Sunday morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did a full hour with David Gregory on Meet the Press. She is, above all else, a committed Obama team member, echoing the president’s line on everything from engagement to restarts and artfully smoothing over Joe Biden’s head-scratchers. One of the most depressing moments of the hour came with this:
MR. GREGORY: But if the United States decides to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, as has been the stated policy of the willingness to engage, are you not betraying this democratic movement trying to overthrow that regime?
SEC’Y CLINTON: I don’t think so, David, because you can go back in history — and not, you know, very long back — where we have negotiated with many governments who we did not believe represented the will of their people.
Right she is, and that’s what made us less legitimate when we sought to topple Saddam’s Ba’athist regime in the name of freedom. The dirty-hands argument was extremely popular among those who opposed the Iraq war. Given America’s historical inclination to seek convenient relationships with autocrats, so the line went, why should Bush be believed about all that liberty and democracy stuff? As it turned out, the U.S. did not prop up a puppet or suck up Iraq’s natural resources for itself.
Whatever legitimacy our commitment in Iraq may have earned us among skeptics gets swiftly undermined by Mrs. Clinton’s enthusiastic reminder that America has a storied history of accommodating bad regimes. After 9/11, the idea was to set that history on a new course, one whose cynicism wouldn’t come back to bite us. That was then, I suppose. Now engagement with antidemocratic forces is cited by the State Department as a good thing that needs to be reinstated.
Gregory really got to the crux of Obama’s foreign policy failures with this:
MR. GREGORY: Let’s take a step back and look at the larger vision for the president’s foreign policy. This is what the president said during his inaugural address, which was something of a mission statement. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, January 20, 2009)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
MR. GREGORY: And yet isn’t the problem, six months in, that there may be a willingness to change the tone, there may be more engagement, but nobody’s unclenching their fist yet?
Mrs. Clinton never got around to answering that question, but the world answers it for her every day. In North Korea, Iran, and Russia, the administration’s outstretched hand has been getting mangled for six months. Meanwhile, those who wanted to believe in America’s commitment to human rights and democracy promotion feel like dupes.