The Incoherence of the Obama-Clinton Foreign Policy
by Conrad Black (June 2016)
It is a little disappointing that no one seems to have taken up Donald Trump’s challenge, in his foreign-policy address three weeks ago, to explain the Obama–Hillary Clinton foreign policy. The absurd and tragic alignment of the United States and its unenthused allies fighting alongside Russia and Iran against ISIS in the fragments of Iraq, and only partially doing so in the bloodstained remnants of Syria (as we are also fighting Russia and Iran there, in respect of the beleaguered regime of Bashar Assad), has been extensively reported. It has not been remotely adequately condemned as the evidence of incoherent and incompetent statesmanship that it is.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with a group of European lenders on May 12, in which he encouraged them to deal with Iran in a way that is still illegal for American banks, was a new step down into the abyss of risible foolishness where the Obama regime’s foreign policy is conducted. As I have written here before, it seems to be an effort to ask the friends and enemies of the United States to exchange roles and places. Some readers will recall the efforts the George W. Bush administration, continued by the Obama-Clinton foreign policy, made to exclude the Iranians from the world’s financial life and the strenuous efforts of the Bush and Obama administrations to tighten sanctions on Tehran. The Financial Action Task Force, an international agency to combat money laundering and extend the reach of ostensibly respectable governments into formerly private international financial transactions, has applied all its authority and influence against Iran, with the full backing of the U.S., the United Nations, and the European Union.
The official U.S. position is that Iran has ceased to advance its nuclear military program, but that Iran is still a supporter of terrorism and continues to develop its capacity to deliver a nuclear warhead on steadily longer-range missiles. Lest anyone be blinking with incredulity, in response to Iran’s complaints that it was not receiving the benefits of the nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other major powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), Secretary Kerry asked European bankers to relax their embargo on Iran. As he did so, the Financial Action Task Force repeated that Iran was, as Stuart Levey emphasized in the Wall Street Journal on May 13, a “serious threat,” and the U.S. Treasury warned against the “risk that otherwise responsible financial institutions will unwittingly participate in Iran’s illicit activities.”
The U.S. secretary of state was thus urging international banks to do what the U.S. Treasury condemns, and what could quite plausibly become a matter of official prosecution when the mood shifts again in Washington, which is certain under a Trump presidency, and half-possible under a Clinton administration, depending on whether it is the ex-secretary of state Clinton or current candidate Clinton who would take office. Mr. Levey, the chief legal officer of Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, covers the problem by writing that his bank will observe the highest standards of risk and implies that that will exclude anything from Iran; but U.S. foreign policy has reached a very depressing level of hypocrisy and incoherence with this latest consequence of President Obama’s lonely quest to appease the theo-terrorists in Tehran, the ultimate unrequited inter-governmental romance.
As President Obama begins the long ride on the happy trails to retirement, his and his followers’ moth-eaten foreign policy becomes ever more nonsensical. His former secretary of state, hard-pressed by the most implausible serious contender for a major-party presidential nomination since the emergence of the party system — vastly surpassing such anti-candidates for Mount Rushmore as Millard Fillmore, Alton B. Parker, and George McGovern — still officially supports wide-open borders. Obama has completely suspended America’s existing immigration laws, porous mockery though they are. But Hillary Clinton goes him one better: Come one, come all. In her desperation to keep the non-white demographic satrapies of the Clintons happy, she is raising Lady Liberty’s torch to whomsoever fortune enables to pierce America’s southern border, site of the greatest invasion since Germany surged past the Maginot Line into France in 1940.
Mrs. Clinton assumedly relies on the virulent Trumpophobia of most of the media to damp down this potentially explosive policy brushfire, as all polls show that most Americans, including large numbers of African and even Latin Americans, are much less relaxed about immigration than that. It has become difficult to judge the balance of power between the mainstream and the social media, but Clinton’s stance has enflamed the Internet, and this is months before Donald deploys the resources of the Republican National Committee against Hillary. Another indication of the changing political currents is the move of News Corporation, including the tenor of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, toward a pro-Trump position, as the New York Times unearths and slings the muck of low gossip at Trump for his private life, and Bob Woodward leads a newly minted Watergate team of myth-makers to make the case that Trump is a fascist. The whole effort will be exposed as an ethically bankrupt and malignant fraud. The support of Trump by Rupert Murdoch and his team at News Corp. is important not only for their influence, but because of Mr. Murdoch’s long record of picking political winners in all the countries where he operates.
And Mrs. Clinton’s former chief plods platitudinously toward the goal line. Last week he told the leaders of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden that they should rule the world, because they are peaceful, enjoy relative income equality, and are models of pluralism. They are fine countries and certainly their leaders deserve to be greeted with respect by the president of the U.S. But they comprise only 26.5 million people, fewer than there are in Texas (without counting the illegal immigrants), are relatively out of the way, have some of the most homogeneous populations in the world, and are rich in natural resources. Apart from Finland (a former semi-autonomous Russian province), which bravely resisted Stalin in 1939–40, none of them has had to defend itself seriously for over 300 years. Their group standard of living, if such pseudo-countries as San Marino and Hong Kong and entire petro-states are excluded, is one of the five highest in the world, about equal to that of the United States. (Norway is, to be fair, almost a petro-state.) Many of their qualities could be profitably emulated, and some of their culture is distinguished (Ibsen, Sibelius). But their vocation to guide the whole world is not obvious.
This is of a piece with Obama’s recent extension of permitted residency for Nicaraguans and Hondurans who were driven from their homes by Hurricane Mitch, which occurred 18 years ago. This is the 13th such extension, and is a primary cause (along with a “dramatic increase in mosquito-borne diseases,” “food insecurity,” “coffee rust,” and “unspecified climate fluctuations”) for the retention of their legal status as U.S. residents. There are 200,000 Salvadorians who have enjoyed Temporary Protection status since the earthquake of 2001. If it is the policy of the United States to admit these people, and a humanitarian argument can certainly be made for it, let it do so and provide a timely naturalization process if that is the wish of those who have come to this country under natural threat. But this practice, which certainly did not start with this administration, of simply rolling over the spurious and technically revocable status of these people is just cowardice.
In immigration, as in matters of more urgent national-security importance, dithering, posturing, and pretense are no substitute for policy. In all her official and electoral positions, Hillary Clinton is a practitioner of this sort of cynicism, and Donald Trump, as many are beginning to sense, will not let it all pass in the manner of Mitt Romney and Bernie Sanders. Obama’s historical record will reflect his achievements and failings as president, but he came to the White House with a pretty clean public slate. Hillary Clinton trails a great deal of cumbrous baggage and the nation does not, and should not, feel a sense of guilt that no woman has yet been president. This situation is not comparable to the national shame, from which Barack Obama benefited, at what Mr. Lincoln called “the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil,” followed by a century of segregation. Hillary Clinton may conceivably get back to the White House (and might even be a capable leader), but not by pandering to partisans of illegal immigration. Nor will Mrs. Bill Clinton get there by calling Donald Trump a sexist, even if she is echoed by Woodward and his claque. The Times and the Post now have less influence than Rush Limbaugh, and they have earned that distinction.
First published in National Review.
Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership and Rise To Greatness: A History of Canada from the Vikings to the Present. He was the chairman of the Telegraph newspapers in Britain, 1987-2003, and founded the National Post in Canada, where he remains a columnist. He also writes in the National Review Online and Huffington Post. He has been one of Canada's best known financiers for 35 years and has returned to that occupation, and has been a member of the British House of Lords since 2001.
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