Hillary Clinton’s ‘Wicked’ Iraq Problem

National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
See more stories about...
Alex Seitz-Wald
June 15, 2014, 3:56 p.m.

As the situ­ation in Ir­aq de­teri­or­ates with no clear solu­tion, Hil­lary Clin­ton faces the pro­spect of en­ter­ing a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign with three un­settled glob­al con­flicts on which she’ll be polit­ic­ally vul­ner­able from the right, left, or both.

That’s a di­lemma for a po­ten­tial can­did­ate who just wrote a 650-page book de­tail­ing her ac­com­plish­ments helm­ing Amer­ic­an for­eign policy, put­ting yet an­oth­er as­ter­isk on a re­cord that should be her biggest strength.

On Rus­sia, there’s Clin­ton’s mis­trans­lated and — con­ser­vat­ives say — mis­con­ceived “re­set but­ton.” On Syr­ia, her early sup­port for air strikes re­vived lib­er­al con­cern about her self-de­scribed “bi­as to­wards ac­tion,” re­call­ing her vote for the Ir­aq War in 2002 that sty­mied her last pres­id­en­tial am­bi­tions. She re­cently apo­lo­gized for the vote in her new book.

Now on Ir­aq, she finds her­self in a fa­mil­i­ar and un­com­fort­able po­s­i­tion between a war-weary Demo­crat­ic Party on one side and hawk­ish Re­pub­lic­ans eager to paint her as weak on the oth­er. She’s tried to thread this needle be­fore and it didn’t work well.

“The cur­rent crisis in Ir­aq is a re­mind­er of the dangers Hil­lary Clin­ton faces with the Demo­crat­ic base,” said Steph­en Miles of the pro­gress­ive group Win without War. “Today, with the threat of mil­it­ary ac­tion once again on the table in Ir­aq, “¦ we’ll be look­ing to see if her re­cent de­nun­ci­ation of her 2002 vote for the Ir­aq War rep­res­ents a true change of heart or was simply an ef­fort to re­write his­tory in ad­vance of a 2016 run.”

At the same time, it didn’t take long after Is­lam­ist in­sur­gents made rap­id gains in Ir­aq last week for Re­pub­lic­ans to blame the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s push to with­draw Amer­ic­an troops from the coun­try.

“A policy of weak­ness and ac­com­mod­a­tion that came from the Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton team is one that’s led to very ser­i­ous and neg­at­ive res­ults,” said Mitt Rom­ney, the GOP’s 2012 pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee, on Fox News. “There’s al­most not a place in the world that’s bet­ter off be­cause of [Clin­ton’s] lead­er­ship in the State De­part­ment.”

It’s not fair to blame Pres­id­ent Obama or Clin­ton en­tirely for the lack of U.S. troops in Ir­aq, since Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki re­fused to sign the Status of Forces treaty needed to main­tain a mil­it­ary pres­ence. But as Amer­ica’s top dip­lo­mat dur­ing the failed ne­go­ti­ations, Clin­ton’s role is sure to be scru­tin­ized.

In an Oc­to­ber 2011 in­ter­view with CNN, the then-sec­ret­ary of State down­played the im­port­ance of keep­ing troops in Ir­aq, say­ing Amer­ic­an forces would still have plenty of ca­pa­city to deal with situ­ations that might arise. “We have a lot of pres­ence in that re­gion,” Clin­ton said. “In ad­di­tion to a very sig­ni­fic­ant dip­lo­mat­ic pres­ence in Ir­aq, which will carry much of the re­spons­ib­il­ity for deal­ing with an in­de­pend­ent sov­er­eign demo­crat­ic Ir­aq, we have bases in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.”

Some ana­lysts pre­dicted al-Ma­liki’s crack­down on the Sunni minor­ity in the coun­try would re­vive a dormant in­sur­gency, but on Thursday, speak­ing at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, Clin­ton said the in­sur­gents’ suc­cess was un­fore­see­able. “I could not have pre­dicted, however, the ex­tent to which IS­IS could be ef­fect­ive in seiz­ing cit­ies in Ir­aq and try­ing to erase bound­ar­ies to cre­ate an Is­lam­ic state. That’s why it’s a wicked prob­lem,” she said.

Voters will have to de­bate that one, to de­term­ine if it’s a sat­is­fact­ory an­swer for someone who likely wants to be com­mand­er in chief.

IS­IS’s rise in Ir­aq may have no Amer­ic­an policy solu­tion, and for Clin­ton, that makes it an equally “wicked” prob­lem polit­ic­ally. Lib­er­als like House Demo­crat­ic Lead­er Nancy Pelosi have less than zero ap­pet­ite for wad­ing back in­to the quag­mire, while only 38 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans think the Ir­aq War was worth its costs to be­gin with, ac­cord­ing to a March 2013 ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll.

On the oth­er hand, un­der pres­sure from the likes of Rom­ney and Mc­Cain, Clin­ton can ex­pect to be asked a lot about Ir­aq in com­ing days, and she’ll have to find an an­swer strong enough to fit someone who titled her mem­oir Hard Choices.

Of course, Ir­aq is an old prob­lem for Clin­ton. Head­ing in­to the 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, she tried to atone for her vote in fa­vor by be­com­ing one of the Sen­ate’s more vo­cal an­ti­war voices, op­pos­ing the surge and vot­ing to block it in a bill that didn’t gain clo­ture. Later, she said that while the in­creased troops had helped im­prove se­cur­ity tem­por­ar­ily, the surge ul­ti­mately “failed” in its broad­er goals.

In a dif­fer­ent move that now looks more pres­ci­ent, she in Au­gust of 2007 called on the Ir­aqi Par­lia­ment to re­place al-Ma­liki with “a less di­vis­ive and more uni­fy­ing fig­ure,” prompt­ing an angry re­sponse from the lead­er.

Now, her re­sponse to the situ­ation in the coun­try is de­pend­ent on the man who wiel­ded her Ir­aq policy against her six years ago. As a Demo­crat and one of Obama’s top for­eign-policy of­fi­cials, the strength of her for­eign policy re­cord — and by ex­ten­sion, her rais­on d’etre for a White House bid — rides on the suc­cess of Obama’s.

The ad­di­tion of yet an­oth­er “wicked” prob­lem to his dock­et, even one he may not bear re­spons­ib­il­ity for cre­at­ing and solv­ing, doesn’t help.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
23 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×