Twitter is not the world. But in this increasingly meme-ified election, it provides a venue for someone to try to set the agenda for the world. Sad!
It’s safe to say that even at the best of times Hillary Clinton’s social media outreach seems like just that — a reach. Unctuousness via semi-ironic millennial speech is still unctuous. It either comes off like “How do you do, fellow kids?” or, in a more charitable reading, like working twice as hard to reach as many as possible.
That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still depressing as hell. On Wednesday, Clinton’s Twitter account sent out “A real plan to defeat ISIS.”
The plan is as follows:
1. Take out ISIS’s stronghold in Iraq and Syria.
2. Dismantle the global terror network.
3. Harden our defenses at home and prevent attacks.
A tautology is not an argument, and a plan whose first step just states its goals is not a plan. “I’m right because I am right” works no better than, “To reach the moon, we will get to the moon.” This isn’t planning; it’s acting like you have a genie and a fucking lamp. If declaring what you wanted to do achieved it, all New Year’s resolutions would be completed at 12:01 a.m. January 1st. Pornography would be irrelevant. In a time paradox, George W. Bush would have found the WMDs, Clinton would have voted against the Iraq War, 3,000 people wouldn’t have been killed in New York, and none of us would have to listen to “God Bless America” during the 7th inning.
What’s especially pathetic is that this is the second time this has happened, and that it’s likely the genius move of Hillary for America chairman John Podesta, who devastated ISIS with the same tautological plan back in November:
Hillary’s strategy to defeat Isis:
✓Defeat Isis in Syria & Iraq
✓Disrupt & dismantle terrorist infrastructure
✓Harden our defenses
— John Podesta (@johnpodesta) November 19, 2015
It’s difficult to overstate how childish and insulting this is. To a voting citizenry, to history, to the very idea of planning as a thing.
The Clinton account uploaded a picture in that tweet (they could have used up to four) to circumvent Twitter’s 140-character limit. Theoretically, they could have shared hundreds of words, something verging on a real idea to drive discussion. They could have tried to virally propagate actual strategy. Clinton’s team skipped all that and instead went with 27 words unblemished by a single spot of effort.
What voters got was policy by wish list, where goals and strategy are so dumbed-down as to become synonymous. If anything, it feels like a Clinton campaign habit. “We will defeat ISIS by beating ISIS” differs little from I will bring Wall Street to heel by bringing Wall Street to heel. I will expand health care by making it cover more people. I will end partisanship by working together. Elect me to do things because I get things done.
Christ, you might as well elect Cousin Merle down at the Seed ‘N’ Feed because of that time he paused between hawking thick loogies of Marlboro phlegm at the feet of his dog Geech and said, “I tell you what. If I was president, I’d fix things.”
Ideally, this is the point at which you’d go to Hillary Clinton’s campaign site and move past the listicle into something like a program from a former secretary of State. You poor bastard.
Things aren’t any better there, where the campaign could post literally anything. We’re going to defeat ISIS, keep our homeland secure, and re-stabilize nations we destabilized. Sounds great! Who’s bringing the orange wedges for the team to eat at halftime?
After halftime, we’ll hold China accountable and stand up to Russia. How do we do it? Volume! Just kidding. We’re going to make our military cutting-edge, forge alliances, create partnerships, promote moderates and engage civil society. Finally. If you just heard the sound of a barbecue and piteous yelling, that’s John Foster Dulles roasting on his Hell spit and screaming bloody murder that someone is stealing his material. First they take his Guatemala bit and use it on Honduras, now this.
But what delivers the real shitkicking right to the pit of the soul is the fact that this is enough. This will work. This is fine.
The modern tradition of American foreign policy — going back to Republicans in the late 1940s and early 1950s deciding that a bunch of Democratic comsymp pussies in the State Department “lost” “us” China — is that Americans are entitled to getting everything, fearing nothing, risking nothing and spending nothing. Worse, that anyone who tells them anything otherwise should be considered extremely dangerous.
Settling the hash of the Middle East, China and Russia is a pretty tall order once you start adding up all those billions of people. It’s even taller from a nation that’s decided it’s fine that every other major bridge is as structurally sound as the one at the end of Temple of Doom while it heaves billions at creating military frankensteins like the F-35 — a plane with all the handling of a Lincoln Town Car on office-chair casters going mudding — which you couldn’t even use to interdict “Dwayne,” the guy bringing you dinner according to the Domino’s Pizza Tracker™.
Things don’t get any better once you drill down into particulars, assuming you could even get there. Nobody wants to say that having our own Monroe Doctrine might entitle China and Russia to something similar. American exceptionalism has its privileges.
As for ISIS and terrorism, “we have to recognize that terrorism will create intermittent but acceptable losses in terms of destruction to property and individuals but poses no existential threat to the nation” doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. There’d be no room left for the arrow or the hope logo or a flag.
And if you want to try to argue the opposite, well, you’re going to find out fast how little anybody wants to hear about specific troop levels or what it takes to quell sectarian insurrections and shadow states. Nineteenth-century colonial tools don’t even have a face for radio.
Bernie Sanders, to his credit, has tried to exorcise some of this foreign policy pabulum. While he takes refuge in the fantasy of “relying on our allies” in the Middle East, his anti-interventionist fear of unintended consequences at least acknowledges the tantalizing prospect that the negative impacts from doing nothing might be less than those from actively fucking up. He even has the temerity to bring up the national shames of deposing Mosaddegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala (the Dulles two-fer) and Allende in Chile (arranged by Clinton beach buddy Henry Kissinger).
While Sanders’ anti-interventionism might shape the Democratic Party in the future, he’s also almost wholly demographically boxed out of ever winning the nomination. So for comparison, the best we can turn to is Hillary Clinton’s prospective opponents.
Donald Trump, who has spent months playing up his opposition to the Iraq War and to jeopardizing the lives of American soldiers by putting boots on the ground, casually reversed course in the last debate and talked about sending 30,000 troops to the Middle East. He also talks about bombing Middle Eastern oilfields, which would be economically and environmentally catastrophic globally while antithetical to any kind of stability regionally. He will out-negotiate Vladimir Putin and China and expand the military to the magic size where no one attacks us. Last, he will start killing the families of terrorists, which is a war crime.
Ted Cruz likes to talk about carpet bombing the Middle East. Not only should anyone with common sense trying to build a functional Middle East realize that this is counterproductive, and not only should a former law clerk for William Rehnquist know that this is unambiguously a war crime, but someone who studied history at Princeton should know that The Big Book of Times Carpet Bombing Worked is just one of those novelty tomes of blank pages glued together, with a cutout for a bottle inside. In this case, though, it’s a bottle of hemlock along with the note, “PLEASE DRAIN CONTENTS IF YOU STILL BELIEVE THIS SHIT AT ALL.”
Yeah, sure, you can make a case for the Japanese theater in World War II. After murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians with carpet bombing and incendiaries, we did stop the war — in conjunction with an island-hopping campaign and the slow constriction of Japanese resources — by dropping two hitherto unknown terrifying superweapons. So there’s that totally replicable circumstance. And what’s truly terrifying is that you can picture Ted Cruz reading this paragraph and nodding, licking his lips, singing showtunes. Maybe something from Assassins.
Because that’s what we’re down to.
There’s Sanders, an anti-interventionist Social Democrat who probably doesn’t stand a chance and who’s selling a kind of uncertainty that the American public has been trained for nearly 70 years to reject in foreign policy.
There’s Trump — a hotelier and former spokesman for a Long Island spray-tan emporium that was shuttered by the health department — who would try to beat Putin by shaking his hand really hard so the bones kinda cracked and who would treat the Middle East like a drunk at a vintage arcade losing at Missile Command.
And there’s Ted Cruz, a megalomaniacal whackjob theocrat who has repeatedly promised — to sickening applause — that he will start Dresdening the Middle East from Raqqa to Baghdad until all the parts that don’t look like the spillover ash from a crematory glow red and angry like a glass furnace.
This is how truly low and mean the stakes are for Hillary Clinton: Try not to sound eager to be a mass-murdering fuckhead. She and her campaign manager tweeting out “I will defeat ISIS by defeating ISIS” and filling her official website with what reads like a child’s book report on American post-war foreign policy is all that’s needed to sound like the adult in the room.
In this election, a tweet that fatuous is the closest we need to come to outlining a Middle East strategy. It meets the barest requirements of not immediately sounding historically criminal or insane. You can take all 27 words of it, and you can like it. Or not. Millions of you, and billions more, can only do worse.