Stupid Stuff: Hillary Clinton on Syria

Former Secretary of State Clinton remarked in her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic that President Obama’s admonition not to do stupid stuff “is not an organizing principle.” Quite true. But then, the opinion she expressed regarding Obama’s early decision not to supply arms to the opposition to Assad in Syria is almost certainly dead wrong. (I use that cliché intentionally.)

“The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” she told Goldberg. I am not sure how she defines vacuum, but I have trouble detecting one in Syria, then or now. But the bigger issue is that arming the “democratic” opposition would only have increased the violence. In a violent situation either the regime totally crushes the rebels, or the most unscrupulous, religiously motivated, battle-hardened opponents win, particularly if they are backed by neighboring states and groups. The best advice to the Syrian democratic opposition would have been to keep their heads down and not to respond to the regime’s violence with violence of their own.

David Brooks, in today’s New York Times, avers that “Clinton speaks as a Truman-Kennedy Democrat,” which he defines as a willingness to use “muscular diplomacy.” When he refers to Kennedy I do not know whether he is thinking of the Kennedy who authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles armed by the United States, or the Kennedy who negotiated an end to the Cuban missile crisis by agreeing to mutual concessions.

The fact is, you cannot have a successful “organizing principle”—which I assume is what most of us call “strategy,”– until you exclude at the outset “stupid stuff.” It would have been as mistaken to encourage and support armed opposition to Assad as it was for Kennedy to approve the Bay of Pigs invasion. But Kennedy, at least, saw his mistake, and did not make it during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

From this example, one must suspect that Secretary Clinton has failed to learn the lesson John Kennedy did following the Bay of Pigs. We cannot have a successful “organizing principle” in our foreign policy if we are incapable of judging what the “stupid stuff” is.

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