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.