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Hillary And Foreign Policy

Today the Clinton and Obama campaigns exchanged long and testy memos arguing about whether Hillary played any substantive foreign policy role in her husband’s administration. The memos touch on Northern Ireland, Rwanda, China, and the flow of refugees from Kosovo. (Obama: She did nothing. Clinton: Yes I did!) But neither side mentions something more interesting and relevant than all those subjects: Her advocacy during the 1990s for the use of force abroad.

I spent some time on this general subject last spring, by way of a TNR story about the genesis Hillary’s 2002 Iraq vote. But a key refresher point is this: Hillary is on the record as having supported military intervention in at least two key Clinton-era crises. One was the in the Balkan conflict of the early 1990s. From my piece:

Her memoir recounts hearing a speech by Elie Wiesel in April 1993 in which he invoked the Holocaust as he pleaded with the president to take action in the former Yugoslavia. “Sitting in the gray drizzle,” Hillary writes, “I agreed with Elie’s words, because I was convinced that the only way to stop the genocide in Bosnia was through selective air strikes against Serbian targets.” This was more than two years before her husband finally brought himself to commence the bombing.

I suppose it’s possible that Hillary never actually badgered Bill to intervene, but it would be odd if she harbored such grand thoughts in silence. More definitive, however, is this episode, also from my piece:

In March 1999, for instance, as Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian forces conducted a rising campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians, her husband considered a series of airstrikes to stop the killing. His generals were nearly unanimous in opposition: Bombing wouldn’t work, they said, and, in any case, military engagement wasn’t worth the risk of American casualties. Russian opposition also guaranteed a lack of U.N. sanction for the mission; any military action would have to be a NATO operation of debatable international legitimacy. Hillary didn’t care. As she later explained to Talk magazine, while on a trip in North Africa she phoned her husband in Washington and pleaded with him to unleash the military. “I urged him to bomb,” she said. “You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?”

Amid all this recent “red-phone” talk, the Clinton campaign has shown precious little interest in resurrecting these episodes. I guess that noting’s Hillary past views on the use of force--and in the case of Kosovo, her possibly decisive support for bombing--is outweighed by the awkwardness in the post-Iraq era of talking about such matters

--Michael Crowley