WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton is doing her best to distance herself from the hesitant and timid foreign policy pursued by President Barack Obama, her former employer.
In this world in which prominent people have almost unlimited licence to constantly reinvent themselves, we are supposed to believe that there is no contradiction between the old Clinton, for four years the loyal Secretary of State of Barack Obama, (and therefore the chief implementor of his foreign policy), and the new, “rebranded” Clinton now espousing views that directly or indirectly condemn Obama’s current foreign and security policies as weak and ineffective.
I guess all politicians, as much as other people, have the right to change views and opinions. The only question is: “At what point this latitude becomes pure opportunistic posturing, something that is guided only by the desire to get elected, as opposed to honest expression of a new belief?” You figure this out.
Be that as it may, the emerging picture is that the strongest, (so far), 2016 Democratic presidential contender is reintroducing herself to America as a “Tough Lady” who would deal with international crises and “Bad Guys” (watch out, Mr. Putin) in a more forceful manner. So, all of you independents and hawkish Democrats, rest assured. When Clinton is in charge, the music will change.
In the real world, words do not matter
This may be good politics. However, in the real world, most of this is just empty posturing. Whatever the ripple effects of this new muscular posture now embraced by would-be president Hillary Clinton, the sad truth is that whatever she says means very little, in the real world.
Simply put: America has no more money. As a result, there is no more latitude to do this or that in foreign affairs.
There is no money
Indeed, let’s look at America’s long-term ability to influence, (let alone shape) global developments, that is beyond short-term, tactical reactions to what Putin is doing in Ukraine, or what to do about ISIL in Iraq. The stark reality is that America is essentially broke and therefore unable to play a dominant role in world affairs as it used to.
As an old Florentine proverb says: “Senza lilleri e’ un si lallera”, which means, “If you have no money, you cannot do anything”.
Federal spending keeps growing
Sadly, this old home-spun wisdom now applies to America. Mind you, we are not literally broke, but we are getting there. This is no secret. While the Federal Budget deficit is getting a bit smaller, we still run huge deficits, year after year. And this means a growing, now colossal, national debt, (now close to 17 trillion dollars). And there is no respite, no “bending of the curve” , ahead.
In fact, the opposite. The fiscal picture is bound to get worse. Indeed, anybody who is willing to look at the well established trajectory of US federal spending knows where we are headed.
Simply stated, unless Washington will engage in serious reforms, federal entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), now in excess of 60% of all spending, will keep growing, this way crowding out almost everything else. And that inevitably includes defense spending, (currently about 20% of federal spending).
We are already cutting defense
By the way, if you missed it, we are already cutting defense spending –quite significantly, with more to come. Sure enough, America stills spends by far more than most other rich countries. But the fact that the US can be more credible militarily than an essentially disarmed Europe does not mean a lot.
We are quickly losing the capability to quickly dispatch fully equipped expeditionary forces around the world, while keeping them supplied for long periods of time. Whatever you may think about the wisdom of major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have lost the ability to do this again. Likewise, the US Navy has fewer and fewer vessels, and this means shrinking force projection capabilities.
Without getting into the details, it is obvious that when you have less you can do much less.
Rhetoric meets reality
And here is where muscular rhetoric and fiscal reality meet. And, guess what, fiscal reality eventually wins. It always does.
Whatever we may want to opine about Clinton v. Obama and Democrats v. Republicans, a heavily indebted America, trying its best to keep paying Social Security checks while the national debt keeps growing, must lower its global ambitions.
No help from Europe
And forget about better synergies through closer cooperation with our traditional NATO Allies. For a variety of reasons, (mainly political decisions made long ago to spend even more money than we do on social programs), equally if not more indebted Europeans stopped spending on defense years ago. While we allocate about 4% of GDP to defense, they spend on average 2%, with many countries down to 1%. This is laughable.
As Europe’s economies are weaker than ours, forget about any changes in this dismal picture. If you add virtually no defense spending to a dominant pacifist sentiment, Europe is a non entity when it comes to staging sustained military operations.
Can we change all this?
So, we are on our own. And we have no money. Sure enough, all this can change. But it would take a brand new political consensus and an engaged national leadership to have a real, as opposed to cosmetic, federal spending reform coupled with tax reform.
Of course, America can be re-energized and its economy can move once again into high gear. But all this would require many changes in Washington. No chance of any of this happening during the Obama presidency.
Can Clinton lead America to greatness?
Could (reinvented) President Hillary Clinton manage all this? Could she lead on serious entitlement and tax reform, provide more funds for defense and then re-establish America’s credibility in world affairs? This is an extremely tall order.
She is certainly smart enough to understand what needs to be done. Should she (or a potential Republican President) fail, then we are back to square one. An impoverished ex-super power has to lower its ambitions.
If you have any doubt, scroll back and re-read from the top: “Senza lilleri e’ un si lallera”. “If you have no money, you cannot do anything”.