Secretary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Speech

Secretary Clinton’s foreign policy speech yesterday was not your traditional campaign foreign policy address. It became quickly clear that it was really her way of going on the offensive against Trump and using her remarks to draw some very distinct contrasts between his multiple positions on every issue and her positions. Others, in many places and from many different perspectives, have provided some interesting takes on her remarks, but I want to put the politics aside and focus a bit on what policy components there were in the speech.

After her initial introductory remarks, including a few specific comparisons between Trump’s positions and hers, Secretary Clinton started not with foreign policy, but with domestic concerns. She quickly focused on how to extend economic growth through fixing America’s long neglected infrastructure, shoring up education and educational opportunities, and investing in research and development, which she referred to as innovation. She then contrasted this with a discussion of Trump’s tax plan, which would add $30 trillion to the debt.

There is a very good reason why every foreign policy address should begin with a discussion of domestic policy, including economic issues: resources (means). The shorthand we use for policy – domestic or foreign – is ends, ways, and means. What are one’s objectives (ends), how does one go about trying to achieve them (ways), and how does one pay to do so (means). Right now American policies, both foreign and domestic, are constrained by the issue of means. Specifically the fetish with the debt and deficit that has led to our elected decision makers, in pursuit of their own ideological goals, to pursue economic and budgetary self-defeating and non-sensical policies that have hampered growth and starved all levels of government of the funds necessary to provide for both the general welfare and the common defense.

A number of the regular commenters are very concerned that Secretary Clinton might be too hawkish on foreign policy and defense issues. She may very well be, but she, or any prospective president, is constrained by the ability to spend to achieve their policy objectives. It is very hard to be hawkish if you cannot get an Authorization to Use Military Force, let alone a Declaration of War, and a dedicated funding stream (both revenue and spending) for the proposed operations through Congress. Focusing on domestic issues, including initiatives, such as spending on infrastructure, which will have an economic multiplier effect, makes sense if one is looking for ways to relieve some of the economic resource constraints that we have allowed to be placed upon ourselves. It is also good domestic policy in and of itself.

Secretary Clinton went on to discuss the need to maintain and safeguard our alliances. Not just for the fight against the Islamic State, but for responding to any number of other opportunities, challenges, and threats. And these alliances are not just military, though many, like NATO, have a primary military focus. The alliances and partnerships we have established are intended to facilitate diplomacy and trade, as well as bind our partners to us and us to our partners in order to reduce the likelihood of international conflict. Moreover, the purpose of our diplomatic, economic, and military alliances are to protect and safeguard the international order. It is true that both the post World War II and post Cold War international order were established and are maintained in America’s best interests. And while this reality, and Secretary Clinton’s willingness to maintain and incrementally improve it, may give some pause, the bigger question about the international order and the global system is what would we replace the current one with? Until that can be answered, and a coherent case made for why it would be at least as stable and how we could achieve this new international status quo, we are left with the reality of the current post World War II and post Cold War global system.

Secretary Clinton did lay out some specific policy positions. If elected president, she would continue to aggressively pursue the campaign against the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and other international terrorist threats. Under her leadership the US would also continue to push for and promote its best ideals and values and would rely first on diplomacy, economic, and informational power. None of these are proposals outside the norms and boundaries of traditional American foreign policy discourse. Secretary Clinton also came out firmly on the side of supporting Israel. She stated that Israel is our strongest, democratic ally in the Middle East, which was a subtle jab at Erdogan in Turkey. And she clearly indicated that the US would not be neutral towards Israel and the Palestinians, which was a domestic politics two-fer: aiming to distinguish herself from Trump’s debate response about being neutral and demonstrating her orthodoxy on one of America’s domestic politics litmus tests.

I think the most important portions of the speech, from a policy perspective, were the sections were she described the hard, often undiscussed efforts of diplomacy. She repeatedly referred to work with the Japanese and the South Koreans in order to shore up Asia-Pacific regional responses to North Korea. There was also a solid recounting of how the State Department under her leadership reinvigorated the diplomatic process with Iran in regard to its nuclear energy and suspected weapons program and did the hard, slow work of establishing the conditions that allowed the US and its allies in the P5+1 to successfully conclude an agreement with Iran in 2015.

This is very significant. In Secretary Clinton, the US has a potential president with extensive, highest level diplomatic experience. This would be a major change from the experiences that past presidential candidates and presidents brought with them onto the campaign trail and into office. And it is likely to produce a very different type of approach to foreign policy than even President Obama’s, even as Secretary Clinton would likely build off of and extend his initiatives. We have not had a President who had been the Secretary of State in a very long time and that may produce a very interesting and unique American foreign policy should Secretary Clinton be elected.

Finally, if you really want to understand someone’s position on their policies, you go to the source documents. For foreign policy in the US that means the National Security Strategy, the National Military Strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. The reason we have a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review is Secretary Clinton. When she took over as Secretary of State she recognized that the US’s diplomatic and development efforts needed to be focused on, thought about, developed, and presented on equal footing as the efforts of the Department of Defense. The first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was released in 2010 and pdf copy can be found at the link below marked QDDR. If you read through it, or just the executive summary, you will find a pretty good baseline for Secretary Clinton’s views on US foreign policy; especially as she created and ushered this strategic document into the American foreign policy milieu.


An Easy Interpretation of the Rules of Engagement

By now you have seen this:

I love this explanation as to why the US basically did nothing but watch:

This was definitely provocative, but it doesn’t amount to a threat, said the retired frigate and cruiser CO.

“Well, we’re not at war with Russia,” Capt. Rick Hoffman said. “It would be one thing to be operating and have a threatening attack profile from someone who might not recognize me — that’s not the case here.”

If you have visual identification of the jet, can see it isn’t carrying weapons, and don’t detect any electronic emissions suggesting there was a missile lock on the ship, there’s nothing to be done.

And ultimately, the the rules of engagement put the CO in charge of how to respond.

“You don’t get to kill people just because they’re being annoying,” said Hoffman, who commanded frigate DeWert and cruiser Hue City. Cruisers are the fleet’s foremost air defense platform and are tasked with guarding flattops from incoming threats.

Basically, being a dick isn’t a death penalty offense, and it certainly isn’t an offense worthy of starting World War III.

This retired Navy officer could teach our nation’s police a thing or two.

The Strong Do What They Can and the Weak Suffer What They Must

I normally stay out of the domestic politics side of things here at Balloon Juice, especially around the current Presidential primaries – on either side, other than posting debate open threads. But I’ve been watching tonight’s GOP Primary Debate on delay – I set the DVR as I had some stuff to do and I’ve just gotten to Dana Bash’s questions on Social Security. As I listened to the different candidates’ answers to her question I was struck by Mr. Trump’s response. Mr. Trump, as part of his answer to the Social Security question, delineated a number of the places that we have military personnel deployed on a more or less permanent basis. While I’m paraphrasing, he stated that we protect Saudi Arabia and Japan and South Korea and we don’t get anything for it. That the Saudi’s were, at one point, making a billion dollars a day and they weren’t doing anything for us, despite our protecting them. And that we’re going to renegotiate and get better deals for what we’re doing militarily and that will provide the funds to shore up Social Security.

This is a very important glimpse into how Mr. Trump understands foreign and defense policy. Intimating that the US would, under his leadership, negotiate foreign basing of US military personnel and security alliances in exchange for payment is a major break with how the US has and continues to do business. What Mr. Trump is proposing is that America would stop being a superpower and instead become an empire. This is something that not even the most hawkish neo-Conservatives or neo-liberal interventionists have proposed. At least not publicly or in any forum I’ve ever seen or heard.

The US, despite being the remaining superpower, is not an empire. We do not require tribute from those we partner with or protect. This is why, despite some political rhetoric that the Iraq invasion and Operation Iraqi Freedom would pay for itself, we didn’t seize Iraq’s oil fields or take over their petroleum resources, processing, and distribution system and infrastructure. The reality of what we do is just the opposite. Quite often, through various programs covered under Foreign Military Sales and other military to military diplomatic programs, we pay for some of our partners and allies to participate with us. And at other times and with other allies and partners, they pay to purchase our weapons and training packages. These interactions, both those that we pay for and those that our allies and partners do, can run the gamut from providing material and equipment and training to providing financial assistance for foreign military officers to come and attend our Professional Military Education programs.*

What Mr. Trump is suggesting in his answer about where to get the money to shore up Social Security is a radical change to how the United States does business. It means changing the United States from being the sole remaining superpower into being an empire. Empires seek tribute in exchange for their beneficent protection. One of the major changes in Athens, and Athenian democracy, a change that was not for the better, occurred prior to and as one of the contributing factors to the Peloponnesian War when it started abusing the tribute collected by the Delian League. While American democracy and Athenian democracy are not very analogous, the Athenian slide into empire should stand as a cautionary tale for the US and place charging for basing American military personnel beyond the pale. The Athenian envoy to Melos stated, in one of the most important and cautionary portions of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, that: “the Strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. The taking of tribute and the path of empire leads to the Athenian destruction of Melos and that is not a path that the US should follow.

* Full disclosure: during my assignment as the Cultural Advisor at the US Army War College (2010-2014), I was the academic advisor (front line supervisor), the primary research advisor, and/or the faculty/community sponsor for almost a dozen senior foreign officers attending the US Army War College resident course as International Fellows. In my professional opinion the presence of these gentlemen in the schoolhouse provided as much, if not more, benefit to the American officers in the resident program than it did to these officers themselves. They brought unique perspectives to the global strategic problems that we were grappling with in the seminar room, as well as important cross-cultural perspectives to critical and strategic thinking and how to go about making strategy and policy.

Open Thread: Who Says Debates Don’t Get Results?

This seems significant, if only for the record books:

Officials at Concerned Veterans of America are lashing back at the two Democratic presidential frontrunners a day after both panned the group’s proposals in a national debate…

CVA has advocated restructuring the Veterans Health Administration as an independent entity and giving veterans more access to private care options with federal dollars, both radical shifts from the current system. But they reject the accusation that the plans amount to “privatization” of the department…

CVA officials have repeatedly declined to discuss funding sources and trustee information for the group, but numerous news reports have linked the group to the Koch brothers network of conservative activist organizations.

Both Sanders and Clinton — along with numerous mainstream veterans groups — have promised to fight privatization of VA services. CVA officials have said privatization and offering more health care choices are distinctly different things.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Democratic National Committee officials supported Sanders and Clinton.

“The jig is up,” said Eric Walker, spokesman for the DNC. “Vets shouldn’t be fooled by a right-wing front group whose main objective is not helping veterans, but electing Republicans like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and others who support privatizing the VA.”

In recent months, CVA officials have held a series of town halls to discuss their reform proposals, which have sometimes doubled as campaign events for Republican presidential hopefuls…

Am I over-optimistic?

Trump’s Charity of Choice

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about the whole Trump skipping the debate nonsense, which has basically dominated our news cycle for the last 48 hours because it is so much easier to pay someone a few bucks to sit and wank on tv than it is to actually go out and report things, is the choice of which veterans charity Trump is using in his little dick measuring contest with Roger Ailes- the Wounded Warrior project.

When we last talked about these shitbirds, this is what they were up to:

The founder of a small Pennsylvania charity helping wounded warriors in that state says the group has spent more than $72,000 defending a lawsuit from the Wounded Warrior Project over their similar logos.

“We’re out of pocket a lot of money and I am sure they are out of pocket a lot of money,” said Paul Spurgin, the director of Keystone Wounded Warriors and a Marine who served two combat tours in Vietnam.


As you can see, they both are black and white and have soldiers assisting other soldiers. The reason this is such a priority for the Wounded Warriors Project is because, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, they aren’t a charity, they’re an elaborate grift. And when you are a grift, you gotta protect that brand.

Today, the NY Times released a scathing and very illuminating piece of investigative journalism on this scam:

In 2014, after 10 years of rapid growth, the Wounded Warrior Project flew its roughly 500 employees to Colorado Springs for an “all hands” meeting at the five-star Broadmoor hotel.

They were celebrating their biggest year yet: $225 million raised and a work force that had nearly doubled. On the opening night, before three days of strategy sessions and team-building field trips, the staff gathered in the hotel courtyard. Suddenly, a spotlight focused on a 10-story bell tower where the chief executive, Steven Nardizzi, stepped off the edge and rappelled toward the cheering crowd.

That evening is emblematic of the polished and well-financed image cultivated by the Wounded Warrior Project, the country’s largest and fastest-growing veterans charity.

Since its inception in 2003 as a basement operation handing out backpacks to wounded veterans, the charity has evolved into a fund-raising giant, taking in more than $372 million in 2015 — largely through small donations from people over 65.


The Wounded Warrior Project cuts a different profile. Under Mr. Nardizzi’s direction, it has modeled itself on for-profit corporations, with a focus on data, scalable products, quarterly numbers and branding.

In an interview at the organization’s four-story headquarters in a palm-lined office park in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Nardizzi, 45, said spending on fund-raising and other expenses not directly related to veterans programs has enabled the Wounded Warrior Project to grow faster and serve more people. It estimates that 80,000 veterans have used its services.

“I look at companies like Starbucks — that’s the model,” Mr. Nardizzi said. “You’re looking at companies that are getting it right, treating their employees right, delivering great services and great products, then are growing the brand to support all of that.”

Read the whole thing, and here is another piece for good measure:

But granted anonymity, the vet gave voice to what is at the very least a perception problem for the WWP: “They’re more worried about putting their label on everything than getting down to brass tacks. It’s really frustrating.”

The same veteran spoke of waking up in the hospital after an IED hit his supply truck—WWP, he said, had given him only trivial merchandise: a backpack, a shaving kit and socks.

“Everything they do is a dog-and-pony show, and I haven’t talked to one of my fellow veterans that were injured… actually getting any help from the Wounded Warrior Project. I’m not just talking about financial assistance; I’m talking about help, period,” he said.

Some gripe in interviews with the Beast about how the charity has become more of a self-perpetuating fundraising machine than a service organization. WWP certainly is successful at fundraising: It had revenues of more than $300 million, according to its most recent audited report, up from approximately $200 million the year before.

“In the beginning, with Wounded Warrior, it started as a small organization and evolved into a beast,” said Sam, an active-duty Army soldier who works with Special Forces. It’s “become so large and such a massive money-maker,” he says, that he worries the organization cares about nothing more than raising money and “keeping up an appearance” for the public with superficial displays like wounded warrior parking spots at the Walmart.

Fortunately, the word is out, and vets are savvy to it, and hopefully more of the public will become aware. Here is my former CEO, who is basically my political photo negative and vice versa. Politically, we agree on nothing other than that we both think the only reason John Brennan still has a job is he has naked pictures of everyone in Washington:

They are SHIT. One of THE biggest wasters of donations. Their CEO (Nardizzi) is a horse’s ass who pulls down over 300k/yr in salary. Two other execs are in the six figure range as well. They just built a lavish new HQs and actually PAY those celebrities for the commercials. WWP spends less than 10% of the funds they raise on vets themselves…

Friends don’t let friends and family donate to the Wounded Warrior Project.

More About the Morons and Iran

AL covered this already, but I have to admit I was kind of flabbergasted by the response. That doesn’t mean I was surprised by it- I fully expected it. I mean I was just flabbergasted by the extent of the idiocy of it all. I mean, what in the flying fuck did they EXPECT to happen when our ships went into someone else’s waters? Even if it was an ally like Britain, they would have sent someone out.

And the fact that this was such a docile encounter is kind of shocking. In my mind, it went something like this:

Navy: Derp.

Iran: Hey guys, whatcha doing?

Navy: Umm, uhh, fishing?

Iran: No, you’re not.

Navy: Ok. You got us.

Iran: Alright, come on now.

And then they gathered their stupid asses and broke-dick crafts up, gave them some pillows and delicious looking snacks which were most assuredly better than anything I can get in this Mediterranean food desert I live in and without question the fucking god awful Halal MRE’s we’d have chucked at their guys. I mean look at this:


First off, those rugs are amazing. Second, I would love some pillows like that but Thurston would chew the fuck out of them. Third, if I saw this while I was on active duty, I’d have thought “I could use some fucking R&R, too.” And then, within fifteen hours, faster than any travel agent I know could arrange a ride home from Iran, they were back in US custody.

That’s it. That’s what big bad Iran did. Oh, yes- they made us apologize. Horror of horrors. We just stumbled into their yard in a drunken stupor, they brought us inside, gave us some snacks, sobered us up and called mom and dad, and we had to say “my bad” while we were getting in the minivan on the ride home.

Now, think for a second what we would have done had a bunch of Iranians been caught floating off the coast of Virginia Beach. Do I even need to give you ideas of McCain or Cotton or one of these other idiots might have handled the situation were they in charge? Thank goodness our military is professional and would not freak out like our elected Republican leaders would

BTW- one of those sailors was black. Which means it is safer for a heavily armed black man in Iran than it is in a park in Cleveland.

I Blame Obama

Here’s a piece of unequivocal good news with which to start the last full year of the Obama presidency:

The executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the federal response on the issue, said in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio this week that [New York] city had “effectively” ended chronic homelessness among veterans.

Lives change:

In 2015 alone, the city placed more than 1,000 veterans in permanent housing, according to city officials. Several weeks ago, at Clinton Avenue Residence, a new 43-unit development in the Bronx specifically for veterans, several men dragged garbage bags with their belongings through the gleaming lobby and into their studio apartments.

“I woke up and there wasn’t a person sleeping three feet away,” Eric Peters, 54, an Air Force veteran who has been in and out of homelessness for decades, said the next morning.


New York City is doing better than many places, though not uniquely so.  Homelessness among vets is down 36% nationwide, and, as The New York Times reports,

 Houston, Las Vegas and New Orleans, among several cities, [have] effectively ending overall veteran homelessness, meaning they have identified all homeless veterans, not just the chronic cases, and placed them in homes.

Why has this happened? Because:

The city’s efforts are part of a broader federal initiative, started under President Obama and aimed at ending veteran homelessness in the United States. The federal housing agency, working in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, has now distributed 79,000 rental assistance vouchers to veterans across the country dating to 2008.

Three cheers for both the hard work being done at both the national and local levels.  I hope the program serves as a model to tackle homelessness writ large — but I have no problem with selecting veterans as the first to demonstrate that the world’s last superpower does not in fact have to house its people in cardboard boxes.

But I do want to point out what’s obvious in this crowd, and should be so in the wide world:  this is what respect — and more, support — for those who serve our military looks like.  The next time your wingnut acquaintance spouts about the Muslim Kenyan Usurpers disregard for the armed services, point this out to her or him — and ask him which GOPster has made this a priority.

Happy new year all.  Going to be an interesting ride in this year of our [insert pasta shape here] 2016

Image:  Ladislav Medňanský, Reclining Soldier, c. 1916.