by Jason Ditz on March 21, 2016
It is rare for a succinct foreign policy platform paper to so fully encapsulate a candidate’s thinking process. A policy paper sent to Hillary Clinton, available on WikiLeaks, lays out the Democratic front-runner’s strategy as an architect of US intervention in Syria, shows the flawed reasoning that beget the scheme. Perhaps most importantly, the document shows utter blindness to the huge problems that the war ultimately led to.
As with so many US wars in the Middle East, it all starts with Israel, and saw the US imposing regime change in Syria as primarily about benefiting Israel and spiting Iran, a position that closely mirrors that of several Israeli officials.
The paper’s ideal was that the US would impose regime change by supplying arms, but without US troops, and that Russia wouldn’t dare oppose America (noting Russia did nothing during Kosovo), that the new US-backed Syrian government would abandon ties with Iran, turn against Hezbollah, and potentially negotiate a peace settlement with Israel, while the rest of the Arab world cheers America “as fighting for their people.”
There are myriad flaws in this reasoning, and in hindsight very few of the paper’s predictions came to pass, from her declaration that the Iran nuclear talks wouldn’t lead to a deal, that Russia wouldn’t defend the Assad government from US-backed rebels, that US pledges of arms would lead to more defections from the Syrian military, etc.
Perhaps the most glaring mistakes was the failure to acknowledge even to the prospect of Islamist groups getting involved. Five years into the civil war, US-backed rebels are still comparatively ineffectual, despite huge weapons shipments, and ISIS and other Islamist groups control more than half of the country.
The position seems to be wrong at nearly every turn, with one correct analysis being the fairly trite observation that Israel wants to retain a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, without offering any plausible reason for why the US should commit forces to supporting of this objective
While the paper reveals Clinton’s State Department’s interventionist leanings, it may also be elucidative regarding interventionist mentality in general, showing how quickly the notion of a “low cost” war becomes official policy, and that policymakers are ultimately blind not just to the reality on the ground, but also to the bigger risks of their schemes.
Correction: A previous version of this story falsely attributed the authorship of the paper to then-Secretary Clinton, because the email was an attachment sent by her to a State Department employee. The original author, however, appears to be James Rubin, and Clinton was forwarding the attachment.