Making a Pitch for the Military Vote
by Playthell Benjamin
Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop at an American Legion convention in Ohio on Wednesday, a pivotal state in the coming presidential elections. Although she faced an audience that was staunchly Republican and neither warm nor welcoming – blase skepticism and frosty reserve would more faithfully characterize their demeanor – she nevertheless took to the podium and commanded their grudging respect with a combination of passionate patriotism – recounting tales of military heroism told by her ex-soldier dad – and unimpeachable knowledge regarding the anatomy of war, peace and diplomacy. Even the Five Blind Boys could clearly see that Hillary’s credentials for the gig are heads and shoulders above anything that blustering real estate huckster from Queens can muster.
The quality of the Democratic candidate’s speech depends upon the criteria one employs to evaluate it. As a political oration designed to win votes it was perfect for her audience and thus must be judged a rousing success… that is to say it went as well as possible. She touched all of the right bases she needed to touch to hit a home run. Yet as a statement of political reality and astute Realpolitik – which is to say a proper assessment of the relationship of political forces in the world and where our real interests lay – Hillary’s stance on foreign relations left much to be desired. Since I have made this case elsewhere, re-litigating it here would be akin to reinventing the wheel. Hence I shall refer the reader who cares to fathom the issue to: “The World According to Hillary.”
As I argue in the essay cited above, in order to fully comprehend Hilary’s view of the world, and the role of American power in the international order, one must first take into account the fact that her basic views were molded in the heat of the Cold War era. It is a measure of how bad Trump is that even when he is clearly right he can be dismissed out of hand. Given that the game of politics is a system by which relationships of power are created and maintained alas, and considering the monumental issues that will be decided by this election that demand Democratic leadership, I hesitate to speak frankly of the folly of certain of Hillary’s bedrock views regarding foreign policy… even when they offend my sense of reality.
These are no picayune issues of which I speak; they are at the very root of why the US remains in a state of perpetual war at a great price in blood and treasure! For instance, Hillary gained big brownie points with the Vets as she vociferously attacked Trump for suggesting that the concept of “American Exceptionalism” was “an insult to other nations” and that it is unreasonable to expect them to accept our vision of the world.
The specific example she used to highlight Trump’s foreign policy blasphemy was his comment that “If you are in Russia might not view America as Exceptional.” Hillary acted as if Trump had voiced some unspeakable heresy that alone disqualified him for the US Presidency. She looked into the cameras and said with all of the indignation she could muster: “Just because Putin does not recognize it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” That kind self-righteous messianic view is a dangerous way to understand the role of the US in the community of nations. The late Senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas published a book about this attitude in 1966, titled “The Arrogance of Power.”
Fulbright, who was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presented an argument that Hillary Clinton needs to consider just now. For although a half century has passed, Senator Fulbright’s argument is as relevant now as it was then. At the time the US was in a protracted war in Viet Nam, fighting to “contain the communist menace,” a threat that has now been replaced with the “Radical Islamist menace” from which we are now called upon to save the world. Senator Fulbright, a thoughtful man who was a Rhodes Scholar, offered the following observation:
“The attitude above all others which I feel sure is no longer valid is the arrogance of power, the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission. The dilemmas involved are preeminently American dilemmas, not because America has weaknesses that others do not have but because America is powerful as no nation has ever been before and the discrepancy between its power and the power of others appears to be increasing….”
Senator Fulbright went on to analyze how the arrogance of American power shaped our mission in Vietnam:
“We are now engaged in a war to “defend freedom” in South Vietnam. Unlike the Republic of Korea, South Vietnam has an army which [is] without notable success and a weak, dictatorial government which does not command the loyalty of the South Vietnamese people. The official war aims of the United States Government, as I understand them, are to defeat what is regarded as North Vietnamese aggression, to demonstrate the futility of what the communists call “wars of national liberation,” and to create conditions under which the South Vietnamese people will be able freely to determine their own future. I have not the slightest doubt of the sincerity of the President and the Vice President and the Secretaries of State and Defense in propounding these aims.
What I do doubt and doubt very much is the ability of the United States to achieve these aims by the means being used. I do not question the power of our weapons and the efficiency of our logistics; I cannot say these things delight me as they seem to delight some of our officials, but they are certainly impressive. What I do question is the ability of the United States, or France or any other Western nation, to go into a small, alien, undeveloped Asian nation and create stability where there is chaos, the will to fight where there is defeatism, democracy where there is no tradition of it and honest government where corruption is almost a way of life. Our handicap is well expressed in the pungent Chinese proverb: “In shallow waters dragons become the sport of shrimps.”
Since she is likely to become the next President of the USA, and Commander-In-Chief of the most destructive military force ever assembled on this planet, I can think of several aphorisms that would serve as wise council to Hillary Clinton. As one who voted for her and worked to convince others to cast their votes for her, I feel at liberty to suggest the following: “A hint to the wise should be sufficient,” and I would buttress that sentiment with the philosopher George Santayana’s warning: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes!”
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.