I May Just Have To Vote for Her To See What Happens
The Hillary Metamorphosis
Robert Gates, who is the Captain Renault of our time, recounts the following White House exchange between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, back when she was serving the president loyally as secretary of state and he was taking notes as secretary of defense.
"In strongly supporting a surge in Afghanistan," Mr. Gates writes in his memoir, "Duty," "Hillary told the president that her opposition in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the primary. She went on to say, 'The Iraq surge worked.' The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the surge had been political.
To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying."
Here's a fit subject for an undergraduate philosophy seminar: What, or who, is your true self? Are you Kierkegaardian or Aristotelian? Is the real "you" the interior and subjective you; the you of your private whispers and good intentions? Or are you only the sum of your public behavior, statements and actions? Are you the you that you have been, and are? Or are you what you are, perhaps, becoming?
And if Mrs. Clinton supported the surge in private—because she thought it would help America win a war—but opposed it in public—because she needed to win a primary—shall we conclude that she is (a) despicable; (b) clever; (c) both; or (d) "what difference, at this point, does it make?"
All this comes to mind after reading Mrs. Clinton's remarkable interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. "Great nations need organizing principles," she said, in the interview's most quotable line, "and 'Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle."
That one is a direct riposte to the White House's latest brainstorm of a guiding foreign-policy concept. But it wasn't Mrs. Clinton's only put-down of her old boss.
She was scathing on the president's abdication in Syria: "I know that the failure"—failure—"to help build a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad . . . the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled." She was unequivocal in her defense of Israel, in a way that would be unimaginable coming from John Kerry : "If I were prime minister of Israel, you're damn right I would expect to have control over security [on the West Bank]." She was dubious about the nuclear diplomacy with Iran, and the administration's willingness to concede to Tehran a "right" to enrich uranium.
She blasted Israel's critics in its war against Hamas: "You can't ever discount anti-Semitism, especially with what's going on in Europe today." She hinted at the corruption of Mahmoud Abbas and his inner circle, "who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things." She blamed Moscow for "shooting down a civilian jetliner," presumably while the president waits for the results of a forensic investigation.
And she made the case for American power: "We've learned about the limits of our power to spread freedom and democracy. That's one big lesson out of Iraq. But we've also learned about the importance of our power, our influence, and our values." With Mr. Obama, the emphasis is always on the limitations, period.
All this sounds a lot like what you might read on this editorial page. Whatever happened to the Hillary Clinton who was an early advocate of diplomatic engagement with Iran, and who praised Bashar Assad as a "reformer" and pointedly refused to call for his ouster six months into the uprising? Wasn't she the most vocal and enthusiastic advocate for the reset with Russia? Didn't she deliver White House messages to Benjamin Netanyahu by yelling at him? Didn't she also once describe former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak as a family friend?
And didn't she characterize her relationship with Mr. Obama—in that cloying "60 Minutes" exit interview the two of them did with Steve Kroft —as "very warm, very close"? Where's the love now?
There are a few possible answers to that one. One is that the views she expressed in the interview are sincere and long-held and she was always a closet neoconservative; Commentary magazine is delivered to her mailbox in an unmarked brown envelope. Another is that Mrs. Clinton can read a poll: Americans now disapprove of the president's handling of foreign policy by a 57% to 37% margin, and she belatedly needs to disavow the consequences of the policies she once advocated. A third is that she believes in whatever she says, at least at the time she's saying it. She is a Clinton, after all.
There's something to all of these theories: The political opportunist always lacks the courage of his, or her, convictions. That's not necessarily because there aren't any convictions. It's because the convictions are always subordinated to the needs of ambition and ingratiation.
Then again, who cares who Mrs. Clinton really is? When the question needs to be asked, it means we already know, or should know, how to answer it. The truth about Mrs. Clinton isn't what's potentially at stake in the next election. It's the truth about who we are. Are we prepared to believe anything?
We tried that with Barack Obama, the man who promised to be whatever we wanted him to be. Mrs. Clinton's self-reinvention as a hawk invites us to make the mistake twice.