Originally published in the Monitor (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)
Progressives hoping for a Democratic victory in the upcoming U.S. election should be sorely disappointed by the party’s presidential nominee. So argues Diana Johnstone, journalist, author and staunch critic of U.S. foreign policy, in her book Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton (CounterPunch, November 2015). I spoke to Johnstone on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in late July about Clinton, Trump, Sanders, gender politics and the cage of the two-party system.
Jeremy Appel: Your first two books, Fool’s Crusade and the Politics of Euromissiles focus on the projection of unilateral U.S. power abroad. How would Hillary Clinton differ from Donald Trump on foreign policy?
Diana Johnstone: Clinton adheres to the notion that American military power is capable of achieving just about whatever U.S. leaders want it to do. All that is needed to get our way is “resolve.” Thus she and her foreign policy clique seem confident that U.S. air strikes could counter Russian influence in Syria. Such overconfidence leads to taking grave risks without weighing the possible outcomes.So far, Trump’s foreign policy statements are somewhat ambiguous. In competition with Hillary for support from the influential pro-Israel lobby, Trump’s aggressive condemnation of the Iran nuclear deal competes with Clinton’s bellicose threats to “obliterate” Iran.
However, by promising to “make America great again,” Trump implies the U.S. is not so all-powerful. Considering that he set out to win the nomination from the Republican Party, which is not exactly a peace movement, Trump may have been using aggressive rhetoric precisely in order to sell a policy of withdrawal from worldwide battlefields. Blaming free-rider allies sets a nationalist tone to such withdrawal. His focus on wiping out Islamic terrorism is consistent with normalizing relations with Russia and reversal of Hillary Clinton’s “regime change” policy. Sounding “crazy” could be a symptom of realism.
How effective do you think Bernie Sanders has been in challenging Clinton’s foreign policy positions?
Unfortunately, he was not effective at all. By resigning from the Democratic National Committee to oppose Hillary Clinton’s warlike “regime change” policy, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard gave Sanders a great opportunity to use his campaign to strengthen an anti-war constituency. Sanders failed to follow her lead, sticking to domestic policy issues without relating his social reforms to the need to challenge the military-industrial complex. His opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq was principled and foresighted, but that was a Republican war. He has shown much more tolerance for “humanitarian” wars waged by Democrats. Bernie failed to reply to charges that he “lacked experience” by aggressively exposing the deadly nature of Hillary’s “experience.”
Whatever his flaws, Sanders galvanized the support of many progressives fed up with the Democratic establishment. What do you think these supporters should do now that he surrendered the nomination to Clinton?
Since it appears hopeless either to reform the Democratic Party from within (apparently Sanders’ project), or to build the Green Party into a real national challenge, I think splitting the Democratic Party would be the best strategy. It might be easier to build a third party by splitting one of the two than by starting from scratch. The Bernie campaign made it clear how much popular support exists for a return to the social outlook associated with the New Deal, which many people continue to associate with the Democratic Party. In reality, the progressive left is now deprived of effective political representation.Honestly, it is hard to see how to escape from the two party trap.
Clinton’s gender has played an oversized role in discussions of her candidacy, but your book urges voters to look past the idea of America’s first female president.
That gives people a reason to vote for her. That and her “experience.” In reality, after being the wife of a president (Bill Clinton), that “experience” was carefully crafted to prepare her to run for president: first senator, then Secretary of State. A suitable curriculum vitae for the job. I find it amusing that the candidacy is not a result of her experience, but rather that the experience is the result of her (carefully programmed) candidacy. She has cast herself in the role. Being a woman tends to protect her from more critical examination of that record.
Still, there is no doubt that because she is a woman she has been subjected to particularly vicious personal attacks. By the same token, Obama aroused unjustified animosity for being African-American. Just as having a black president failed to eliminate racism, a woman president is not going to end the war between the sexes in America—on the contrary. My problem with all this is that “the right of a woman to be President” is actually a very provincial domestic issue in the United States at a time when so much else is at stake, including the danger of World War III. This is just not the moment to focus on gender. Some other time, some other woman.