Clinton: Trump chief recruiter for ISIL; Sanders: Take out Daesh First, Assad Later

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The second Saturday-night Democratic debate had a lot of discussion on foreign policy. It is a shame that the Democratic National Convention put it on a Saturday, when its audience was much lower. Many Bernie Sanders supporters believe that the DNC supports Sec. Hillary Clinton and is deliberately attempting to avoid giving Sanders more public exposure.

The Dems did try to keep some of their focus on attacking the Republicans rather than tearing down each other.

CLINTON: “You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state from perhaps additional attacks. One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.”

Sec. Clinton is correct that Trump is playing into the trap set by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), which wants to polarize Christians and Muslims and drive Muslims into joining its ranks.

On the other hand, 9/11 was not committed by American Muslims and they shouldn’t be held responsible for it or dragooned into being junior FBI agents just because of their religion. They have the same responsibility to speak up if they see people plotting violence as everyone else. But we don’t typically draft evangelicals into watching that none of their members goes postal and shoots up a Planned Parenthood clinic. That Clinton wants to continue this Bushism is a little disturbing.

Sanders, when asked about these issues, pointed out that domestic terrorism, for all that it is being hyped by the media, isn’t the main daily worry of most Americans, who are barely getting along economically. And he pointed out that racism and Islamophobia are being fanned by some billionaires to divide and rule the ordinary people and keep them poorly paid and unorganized:

“Our people are fearful. They are anxious on a number of levels. They are anxious about international terrorism and the possibility of another attack on America. We all understand that.

But you know what else they’re anxious about? They’re anxious about the fact that they are working incredibly long hours, they’re worried about their kids, and they’re seeing all the new income and wealth — virtually all of it — going to the top 1 percent. And they’re looking around them, and they’re looking at Washington, and they’re saying the rich are getting much richer, I’m getting poorer, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do for my kids?

And somebody like a Trump comes along and says, “I know the answers. The answer is that all of the Mexicans, they’re criminals and rapists, we’ve got to hate the Mexicans. Those are your enemies. We hate all the Muslims, because all of the Muslims are terrorists. We’ve got to hate the Muslims.” Meanwhile, the rich get richer.

So what I say to those people who go to Donald Trump’s rallies, understand: He thinks a low minimum wage in America is a good idea. He thinks low wages are a good idea.”

That’s about as succinct and clear-sighted description of what is going on as you could hope to have.

The big divide that emerged between Sec. Clinton and Sen. Sanders was over Syria policy.

Clinton maintained that the US had to attempt to overthrown Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad at the same time as it attempted to crush Daesh (ISIS, ISIL).

Sanders argued that the US now had to prioritize taking out Daesh, and had to leave the issue of making al-Assad step down to later, perhaps years later: “I think in Syria the primary focus now must be on destroying ISIS and working over the years to get rid of Assad. That’s the secondary issue.”

Sec. Clinton disagreed:

“CLINTON: I think we’re missing the point here. We are doing both at the same time.

MUIR: But that’s what he’s saying, we should put that aside for now and go after ISIS.

CLINTON: Well, I don’t agree with that, because we will not get the support on the ground in Syria to dislodge ISIS if the fighters there who are not associated with ISIS, but whose principal goal is getting rid of Assad, don’t believe there is a political, diplomatic channel that is ongoing. We now have that. We have the U.N. Security Council adopting a resolution that lays out a transition path. It’s very important we operate on both at the same time.”

Both Sen. Sanders and Sec. Clinton make fair points. It certainly is that case, as Sanders argues, that it is more pressing to crush Daesh than to see the Syrian government overthrown. In fact, if you overthrow the Baath government first, what would stop Daesh from sweeping into Damascus and taking over Syria?

On the other hand, the US has attempted to create anti-Daesh coalitions on the ground among Arab fighters, and they have foundered because the Syrian rebels don’t want to fight other rebels, they want to fight al-Assad. So if you tell the Syrian revolutionaries you support them but you’re going to let Assad stay there for several years while you get rid of Daesh, you will alienate the rebels.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s approach has been to cooperate most closely with the leftist Syrian Kurds and the small force of their Arab allies in the country’s northeast, since they are willing to fight Daesh first and consider it much more deadly than the regime. In fact, in Hasaka the leftist Kurds have a tactical alliance with the Syrian Arab Army, which makes them anathema to the Arab rebels of the northwest, who are tactically allied with al-Qaeda.

No one brought up this uncomfortable reality, that the most effective Saudi-backed rebel forces are allied with al-Qaeda in Syria (the Nusra Front), which reports to 9/11 planner Ayman al-Zawahiri. The US is effectively allied with allies of al-Qaeda in the northwest, and the most likely result of a quick overthrow of the regime is that much of Syria goes into the control of al-Qaeda or its close friends.

I have to say that I think Sanders won this part of the debate, just because his position is more coherent and practical. Overthrowing Daesh and al-Assad simultaneously is a tall order, more especially when the latter overthrow will heavily involve and will benefit al-Qaeda.

Sec. Clinton at one point said she had warned against “a quick overthrow” of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, and she blamed the return of Egypt to military rule on this precipitous move on the part of the youth revolutionaries (the latter refused to meet with her after the revolution because of her stance). She went on to say:

CLINTON: “This is a part of the world where the United States has tried to play two different approaches. One, work with the tough men, the dictators, for our own benefit and promote democracy. That’s a hard road to walk. But I think it’s the right road for us to try to travel.”

I don’t think the overthrow of Mubarak was what led to a return to military rule. The military relinquished a lot of power in 2011-2013. I think it was the accidental election of an intransigent Muslim Brotherhood government that provoked the combined revolution and military coup (what I called a “revocouption” in summer of 2013.

[By the way, my new book on all this, The New Arabs, is out in paperback. A $100 donation to the IC fundraiser gets a signed copy of it.]

I don’t understand Sec. Clinton’s idea of supporting dictators and also working to promote democracy. I think she just means we should support the pro-American dictators. When she had a chance to support a transition to democracy, she sided with Mubarak. At what point does she “promote democracy?”

Well, apparently it is only when the dictator turns anti-American.

Sanders criticized Clinton for her eagerness to get rid of these particular autocrats:

“But I think — and I say this with due respect — that I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.

Yes, we could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but that destabilized the entire region. Yes, we could get rid of Gadhafi, a terrible dictator, but that created a vacuum for ISIS. Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow, but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS. So I think, yeah, regime change is easy, getting rid of dictators is easy. But before you do that, you’ve got to think about what happens the day after. And in my view, what we need to do is put together broad coalitions to understand that we’re not going to have a political vacuum filled by terrorists, that, in fact, we are going to move steadily — and maybe slowly — toward democratic societies… ”

Clinton pointed out that Sanders voted for the UN/ NATO no-fly zone in Libya that led to Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow. She admitted that the US and Europe did not do enough in the aftermath to rebuild Libya’s army and government. But she also pointed out that the Libyans rejected most of the aid that was offered in this regard. (She is right about this.)

Actually, I think both of them missed the real difficulty, which is that Gulf states shipped in a lot of RPGs and other weapons to the rebels during the revolution, creating heavily armed militias that have refused to demobilize to this day. It wasn’t the no-fly zone or the urban Libyan overthrow of Gaddafi that caused the problems.

On the other hand, Sanders’ hope that the key anti-terrorism and anti-insurgency work in the Middle East that the US wants done will be done, with the right pressure or inducements, by little Jordan or by Saudi Arabia, is more hopeful than realistic.

——-

Related video:

ABC News: “Third Democratic Presidential Debate In A Minute”

19 Responses

  1. When you say Clinton was right that the Libyans rejected aid after Gaddafi’s overthrow, it was probably because there were too many strings attached. And let’s not forget that Clinton called Mubarak a good friend of her family.

  2. The west has been using and abusing the Middle East for a century now and before that it was the Ottomans: that era is coming to an end. Any armed action that we take, direct or indirect, will have a backlash. We can offer a platform to resolve these disputes but we cannot make anyone do anything. Those days are over.

    We never ask “what comes next?” Defeat IS, overthrow Assad? What comes next? Just like we never asked the same question about Iraq or Libya. The Middle East is becoming independent, they no longer want our “guidance”.

    It was good to hear the blowback from our activity in Iran 60 years ago mentioned. Perhaps the idea that blowback often results from actions taken years earlier will be publicly discussed. Hopefully we can stop yelling “terrorism” in a panic and start understanding the reality of the Middle East and the reality of out foreign policy over there.

    • I agree with your comment about what happens after al-Assad is gone? Who takes control of Syria? Saying that Assad should go because he supposedly gassed his own people ignores reports that the gas used probably came from Turkey and was used as a false flag operation. I say check our history of interfering in the middle east and learn from our mistakes not create new ones.

  3. “But you know what else they’re [the working class is] anxious about? They’re anxious about the fact that they are working incredibly long hours, they’re worried about their kids, and they’re seeing all the new income and wealth — virtually all of it — going to the top 1 percent [the capitalist class]. And they’re looking around them, and they’re looking at Washington, and they’re saying the rich are getting much richer, I’m getting poorer, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do for my kids?…Meanwhile, the rich get richer.

    So what I say to those people who go to Donald Trump’s rallies, understand: He thinks a low minimum wage in America is a good idea. He thinks low wages are a good idea.” -B. Sanders

    And if you vote for Secretary Clinton and she wins, this will continue and worsen. Bet on it.

    • Well, there’s a difference between “continue and worsen” and “concentration camps and right-wing lynch mobs by 2017”. With Trump and Cruz you are facing leaders who want to worsen conditions in order to scapegoat entire groups of Americans, who will then be legally stripped of their right to vote, thereby making impossible any subsequent democratic change at all short of revolution. That’s what the right-wing movement has been talking about for decades, via codewords that you didn’t care to decipher, like “13th Amendment citizen” and “restore the Republic” and “take back our country” and “original intent”. When the country started, only a few percent of Americans could vote. The GOP is lining up not just voters, but armed extremists, who would be necessary to enforce such a restoration.

  4. No mention of O’Malley? I thought he did really well!

    Also, in your words: “9/11 was not committed by American Muslims and they shouldn’t be held responsible for it or dragooned into being junior FBI agents just because of their religion. They have the same responsibility to speak up if they see people plotting violence as everyone else. But we don’t typically draft evangelicals into watching that none of their members goes postal and shoots up a Planned Parenthood clinic.” Thank you!!!!

  5. I don’t understand Sec. Clinton’s idea of supporting dictators and also working to promote democracy. I think she just means we should support the pro-American dictators. When she had a chance to support a transition to democracy, she sided with Mubarak. At what point does she “promote democracy?”

    Nothing to understand there because it isn’t intended to be understandable. The purpose is to persuade the uninformed with some line of, if necessary, BS. We would do well to recall that this Democratic Dragon Lady wanted General Suleiman to replace Mubarak. General Suleiman, as I understand it, was in charge of the torture program in Egypt.

  6. If appears CNN is supporting Clinton. They had a continual posting of a banner noting that Sanders had apologized to Clinton for the data breach as if that were they main event of the debate.

  7. I was surprised at how easily Clinton nailed Sanders on his “I’m not a fan of regime change” line. Apparently, she had his vote on regime change in Libya in her pocket and was just waiting for him to run out that line.

    I’m not sure, but it looks like she was referring to Sen. Res. 85 that Sanders actually co-authored in 2011. link to thomas.loc.gov:
    Key points being that he urged “the United Nations Security Council to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory” and supported “an orderly, irreversible transition to a legitimate democratic government in Libya.”

    Looks like Sanders may have to change his punch line to: “I’m not as big a fan of regime change as I used to be.”

    It was a good debate, the differences between Sanders and Clinton are now crystal clear, and I agree that it’s too bad that the DNC didn’t have the guts and the confidence in the rank and file of the Democratic Party to let more people see it.

    • Did you not read that paragraph? Bernie clearly states that he is for removing Assad and spreading democracy in the middle east. Clearly, he STILL IS A FAN OF REGIME CHANGE AND FURTHER MEDDLING IN THE MIDDLE EAST. HOW COME NO ONE IS NOTICING THIS?

  8. Not clear on what “Bushism” HRC wants to continue, other than reassuring Muslims that they are not all considered enemies…? You seem to have (uncharacteristically) missed some nuance there.

  9. Clinton’s main problem is that she shares the general arrogant outlook that it is the job of the US to do something about such and such leader or nation. Our job is to protect the United States. In the case of Syria, what happens to Assad is not a vital national interest of the United States. It would be nice to see him go, but that is not important to the US. The only important thing about Syria is that the refugee crisis is negatively impacting Europe and that is a problem for many of our allies. Our interest in the region is to neutralize, not necessarily defeat, ISIS. We can do that by helping local forces get them out of Iraq. That should be our main and really only concern and the onus has to be on the local forces. As for Syria itself, let the countries most affected work out something; there is really no need for us to be involved. Our long term involvement in the Middle East has not gotten us much of anything positive. When conducting foreign policy one has to be clinically realistic, with allowances for reducing mass suffering when that does not conflict with our national interests.

  10. Part of me really, really, REALLY wants to see The Donald get the nomination. He is such a caveman that there’s just no way a broad majority of Republican voters pull the levers for him next November. Their base may be reactionary but that crap doesn’t play in Peoria. On the other hand, there’s always the possibility that – no, that’s just too far-fetched. There’s just no way he wins a presidential contest with Hillary. She’s just too sensible and too competent. Yeah, the GOP will vilify her but unless they discover she’s a secret member of Da’esh, she waltzes to victory while The Donald gets sent back to reality TV.

    Or so I hope.

    • Best, of course, would be if the Republicans nominate some semi-nut case other than Trump and then Trump runs as a third party candidate.

      • Trump can’t win the general election. He’s way too goofy. So, it won’t bother me a bit if the Republicans heap shame on themselves by nominating him. He’ll be a hollow husk by election day, unable even to motivate his base. The Democratic Party professionals will have long since eaten his lunch.

        The issue I see is between Sanders and Clinton.

  11. “I don’t understand Sec. Clinton’s idea of supporting dictators and also working to promote democracy.”
    With due respect for Dr. Cole, there is an English word that explains her (and others) position.
    It’s called “Hypocrisy”. The most abundant inclination in our political “Culture” universe.

    • But you won’t point out Bernie’s clear as day hypocrisy about moving towards democratic societies and removing Assad. He just wants to do it slower than clinton, so somehow that’s better, right? Every time this nation has tried that, IT FAILED. But somehow, after 60+ years of meddling.. it’s gonna work this time! People are so thick it’s unbelievable.

Comments are closed.