After Orlando, Barack Obama Emerges As Better Secretary of State Than Clinton
The horror that unfolded in Orlando has been instructive in some unexpected ways, right off the bat, in that it has brought out varying degrees of the worst in some of the leaders we may be about to elect.
It is a given by now that we can pretty much expect the worst out of Donald J. Trump, even when he attempts to mean well. He isn’t only crude in the ways he expresses his bias, but he is also inelegant when he attempts to praise. We know that’s how he is and can only expect him to best each of his worst missteps.
When it comes to Hillary Clinton, however, we’ve been sold on the notion that, in her, we have a stateswoman in the mold of President Obama. We’ve been expecting more measured responses and, at least where it pertains to cultural sensitivity, a more patient and savvy approach. Sadly, upon her first horrific test of leadership, Clinton’s statesmanship leaves something to be desired. From her speech in Cleveland, barely a day after the Orlando massacre:
“The Orlando terrorist may be dead, but the virus that poisoned his mind remains very much alive. And we must attack it with clear eyes, steady hands, unwavering determination and pride in our country and our values.
I have no doubt — I have no doubt we can meet this challenge if we meet it together. Whatever we learn about this killer, his motives in the days ahead, we know already the barbarity that we face from radical jihadists is profound.
In the Middle East, ISIS is attempting a genocide of religious and ethnic minorities. They are slaughtering Muslims who refuse to accept their medieval ways. They are beheading civilians, including executing LGBT people. They are murdering Americans and Europeans, enslaving, torturing and raping women and girls.”
Thus far, though signs have been found of him seeking Islamic materials, there is no evidence that Omar Mateen acted as a part of an Islamic terrorist group.
Mateen was brought up in a culture that is even more backward than the “medieval” Secretary Clinton used to describe ISIS and its treatment of LGBTQ people and women. He was raised here, on American soil, exposed to both the cruel and backward culture of the Taliban and the progressive and democratic culture of America, with the expectation that he would fulfill both the expectations of the old and new worlds. Mateen, the father, in interviews with CBS News and other outlets, reveals a mentality that is at odds with modern life. His broadcast videos, especially the ones in which he takes on the role of a military leader in exile, reveal a mental instability and disconnect with reality that were noted during a CBS News interview. In another profile broadcast by CBS News, it was revealed that Omar Mateen said that his father deemed him incapable of fulfilling his expectations and lacked direction. News of Mateen’s use of steroids, known to cause extreme aggression, complicates an already complex situation. Now, we learn that Mateen’s second wife was a special education student in public school. As a former teacher described her: “Noor had difficulty with retention, she had difficulty with conceptualizing, understanding, all challenges to her.” Yet, there hasn’t been a day that has passed without a news outlet announcing that some unnamed source told them that an indictment against the wife will be sought shortly. Has it not crossed the minds of the leadership at the FBI that someone with Mateen’s profile, after one failed marriage in which the bride ran away, might seek a woman of limited ability the second time around? After all, isn’t victimization a big part of Mateen’s MO? But I understand the FBI’s need to find a culprit and put on a show trial. After all, Mateen slipped through the FBI’s hands not once, but twice and it has to sting.
The investigation should resolve the nature of the dysfunction in the Mateen family as a whole. It should explain what role the Mateen patriarch might have had in exacerbating his son’s anger and what might have been a conflicted sexual identity in the context of a very conservative environment. The press is publishing reports that Mateen had been self-radicalizing for some time, though he was not directed by an external source to commit his crime. Mateen presents a highly complex case that is out of the American norm in that it deviates from the cultural norms. At the same time, however, this case also conforms to pattern behaviors of mass-shooters in recent American history.
Mateen, when all is said and done, is no different than Dylann Roof, the perpetrator of the Charleston massacre. Both men sought out schools of thought that are at the margins of their respective cultures and went on to commit mass-murder. Had Mateen been of German descent, how likely would he have been to seek out Islamic, rather than Neo-Nazi propaganda? The temptation to blame Islamic radicalization for Mateen’s rage should be suppressed. In fact, one should flip the explanation and blame the rage for the self-radicalization and, eventually, the commission of a mass-murder.
The political environment we are currently in makes it difficult to slow down and be more thoughtful with investigations and findings. As things are, today, the easiest way out, is not only to provide Islamic radicalization as the answer to an anxious and gullible public, but as the pretext from which to pole-vault to what many consider as the cure to economic doldrums: waging war. Even before the last of the bodies has been laid to rest, as the incessant newsbeat drums on, one can hear in both presidential candidates loud echoes of military-industrial complex-prompted pronouncements about the nature of this tragedy. There is no factual basis for this and it is absolutely morally wrong.
As I wrote in the beginning of this piece, it is a given to expect calls for profiling of Muslims and a slew of new xenophobic policies from Donald Trump, just as we’ve been indoctrinated in the belief that in Hillary Clinton, we have a seasoned politician who happens to have just acquitted herself quite well as Secretary of State. Has she really?
Clinton and President Obama have had starkly different opinions on what course of action to take in Syria. On Libya, Clinton convinced Obama to take out Muammar Gaddafi, a decision he’s come to regret. Now, as a second mass-shooting by a particular type of American citizen has taken place, that same stark difference in approach is evident again, as reported by the New York Times:
“She [Clinton] has spoken more starkly than he has about the threat posed by Islamic State-inspired terrorism in the United States. And she would overhaul the administration’s efforts to counter violent extremism, according to a senior campaign adviser.
“Whatever we learn about this killer, his motives in the days ahead,” Mrs. Clinton said Monday, “we know already the barbarity that we face from radical jihadists is profound.” Mr. Obama has shunned such charged language, arguing that it sows fear. When the nation has acted out of fear after terrorist attacks, he said on Tuesday, “we came to regret it.””
As a reminder, one week after the Orlando massacre, the FBI finds no evidence that ties Mateen to an Islamic terrorist cell or handler and he is being called a “lone wolf.”
What is particularly worrisome is that this week we learned from the New York Times that there has been an unprecedented development among career diplomats at the State Department: “51 U.S. Diplomats Urge Strikes Against Assad in Syria”
“More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.
The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.””
As the daughter of a retired diplomat and career civil servant, as a political scientist, and as an American citizen, I cannot use strong enough language to express both my dismay and anger at this public display of disloyalty from members of our diplomatic corps. If I were in a position of power, I would fire all fifty one of them for insubordination.
Differences of opinion are one thing. This is open insubordination against a sitting president whose absolute right it is, not only to come to his own conclusions, but to dictate policy and once that policy has been handed down from the White House, these diplomats not only have no right to act as they did, but they are obligated to keep a stiff upper lip and carry out their marching orders to the best of their ability and in absolute silence.
These diplomats had a mechanism by which they are to communicate their grievances and policy differences. Someone decided to take that memo and leak it. Who put them up to it? That person or persons need to be found and terminated and if there is any connection to their former boss at State, then that connection should be made public.
Now, to the meat of the unsolicited advice given by these fifty diplomats… It is absolutely wrong-headed, after everything we’ve gone through in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, to repeat the same mistake yet again. We are neither in a position to do for Syria what it needs in order to no longer be a failed state, nor should we be the ones to do it. Our involvement in a Muslim nation that is in the kind of turmoil Syria is in would only worsen, and not improve an already horrific state of affairs. Then, if anyone has any illusions that Vladimir Putin would stand idly by while American war planes entered Syrian space, his spokesman set us straight that taking out Bashar Al Assad: “…wouldn’t help a successful fight against terrorism and could plunge the region into total chaos.” He’s right. It would. There is no one group of Syrian rebels that is ready to govern.
Which brings me to hawkish foreign policy… Sixteen years out, we are still where we are with Islamic terrorism because of the scope and magnitude of the hawkish foreign and military policies of a previous administration, and a continued “special relationship” with Gulf kingdoms on the one hand, and the influence of AIPAC and influential donors and organizations, on the other. What’s needed is the kind of tough love and support for Israel that Senator Bernie Sanders talked about during the Brooklyn debate. What’s also needed is the building of a coalition of Arab nations to end ISIS’ reign of terror, also as Sanders suggested.
What must absolutely change is the deferential treatment America has been giving to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while turning a blind eye to the religious extremism they have brought to the Islamic world.
On foreign and military policy, the distance between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Bush administration can be measured in inches, not miles. Continuing on a hawkish bent will only get us in deeper where we should not be involved, with even less hope of getting out. While the overtly racist policies of Donald J. Trump are to be decried and rejected, the kinds of beliefs and approaches Clinton proposes – particularly tying Omar Mateen to ISIS and Al Qaeda – would alienate America’s Muslim population in much the same ways Trump’s would, as they imply that mass-shootings by Americans of Muslim heritage are tied to radical Islam, when mass-shootings by non-Muslim Americans have no connection to homegrown terrorism.
How Clinton proposes we proceed also goes hand in hand with a tighter national security agenda and the perpetuation of exactly the kind of domestic surveillance apparatus Edward Snowden warned us about, and Clinton favors. It should be unacceptable to all American citizens to be spied on in this way in lieu of an ethical and peaceful foreign policy agenda. As far as how to handle Syria now, President Obama’s instinct and judgment are spot-on, in stark contrast to Clinton, making him the better Secretary of State. The proposition that was sold to the public that Hillary Clinton would continue Barack Obama’s policies is a fiction. She will move far to the right of him on the most dangerous of issues.
One can only hope that Bill Clinton relayed Rabbi Michael Lerner’s admonition to Hillary Clinton. In his message, we find the direction and moral re-calibration with which we must go forward as a nation.