What we don’t need is a president who casually engages in the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy, who, like a common internet troll, validates Godwin’s Law on the international stage. Even more importantly, we don’t need a president who engages in childish name-calling of foreign heads of state with whom we have critical shared strategic interests. If you’re an American citizen, whether you care about containing China or containing climate change, Hillary Clinton is not the candidate for you.
Glorious, brosef. Agreed with every word.
Are Hillary’s statements really Reductio ad Hitlerum? The idea of Reductio ad Hitlerum is not to say that comparisons to Hitler or the Nazi Party are NEVER to be made. That in itself would be a fallacy.
She did not just “casually” compare Putin to Hitler. She explained it very well. Yes, Russia is not in the same situation economically or militarily as Germany was in 1940, but she is right that the two are acting in similar ways. Hitler was worried about ethnic Germans in other countries, and Putin is worried about ethnic Russians in other countries. I think that is a relatively fair comparison, because Putin may follow up similarly to how Hitler did. After Hitler got his way in one country, he did made his way to other countries. There are ethnic Russians in other countries besides Ukraine. Does this give Russia a right to defend those people?
Also, do you have a balance of power map in 1933 or 1938? Those pre-war years are probably a better comparison, since we are not currently in a global war, which Germany was at the time.
I think Hillary’s statements have less to do with her lack of knowledge of international politics or how people think, and more to do with domestic politics. I am pretty confident she is trying to appeal to American sentiment. Grant it, that could be dangerous, but I do not think it means she inherently lacks knowledge of different perspectives. She does after all potentially have to worry about an election in 2 1/2 years.
She also could easily be appealing to a certain segment of American voters who still see Russia as the Cold War Villain Monster of Doom.
Hitler claimed to be worried about ethnic Germans in other countries, but this claim was a cover for his true aims–expansionism and eventually the domination of Europe. By comparing Hitler to Putin, Clinton implies that Putin is not just making similar claims, but for similar reasons, that Putin is an expansionist who eventually seeks to dominate Europe. I agree that Putin is fibbing, but I think Putin is fibbing for a fundamentally different reason than the reason Hitler fibbed. I think that reason matters a great deal when we decide how to interpret Putin’s actions and respond to them, and by comparing Putin to Hitler, Clinton glosses over the distinction.
In 1930, Germany had 33% of European wealth, still much higher than Putin’s–there are two big differences between 1930 and 1940. The first is that up until 1933, Germany honored the Versailles Treaty’s mandate that it not build any substantive military forces at all. By ’36, Germany is in the Rhineland. The second is that France and Britain were a combined 49% in 1930 while they were only a combined 33% in 1940. Over the decade, France falls behind and the Soviet Union industrializes. The Franco-British alliance is a much bigger deterrent at the start of the decade than it is at the end, particularly given the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 that assured Hitler that the USSR would not come into the war on the side of the allies.
Americans are not likely to remember this statement during the 2016 election, but even if they were and Clinton was trying to appeal to Cold War types, is that a responsible thing to do when we should be trying to become allies with a country? Putin is not likely to trust an American leader who has said these kinds of things about him, whether for a campaign or not.
Comparisons to the Nazis are valid only when the other country is a potential regional hegemon. Russia is too weak for the comparison to hold water. If a much stronger China were to occupy Taiwan in 2050, that would make for a more legitimate comparison.
Agree. Russia can’t do what Clinton implies they can and might do. The economic consequences of even one armed conflict, much less multiple, in Europe are too great for that to be a serious option for the Russians. (Which is why I don’t think the Ukraine situation ends in armed conflict, even the threat of sanctions has significantly affected the Russian economy.) Combine this, with the fact that the Russians don’t have the military or the economic capability to do what Clinton implies–China in 30 or 40 years is another story–they can do, and you get what you have already said.
Indeed, if Russia takes territory, it’s more likely to be taken via referendum than via war.
The referendum is an interesting possibility, but I think the current Ukrainian government, championed by Kerry today, will see any mechanism for losing Crimea as a violation of territorial integrity. How do you see it playing out?
I doubt Ukraine uses military force to try to hold onto the Crimea because it would surely lose, and I don’t think the US/EU are willing to commit military forces to defending Ukraine. I don’t see much of any way that Ukraine can effectively resist Russian annexation of the Crimea.
US/EU sanctions perhaps? Sanctions could really injure the Russian economy, but of course any action against Russia is going to injure the EU as well. It would be a lose-lose, really. I also think the autonomy already enjoyed by Crimea within the Ukrainian state is an interesting element that makes Crimea leaving Ukraine for Russia more legitimate–the people have spoken, so to speak.
I wouldn’t do sanctions. The Russians might retaliate by monkeying around with the natural gas, and the European economy just doesn’t need that right now. Plus sanctions will just drive home how determined we are to get Ukraine into the EU and NATO, and that will just harden Putin’s resolve. When push comes to shove, we can’t really stop annexation, so why blow all the money and damage relations further?
100% of the EU natural gas comes from Russia, but I think it is only 11% of the total EU energy pie. So, it might not be as damaging as we would imagine. Ultimately I agree with you though. It is not in the interests of the US or the EU, especially, to take action against Russian annexation of Crimea, particularly if it is via referendum. What I fear is that this will cause the US to adopt a quasi-Cold War policy towards Russia similar to the one taken by Jake Starr above. The US needs a strong Russian ally in the Far East, and Russian shit in Crimea makes that alliance less likely, I think. It shouldn’t, but it does.
I’ve heard a range of views on just how strong the natural gas lever is, with the consensus being that it’s somewhat weaker than it once was, but far from negligible. The key thing is that European countries don’t yet have the heating infrastructure in place to take full advantage of alternative fuels for that purpose.
The US and Russia are in a mutually reinforcing downward relationship spiral, in which the US expands NATO, frightening Russia, resulting in Russia taking stronger actions to prevent NATO expansion, resulting in stronger US desire to expand NATO to deter Russia, resulting in Russia taking stronger measures to resist NATO expansion, and so on.
“If he had not foolishly invaded Russia and declared war on the United States in 1941, he would have been in an excellent position to defeat the Franco-British alliance in the early 40′s.”
lol just lol. Germany were entirely dependent on Russia for natural resources; Hitler had no choice but to invade because they were running out of fuel…Moreover, it was only by a stroke of luck that Germany lost against Russia when the Russians were incredibly fortunate in being able to break out of Hitler’s now infamous encirclement manoeuvre. I’d say ex ante Hitler made very good strategic decisions.
If I had been running Germany in 1940 and I was concerned that the Soviet Union might refuse to export the requisite oil I required, I would not invade the Soviet Union.
Instead, I would take the much less costly and lower risk strategy of committing the Wehrmacht to the war against the British in North Africa. I would have seized the Suez, cutting off British supply lines, invaded the British mandates, and pushed Britain out of Khuzestan. This would enable me to both acquire additional natural resources and to damage British trade. With those resources I would have been able to field a larger number of tanks, planes, and ships, making it more possible for me to pursue an invasion of Britain. Only having knocked Britain out of the war and eliminated it as a staging ground for a US invasion of Europe would I consider attacking the Soviet Union and opening up a two-front war.
I will grant you that Hitler almost pulled off the invasion of the USSR anyway, but that invasion was unnecessarily high risk compared to the other options that were available at the time.
All this aside, she would be a much better choice than Rand Paul in my opinion. Like many U.S. Citizens, I feel powerless to change my or my county’s circumstances. I personally would love if Warren was elected but it’s a long shot. What will we do?
Paul would be much better than Clinton on international relations, much worse on economics. If pushed, I pick Clinton in that scenario, but I’m not very happy. Warren’s heart may be in the right place, but I don’t think she knows what she’s doing–her plan to resolve the student debt problem was a mess:
There aren’t a lot of good options, and the system constrains the ability of even well-intentioned, talented presidents to get much done in this day and age. For what it’s worth, I would be amused by Al Gore vs. Jeb Bush…
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We would not be in this situation if the expansionist EU had not sent that ridiculous Baroness Ashton to Ukraine with a cartload of cheque books to buy their loyalty for the EU. No wonder the Russians became tetchy when their ‘buffer zone’ looked to be in danger. The only thing those stupid EU people can envisage is their dream of an even larger corporate state. They care nothing for the damage they cause. This is Adolf’s dream coming true without needing an army.
I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it to Hitler’s dream, but it is certainly the case that the EU, as currently constructed, favors the core countries (especially Germany) at the expense of the periphery and correspondingly produces a great deal of political and economic instability. The concept of a united Europe has value, but only if that union is fair and equitable, and the economic crisis has established that the EU does not at present meet those standards.
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