Before the 1960 election, President Dwight Eisenhower was asked what contribution Vice President Richard Nixon had made during the previous eight years. Nixon was running for president as the most qualified candidate in the race, and his boss’s endorsement mattered. But Ike wasn’t in the mood for BS that day. “Give me three weeks and I might think of something,” he replied in a put- down that has entered the American political lexicon.
Before the 2016 election – in fact, just last Tuesday – Josh Earnest, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary, was asked by Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry to name two or three of Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments during her four years as secretary of state in the first Obama administration.
The question was pertinent. Like Nixon, Clinton is a prospective presidential candidate running on her experience in international affairs. Her opponents charge that she didn’t actually do anything consequential. She is currently touting a new book, “Hard Choices,” to rebut the charge that her term at the State Department was a failure.
Earnest didn’t duck the question and he didn’t pull an Ike. On the contrary, he told Henry that Clinton could proudly take her share of the credit for three foreign policy successes of the Obama administration: “Ending the war in Iraq. Responsibly ending the war in Iraq. And decimating and destroying core Al Qaeda.”
At the very moment Earnest was touting these achievements, an army of Sunni jihadists, the ISIS – formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq and certainly part of the “core” of the movement – was in the midst of invading Iraq. Its forces had already overrun Mosul, the country’s second largest city, and were on their way to the oil refineries and south to Baghdad. The war in Iraq, contrary to Earnest’s talking points, was anything but over.
As for the invaders, they appeared to be neither decimated nor destroyed. In fact, they looked like they had a pretty good chance of overthrowing the American-backed Maliki government and replacing it with an anti-American Sunni caliphate with all the trimmings.
And so, according to the White House spokesman, Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy successes consist of the fall of Iraq as an American friend and the rise of Al Qaeda as a regional force with ambitions to take over the entire Levant and transform it into a caliphate. Oh yes, and her help in crafting a “responsible” drawdown in Afghanistan.
Not since their lawyers got the Rosenbergs off with the electric chair has there been such an inept defense. And not since Jimmy Carter lost Iran has there been such a feckless American foreign policy.
In 2009, the Obama administration inherited an Iraq that, after long years of fighting, had an elected, pro-American government and an army that was being trained by the U.S. to protect what appeared to be a budding democracy. It wasn’t a perfect country, but it was far better than it had been under Saddam Hussein.
Obama had promised in his first election campaign to withdraw from Iraq, and he kept his word. In the fall of 2011, he signed a Strategic Agreement with Baghdad that specified the full departure of American troops. The Maliki government claimed to want this in order to demonstrate its independence. In fact, Malaki had no choice. The U.S. efforts to convince him to garrison some troops were transparently insincere. This was Bush’s war; Obama didn’t really give a damn what happened after he left.
Everyone – certainly everyone in the Middle East – knew this was a case of premature evacuation. There was no way that a pro-American government in Baghdad could survive without strong U.S. support, including American military advisers and special forces.
Secretary Clinton, like her boss, washed her hands of the whole thing. At the time of the withdrawal she dismissed the obvious fact that Iraq, without U.S. forces, was a sitting duck.
“We have support and training assets elsewhere,” she said airily. “I don't think anyone should be mistaken about America's commitment to the new democracy in Iraq that we have sacrificed so much to help them achieve."
And, in fact, no one in the region was mistaken. You can see the results on TV.
There are those who regard Hillary Clinton as the inevitable next president of the United States. Maybe she will be. But the Republicans are going to turn this week’s briefing into a campaign ad. If Clinton wins, it will be despite her achievements in foreign policy, not because of them.