When Hillary Clinton needed to make her dash from President Obama’s foreign policy wreckage, she went in search of a stenographer, not a hard-nosed reporter who would challenge her. She got what she wanted — a largely skeptical-free forum to spin her tale of hawkishness. In the coverage that followed, few in the mainstream media bothered to consider whether what she was saying was true, namely that she had real differences with Obama before it became convenient to articulate them publicly.
In the pre-2016 coverage, which is where the mainstream media slot every Clinton story, the number crunchers and political process mavens dominate. This is the media world Politico has wrought, in which policy analysis is displaced nearly entirely by horse-race politics, gossip and flashy headlines unsupported by the story they hawk. The issue in Clinton coverage is “Will it play?” or “Why is she doing it?” not “Is it true?”
Anyone who has followed Clinton’s career knows how adept she is at plausible deniability. Whether it was firing the White House travel office, the Rose law firm documents or her cattle futures trades, she never left entirely incriminating evidence. Instead, she implored us to ignore circumstantial evidence and common sense — which the media were happy to do. But denying her own record and statements on foreign policy is a trickier matter. Nevertheless, once again she returns to the well of media credulity, confident that she’ll slip by the obvious.
Cynics will say that the mainstream media, in avoiding pesky questions about authenticity, are just helping Clinton, whom they are certain will be the Democratic nominee, along. That arguably is part of it. But there is also a lack of foreign policy chops in the political press corps and a herd mentality. “The story,” they all insist, is not whether Clinton is really more hawkish but why it is important she tells us so. (Hint: The Obama foreign policy she shaped for four years and defended until she didn’t is a disaster.) By the way, the same political reporters when she left office insisted that she was a smashing success and therefore uniquely credentialed to be president, which tells us a lot about their foreign policy expertise.
There are, however, knowledgeable reporters and fierce interviewers (Jake Tapper, Diane Sawyer, Chris Wallace, Jonathan Karl and Ed Henry come to mind) who might, if given the chance, pose some tough questions to Clinton about her newfound inner hawk. Here are a few:
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mitt Romney wanted a stay-behind force in Iraq, a more robust response to Syria and less public heckling of our ally Israel. On these issues, wouldn’t you have been more in tune with them than with the president? Wouldn’t your policies have been more readily adopted had either of them become president?
When did you express objections to our Syria policy? When and how did you make the president aware of your arguments? Did you arrange for him to consult with anyone outside the administration to give him alternative advice?
In the fall of 2013, when the president erased the red line and begged off any military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, you praised his decision. How does that jibe with your purported push for more-vigorous action against Syria while you were in office?
Ambassador Robert Ford also disagreed with the president’s policy. Did you make certain the president was aware of his ambassador’s views?
Ford resigned out of principle on Syria. Did you ever consider doing so?
Did you explain to the president that the longer we waited to act, the more virulent the Islamic State would become? Did you explain to him the connection between inaction in Syria and Iraq’s stability? If you understood this, why didn’t you explain this in your book?
Why did you try to “engage” Assad for so long despite evidence of his domestic brutality and close alliance with Iran? Why did you call him a “reformer”?
You said the total withdrawal of forces from Iraq was dictated by the George W. Bush administration. Multiple figures, including former ambassador Ryan Crocker and top military commanders, say this is false. Are they lying, or was the plan all along to have a stay-behind force?
Did the president ever direct you to make certain, whatever the process, to keep a stay-behind force in place in Iraq? Did you perceive he wanted to keep his campaign promise, namely to withdraw all troops from Iraq?
When did you advise the president that al-Qaeda was not on its heels but was growing? Did you ever caution against a victory lap after Osama bin Laden’s assassination?
Why did the president whittle down the military’s recommendation for 10,000 troops to remain in Iraq to just a few thousand? Did you object?
Recently the president accepted a promise of immunity for our troops in Iraq without parliamentary agreement. Why wasn’t that good enough when you were in office?
These are the sorts of questions appropriately put to a presidential contender and even a non-contender whose tenure as secretary of state has received widespread criticism. But even to think of the questions requires willingness to challenge Clinton and her campaign narrative. No wonder the press is largely uninterested in asking them.