Argument

There Is an International Disease Which Is Hillary Clinton

Now it’s the democratic front-runner’s turn to face the wrath — and drink in the wisdom — of America’s 37th president.

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The stage held 17 American flags — some on poles grouped in the center, others hung open at angles that can only be described as grandmotherly.

The room had 27-foot ceilings, and the San Diego audience was full of active duty and former military officers. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” blared two, six, 18 times, the needle popping back into the groove as people waited for their cue.

Squint and it might have been the Peoria Miss Firecracker Contest, but no such luck; Mrs. Clinton had come to tell us why Mr. Trump is dangerous on foreign policy.

I long ago said so in this magazine, and it seems Hillary Clinton paid attention. She finally quit harping on Donald Trump’s manners and tried to explain what he’d do as commander in chief. Withdrawing from NATO, allying with Vladimir Putin, cutting off Japan and Saudi Arabia, forcing them to go nuclear; it was all there, delivered in that disappointed schoolmarm voice.

It’s easy to imagine “Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin,” she said. “Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?”

Not in my damn White House. Trump is a know-nothing isolationist and bigot in the mold of Charles Lindbergh or William Taft. It’s popular to say he’s playing to the yahoos, but Clinton rightly pointed out that he has been playing the same act for 30 years. Back then, it was Japan selling our women into slavery; now, he says, it’s China and Mexico. Are we going to let the bastards screw us for every red cent or stand up and act like Americans?

Sure, Trump is “dangerously incoherent.” He “cannot do the job.” But half the public sees a guy who talks like they do, a son of a bitch with a big house and a young wife, who throws money at problems and doesn’t give a damn who he hurts as long as he wins. So when Clinton sells herself as someone who’s climbed the ladder and maintained the status quo, it’s a risk. It’s hardly red meat for Americans who are sick, tired, poor, and afraid.

“I have sat in the Situation Room,” she said. “I’m not new to this work.”

I’m not new to hitting a baseball. Doesn’t mean I’m good at it.

Consider Clinton’s record on China. My God, 40 years ago, our Chinese friends might as well have been on Mars; does she appreciate how far we’ve come? And for all her bullshit about Henry Kissinger, does she even listen to the guy who got us there?

As first lady, she dared go to Beijing in 1995 and lecture them on women’s rights. Showboating for the cameras like that was absurd and belligerent; it spat on China as a third-rate nation susceptible to embarrassment. It played well with housewives, though. Christ knows her husband needed them later.

She began as secretary of state by saying that China’s human rights record “can’t interfere” with progress. This was encouraging, and she helped build important short-term bridges to China, not least on Iran sanctions. But the relationship went nowhere. And Clinton was behind the ass-backward “pivot to Asia,” in which America will supposedly now redirect military and strategic resources from the Middle East.

Trust me. I know the Chinese. They don’t just appreciate subtlety; they demand it. They equate it with strength. And where they see weakness, they seek to fill it, like water finding a level. This new approach to China invites aggression.

Following a “big bang” of restructuring and investment, the Chinese military is lean, mean, and ready to prove China is, in Xi Jinping’s words, not just a large country but a “large and powerful one.” Carriers in Pearl Harbor and selling arms to Vietnam won’t stop China from land grabs in the South China Sea; it only increases the level of response.

Money ties us together now, but our relationship with China was built on security. When I met Mao Zedong in 1972, it was the only topic. The Soviets were breathing down Beijing’s neck, and we needed to weaken their play in Europe. Mao allied with us because we didn’t threaten China, and he knew we’d let him conduct his own affairs at home.

Our shared interests today include a peaceful Korean peninsula, a non-nuclear Japan, peaceful settlement of the India-Pakistan arms race and the Kashmir dispute. But call it ideology, political calculation, emotions, a blinkered view of America’s role, whatever you like — Clinton’s treatment of China has come close to screwing it all up.

She was prepared to sabotage the alliance over the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest as Clinton entered the country in 2012 and demanded asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Though she successfully negotiated for Chen to leave the country, her attitude, according to an advisor, was, “If the relationship has to suffer, we’re going to take the hit.”

Abuse is regrettable, but she should have shut up. It’s not our business how they treat their people. If China stood up and embarrassed us over gays, what would we do?

Chen is a self-taught lawyer who’s attacked Beijing on women’s rights, the poor, and the one-child policy — everything Mrs. Clinton lectured them on in 1995. Contrary to her claim to have learned “humility” and “skepticism” from her Iraq War vote, Clinton treats American foreign policy like it’s a goddamn sit-in at Wellesley.

A more effective relationship would start with recognizing China’s system of government, but Clinton refuses to do that. All politics, of course; China steals our jobs, and no one, let alone a woman, wants to stand with people who drowned baby girls in buckets.

And so the pivot to Asia keeps going, despite those kooks in the Middle East. Some 2,500 U.S. Marines are now stationed in Australia, and we’re conducting joint military exercises with Thailand. Hell, we even invited Myanmar to watch. You think Beijing doesn’t see what’s coming?

Beware Clinton’s faith in the military. When North Korea sank a South Korean Navy vessel in 2010, China cautioned us to stay away. Clinton nevertheless advised President Barack Obama to send an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” she said.

The president refused: “I don’t call audibles with aircraft carriers.”

The old football player in me says he’s right. Never change the play at the line of scrimmage — endanger American lives — without a direct threat.

Clinton loves nothing more than to crack open a beer with a general, put her feet up, and bend his ear on strategy. But does it occur to her that a man with stars on his chest was long ago convinced of America’s absolute superiority?

Her naive and disastrous drive to bomb Libya befitted a game of “Capture the Flag.” Be on the right side of history, Bob Gates told her. We’ll wipe the bastards out, the army said.

The British and French were all set to bomb, so Clinton advised the president to jump the line. “You don’t see what the mood is [in Libya], and how this has a kind of momentum of its own,” she said. “And we will be left behind, and we’ll be less capable of shaping this.”

I’m not sure where to begin: the blind faith that the little guy is for Jeffersonian democracy, the belief that hard power can implement it, or the damn stupid idea that it was in our interest to do anything but prop up the guy who held the radicals back.

Clinton said Thursday that Trump’s policies would cause a “vacuum” abroad and that “other countries will rush in to fill the void.” That’s true, of course. But given Libya’s present condition, how does she say it without a drink in her hand? The blame is ultimately with President Obama, but her word turned the tide, and she makes no apology for it.

Ideology, naivety, political calculation. We should expect nothing less from the person who calls Putin’s support of Bashar al-Assad “despicable” and would send American pilots into dogfights with Russian MiGs if she gets the no-fly zone over Syria she’s proposed.

Why risk all that?

“[Because] America stands up to countries that treat women like animals or people of different races, religions, or ethnicities as less human.”

Yes — when it’s in America’s interest.

You think it doesn’t tear me up to see starving kids or women led to the slaughter? You think I don’t wonder what I could have done?

Sometimes the hard choice — yes, I read the damn book — is doing nothing at all. A president has to live with that. It’s the price of sitting in the chair.

Clinton can take tea with Kissinger all she likes, but she has always chosen activism over realism. That’s a political risk and every bit as dangerous as what Trump proposes.

Image credit: National Archives/Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images/Foreign Policy illustration

Richard Nixon never left us. With the help of playwright Justin Sherin, he continues to speak his mind as @dick_nixon on Twitter.

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