Few Americans remember Amelia Bloomer, the fabled feminist who introduced women to the phenomenon of pants. In the 1850s, coinciding with the early American women’s suffrage movement and the Seneca Falls convention, Amelia Bloomer set new standards for women’s fashion, wardrobing the first wave of feminists in her eponymous pants. Women waved goodbye to the long heavy skirts and constricting corsets of yesteryear – they were free to walk, bicycle and perhaps even vote, all while sporting comfortable bloomers. Yet Amelia Bloomer’s is only one story of many in the ongoing struggle between women in politics and their politicized wardrobes.
The road – or rather, the runway – has never been smooth for trendsetters, or any women attempting to enter the political sphere. Ardent opposition greeted the bloomer fad in the mid-nineteenth century, making pants-wearing itself a political statement. Many women wearing bloomers were denied church membership, and newspapers such as Harper’s Monthly and New York Sunday Mercury published demeaning cartoons condemning so-called “bloomerism” and its adherents.
As even the least sartorially-savvy know, trends come nearly as fast as they go, disappearing due to disinterest or in favor of the next hottest trend. Yet for women in politics, criticism of their professional clothing has remained a constant. In the case of bloomers, the very founders of the trend actually actively stifled it after a few years. Ironically, women’s rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and even Amelia Bloomer herself determined that bloomers were in fact detrimental to their suffrage cause. Contrary to the apparent liberation of wearing bloomers, the scandalous pants and the controversy surrounding them created a distraction from women’s efforts to win the right to vote. Thus, in a strategic 180-degree turn, the women readopted typical, more “respectable” fashions, squeezing once more into corsets and the confines of long woolen skirts in order to emphasize their unwavering commitment to the longer political fight over more immediate victories.
This is not an isolated case. Historically, women’s movements have chosen to dress in conventional and conservative attire to reduce public criticism of their movements. A few decades after the bloomer fad blossomed and faded, the suffragettes of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in England also utilized conventional feminine fashion to advocate for the right to vote. Despite their militant tactics, which included planting bombs and smashing windows, the WSPU’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, mandated that her members dressed in respectably high-collared dresses, girdles, and long skirts. Doing so allowed their politics, rather than appearances, to take center stage, and thus prevented any campaign distractions to be caused by radical attire.
Hillary Clinton, whose name, thoughts, and wardrobe have withstood the political limelight for over two decades, should tip her hat to Ms. Bloomer. Generations after the historical debut of women’s pants, Clinton, too, paved the way for a new fashion statement. Rewind to the 1990s, and Clinton stood as the model of the unforgettable pantsuit, replete with shoulder pads and striking colors. The First Lady became a trendsetter when she first sported pantsuits in the 1990s, which subsequently contributed to the 1993 end of the Senate prohibition of women’s pants. Clinton may have paid homage to this accomplishment by wearing a pantsuit to her 2001 Senatorial swearing-in ceremony.
The question remains to be seen whether Clinton’s reputation as a trendsetter of boundary-breaking attire like the prismatic pantsuit will endure for her remaining political career, or whether it will be ephemeral like the fashion choices of her predecessors. Now that pants are de rigeur, Clinton could continue her pattern of revolutionizing women’s professional wardrobes. But if Clinton’s wardrobe instead safely follows in the footsteps of the nineteenth century suffragists’ goodbye to bloomers, not much will have changed in the intervening century.
Despite the impressive resumes of women in politics like Hillary Clinton, the fraught history of fashion and politics reappears when women are criticized for breaking out of typical female fashion norms. Of course, no one remembers what color tie or style of loafers male politicians have worn, but female politicians as women in the public sphere have always endured undue sartorial scrutiny. Americans may finally be ready for a female president, but perhaps only on the condition of a wardrobe to match.
Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) has represented the 5th District of Tennessee since 2003 and previously the 4th District of Tennessee from 1983 to 1995. In Congress, he’s known for his work on the federal budget, health care, and government reform. He’s a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition and is one of the few remaining moderates in Congress.
You have introduced legislation aimed at increasing transparency in the allocation of taxpayer money and withholding pay from members of Congress in the event they cannot pass a budget. Can you talk about how these proposed bills relate to your overall philosophy as a member of Congress?
I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and when you have transparency, you are going to achieve more success. I also believe that you have to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Those two principles — transparency and pay for performance — can radically improve government. Washington is often a bunch of ostriches with their heads in the sand, and when people realize there is a problem, they panic and go off in twenty different directions. If you have aligned incentives, you are going to get a more successful response.
Do you feel like you have experienced retribution from party leadership for being a moderate in Congress? How do you weigh concerns about this?
A real Congressman should vote with their party about 80 percent of the time. I have never seen a political party that was correct more than that. Today’s Congress has turned into a parliament where people are expected to vote with their party 99 percent of the time. My wife and I have been married for 31 years, and we agree about 80 percent of the time. We’re still married. But under today’s parliamentary scenario, there has to be 99 percent agreement. That effectively destroys Congress, because if you know how you are going to vote in advance, and it is whatever your party leader says, then you don’t need to think about the bill. You don’t need to study the issue. You don’t really need to have handle on the substance. It breeds ignorance. It also breeds conflict, and those two things are often found in many European parliaments and are distressingly present in today’s Congress.
How do you think Congress became so dysfunctional? What role did Newt Gingrich’s role as Speaker of the House have in all of this?
It’s a confluence of factors. Newt Gingrich certainly used guerrilla tactics to gain power in Congress, and both parties have copied his techniques: centralized control at the top, turning Congress into a parliament, punishing anyone who disagrees with you, and forcing all the lobbyists who come in your door to be members of your party. It’s also supporting Supreme Court doctrines like Citizens Unitedthat use the First Amendment to hide a lot of scurrilous activity, pretending that corporations are people and that money is speech. That allows an essentially unregulated takeover of American politics by the wealthiest interests in the world.
Do you think the situation in Congress has worsened in recent years?
Most of the Republicans I know are terrified of what has happened to their party. Congress may have gotten a little better. I am actually a fan of the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI). Of the Republicans, he’s the best they could have picked. He is trying to exert a sensible influence on his party. For example, [in early March] he and Mitch McConnell held a press conference to denounce the Klu Klux Klan. I wish the leading Republican presidential candidate would do that. That is a clear-cut good versus evil issue that you should expect your public officials to speak out on, and yet we are seeing a lot of dissembling at the presidential level.
What do you think of the Donald Trump phenomenon and what it means for the future of the GOP?
It is a hostile takeover of the Republican Party by someone who is not even really a conservative. [Donald Trump] is an opportunist. Several candidates have pointed that out, but many of his supporters don’t seem to care. The strength of his personality, the visibility of his brand, and the glamour that’s associated with his comb-over have apparently seduced countless Americans to think that he is a worthy presidential candidate, when by all historical standards he is an embarrassment.
It is common knowledge that you and Hillary Clinton have clashed in the past, particularly regarding health care reform in the 1990s. Why have you decided to endorse her for the 2016 election?
I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary. She is an awesome candidate. There is really no comparison between her and any of the other folks running in either party this year. I did prefer Barack Obama back eight years ago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire Hillary Clinton. It is true that we have had, on occasion, some policy differences, but as I have pointed out, you shouldn’t expect unanimity from a legislator. I agree with her on at least 80 or 90 percent of her policy issues. The Bill Clinton presidency where she was First Lady was one of the most successful presidencies in modern American history. If we could just get a piece of that now, the country would be in much better shape. It would be a historic achievement to have the first female president.
You have shared your personal cellphone number with all of your constituents and agreed to have it published in a major Tennessee newspaper. Do you know of any other congressmen who have done the same?
There may be one or two others who have done it, but most of my colleagues think I am crazy for doing it. They cannot believe that Tennessee voters are nice enough to not call me in the middle of the night, call me drunk, or just call and yell at me. That is really a tribute to Tennesseans…I am proud of the folks I represent.
Cecile Richards is the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Before joining Planned Parenthood, Ms. Richards served as Deputy Chief of Staff for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Did you ever expect to see such vitriol in both the physical and verbal attacks on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights?
I guess you never really know what to expect. It is important to remember that Planned Parenthood has been a source of controversy ever since we started giving out birth control information 100 years ago and they threw our founder in jail. Progress sometimes takes a while, but we try to keep moving forward. That said, it is incredibly discouraging to see…the entire Republican party’s leadership come out against Planned Parenthood and against our provision of healthcare services. Planned Parenthood was built by Republicans all across the country; we have Republican board members and Republican patients and staff. It is incredibly discouraging to see Republican presidential candidates show a lack of empathy or concern for the wellbeing of women and to see one party in the 21st Century so clearly line up against women’s access, specifically access to abortion and access to birth control. In the case of physical attacks, there is no way to speak about the tragedy in Colorado Springs without saying how much admiration and respect I have for the thousands of people who go to work every day at Planned Parenthood health centers and walk through picket lines and protesters yelling ugly things at them just to provide basic healthcare to women. I have profound respect for the women who exercise their right to get the healthcare that they need despite all that as well. As a country, that lack of empathy and compassion for fellow human beings is un-American, and I hope that we can decrease the current level of toxicity. We have a motto at Planned Parenthood, “Care. No Matter What,” which could be either a promise or a threat depending on where you’re sitting.
Especially when facing this level of aggressive opposition, how does Planned Parenthood convey to the public that it remains a safe space for people to receive care?
I think the most important thing we could have done in the last six months, in that regard, is to continue to provide healthcare. The reason that Planned Parenthood has such high approval ratings in this country is not because of any advertisement we did. It is because our doors have been open.
What was behind the decision to endorse Hillary Clinton in a primary in which all Democratic candidates support Planned Parenthood? What sparked the choice not to wait until the general elections?
Planned Parenthood got involved early on this election because, having watched now for the last nine months the most unrelenting attack on not only Planned Parenthood specifically by name, but also on all reproductive healthcare access in America, it became clear that this [cycle] was going to be even more important than the last presidential election. I have never seen a Republican primary where there were such full-throated attacks on Roe v. Wade, reproductive care, and Planned Parenthood…We do have three friends [in the election], or did, now that Governor O’Malley dropped out, but it was the feeling of the committee — and then it was taken out across the country to be voted on — that Secretary Clinton had an unparalleled record on women’s health issues. With all respect to Senator Sanders, who has been a solid vote, [Clinton] has fought her entire lifetime for these issues. When she was in the Senate, she was proactive and introduced eight separate bills to expand reproductive healthcare access, which is eight more than anyone else currently running for president. She has been a staunch ally and a real leader on these issues, and that is what drove our decision making.
How is Planned Parenthood best responding to the health needs of transgender and gender nonconforming people?
Historically, Planned Parenthood has been non-judgmental, non-shaming, and accessible. In many states we provide transgender care, and this is now a growing area at Planned Parenthood. I was just talking to Laverne Cox about this very topic a few days ago. Laverne was saying that…much like how reproductive care for women, in terms of abortion training not [being] taught in medical schools became a large focus many years ago, the same needs to happen now for transgender care. Currently, there is not enough universal training on or sensitivity to this area of medicine. [Transgender care] will continue to grow at Planned Parenthood, particularly in states where it is more difficult for folks to access care without being embarrassed or ashamed.
What specific approaches has Planned Parenthood taken to provide access and care for younger teenagers in underserved areas?
No matter how much Planned Parenthood does, and no matter how much we and our partners are committed, policy and the attitude of government towards these issues must change. We just simply cannot reach everyone. What is most alarming is this total dismantling of the public healthcare system…including sex education. In Texas, dozens of abortion providers have shut down. We now have tens of thousands of women who have lost access to breast cancer screenings, Pap smears, and birth control, all because centers are no longer even open in their community. If you are working for minimum wage, if you are supporting a family or just trying to make it on your own, you do not have the ability to drive hundreds of miles to go get basic healthcare. At Planned Parenthood, we are not only a provider of healthcare to about 2.5 million people every year, but we are a fierce advocate towards making policy and government address the needs of all people in this country. We simply cannot go backwards, or any further backwards, than we already have in terms of access to care.
Power without diplomacy is blind, diplomacy without power is impotent,” said Robert Lieber, professor of government at Georgetown University, at a recent event hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Society. This poetic, Bismarckian admonition capped a brief, but impassioned, lecture devoted to the careful enumeration of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy errors – namely, his predilection for nonintervention and inaction. Lieber, who is in the process of writing a book entitled Retreat and its Consequences, was principally frustrated by Obama’s adoption of a global “binary,” whereby the only two international options for America were doing nothing or total war. And, for Lieber, American indecision was not costless: “The more critical the problem, the important the U.S. is to its resolution,” he declared.
Lieber, of course, is not wrong. The United States, endowed with tremendous material security and uncontested military strength — a combination deemed “hyperpower” by some international relations experts — is uniquely capable of engendering innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. But protracted conflict and horrific violence are, more often than not, the true results of American adventurism, not constructive problem-solving. As Professor Stephen Kinzer, who also lectured at the event, observed: “We have the ability to change the fate of nations… [but] the temptation of intervention is the great downfall of American power.” Thankfully, American primacy and peace are not irredeemably irreconcilable aspirations; with a little change, the United States can have its cake and eat it, too.
The debate between Lieber and Kinzer comes at the denouement of President Obama’s term in office. The President’s foreign policy, often criticized as excessively cautious and impractically detached, can be appropriately summed up with a single mantra: “Don’t do stupid shit.” This simple strategy, a cosmic departure from the tendencies of President George W. Bush, has come under fire from members of his own cabinet. The Obama administration’s last three Secretaries of Defense – Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, and Chuck Hagel, none of whom completed a full term with Obama – have publicly criticized his policies. (Hagel, a veteran of the Vietnam War, toldForeign Policy magazine last December that, “I don’t think many times [the White House] ever actually got to where we needed to be. We kept kind of deferring the tough decisions.”) Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, was flustered with Obama’s reluctance to train more moderate Syrian rebels, a move she believes opened the door for “jihadists,” like those championing the Islamic State. And John Kerry, who inherited Clinton’s State Department mantle in 2014 and grew particularly enraged by Basher al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, had hoped Obama would enforce his “red line” for intervention. Obama, once again, decided against getting U.S. involvement.
Despite her imperial, and oftentimes carnivorous, global joyrides, America still stands for meaningful ideals: incorruptible freedom; inexhaustible opportunity; and, above all, the central notion that anyone foolhardy enough to dream vivid dreams and hope without hesitation can make it.
It’s understandable why Obama’s patience — or uncompromising lethargy, depending on who you ask – is so unfamiliar and unnerving, even to his closest confidantes. War, for the United States, is a historical constant; in his lecture, Kinzer quipped, “We never end wars. We only start them.” More importantly, many Americans are imbued with the notion that they’re entrusted with a “providential mission” to help non-Americans along with the congruent processes of democratization and economic liberalization. On the surface, such a belief appears self-involved and narcissistic. (It is.) But, upon further examination, American exceptionalism isn’t so unreasonable a worldview. The United States is, after all, the richest, strongest, and most experienced democratic society on the face of this planet. Despite her imperial, and oftentimes carnivorous, global joyrides, America still stands for meaningful ideals: incorruptible freedom; inexhaustible opportunity; and, above all, the central notion that anyone foolhardy enough to dream vivid dreams and hope without hesitation can make it.
This rhetoric may appear to be in direct contradiction with recent discussions about the phenomenon of American dissolution. “Fulminating about America in decline is fashionable today across the political spectrum,” John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in The American Spectator in 2011, long before a certain Donald Trump began promulgating his obstreperous conception of America as a nation of “losers.” The notion that the United States is falling apart or lagging behind, in some kind of cosmic competition for glory and prestige, is entirely unfounded. Just look at the United States’ recent contributions to the fields of science and technological development. Philip Greenspun, the famed Internet entrepreneur whose blog is hosted by Harvard Law School, notes:
“Some of the most valuable assistance that we provide to other nations is not accounted for either in military or foreign aid spending. For example, we have spent a high percentage of GDP on funding scientific research that is published and available to anyone worldwide who can afford the price of a journal subscription. We have spent our tax dollars on standards such as TCP/IP that can be used at no charge by people worldwide. A lot of free Web services, such as Wikipedia, Hotmail, Yahoo!, and Gmail, were built and are run by Americans. A foreigner who learns from Wikipedia and uses Gmail has received very useful aid.”
Yet, while the United States has practically defined the architecture and culture of today’s electronically connected world, it is also true that American preeminence need not be delivered through napalm canisters, screeching attack jets, and flamboyant ordinance tests. Warfare is, however counterintuitively, the worst way to manifest and demonstrate American power. After all, tanks can’t educate Afghan schoolchildren; air strikes don’t reform ruthless dictators; and columns of armored troops can’t export legitimate democracy. And, when push comes to shove, the great game of interventionism goes full circle: Paradoxically, societies born out of violent upheaval, like a spouse incensed with Stockholm’s syndrome, remain committed to the perpetuation of that upheaval. The United States of America is no exception. Since the Revolutionary War, the conflict that brought the thirteen colonies liberation from repressive British rule, the country has been on countless militaristic crusades, all over the world, in the mystical hopes that American-style independence and government will work seamlessly for everyone else. Unfortunately, as Kinzer commented, not everyone in the world is “an American in the making.”
But if the United States doesn’t go to war, or proselytize its ideology, then what should it do? The answer comes right out of Obama’s strategic playbook: Anything but stupid stuff. If that means doing nothing, so be it. Action isn’t always worthwhile — especially if the price is the senseless loss of human life and the evaporation of an entire people’s collective future. The United States might even try reigning in its bloated defense budget and investing in its people, not military contractors, for a change. Mature leadership on the international stage isn’t just about showing off large muscles or flashy toys; it’s about understanding geopolitical limitations, managing visceral impulses, and recognizing the simple fact that those who callously play the world like a game of chess, more often than not, suffer the worst checkmates.
Last November, Hillary Clinton declared that “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.” In December, at a campaign event in New Hampshire, the former Secretary of State was asked, “You say that all rape victims should be believed, but would you say that about Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, or Paula Jones?” Jones, an Arkansas state employee, sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment (and reached a settlement out of court); Wiley, a former White House volunteer aide, alleged that Mr. Clinton had sexually assaulted her; and Broaddrick, a nursing home administrator, accused him of rape. A number of other accusations have also been made against the former president. The same month, apparently adopting a similar line of criticism, presidential candidate and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump (whose record as a champion of women exists in his own fictions) reproached his potential general election opponent for her husband’s “terrible record of women abuse.” Broaddrick herself praised Trump’s broaching of past allegations against Bill Clinton, affirming that “it’s something that should be talked about.”
Conservative figures beside Trump have seized upon accusations against Hillary Clinton’s husband in attempts to besmirch Mrs. Clinton’s credibility. The behavior of her husband cannot be fairly labeled her fault, but the point her opponents raise, of the troubling record of the Clinton political operation silencing and ostracizing survivors, is a profoundly important one; Mrs. Clinton is at least somewhat complicit in this history. However, Republican motives in highlighting past allegations speak more to the continuing failure of political leaders to support survivors than to any quest for transparency on the part of the GOP. Ultimately, while Hillary Clinton’s connection to the crusade against her husband’s accusers undermines her claim to the mantles of feminist and supporter of survivors, the GOP exploiting the treatment of Broaddrick, Wiley, and Jones for political fodder only belies their own failures to support survivors.
Determining the degree of Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in the treatment of her husband’s accusers is difficult. As the New York Time’s Amy Chozick recently wrote, Mr. Clinton’s aides “were determined to quash any accusations against Mr. Clinton early and aggressively,” and “Mrs. Clinton had supported the effort to push back against the women’s stories.” However, “much of her involvement played out behind the scenes,” and while Mrs. Clinton was certainly part of her husband’s political team, concerns over the fairness of holding her accountable for her husband’s transgressions have been raised. Doyle McManus recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As far as is known, Hillary Clinton didn’t throw herself in the way of her husband’s attack dogs. She didn’t speak out in defense of his accusers. She didn’t resign as first lady. She remained doggedly loyal to her faithless husband — often through gritted teeth,” but “Suggesting, in effect, that Hillary Clinton had a duty to desert her husband is a pretty tough standard to demand of any spouse.” In correlated revelations, Clinton friend Diane Blair’s records offer some evidence that Hillary Clinton called the accusers of Senator Bob Packwood, who eventually resigned over allegations of sexual harassment, “whiney women.” With respect to her husband’s transgressions, however, much of the available information suggests Mrs. Clinton’s role was one of quiet support or silence. The level of complicity inherent in these actions may not be the same as a public denunciation of her husband’s accusers or other more overt attacks against the women who came forward, but this does not justify ignoring the complicity Mrs. Clinton does bear.
More important than knowing exactly what role Hillary Clinton played in the reaction to Bill Clinton’s accusers is recognition of the treatment of the alleged survivors when they came forward. This matters not only in relation to Hillary Clinton’s ability to advocate for survivors, but also because the individuals who made the allegations deserved a fair hearing and were, at least in how Clinton loyalists denigrated their character and credibility, largely denied this. It also matters because sexual abuse and how we as a culture react to accusations continues to bear salience.
While there is some injustice in leveling against Mrs. Clinton allegations that failed to derail her husband’s political success, her actions helped publicly minimize Bill Clinton’s alleged crimes and keep his reputation as a political figure intact. Broaddrick tweeted last January that following the assault, Mrs. Clinton “tried to silence” her. Wiley, who has agreed to work for an anti-Clinton political organization, argues that Mrs. Clinton is displaying hypocrisy by doubting her husband’s accusers. Conclusive evidence against Bill Clinton was not found in the investigations of the allegations against him; even so, the manner in which the Clinton political machine responded to them cannot be overlooked. Perhaps most infamously, Democratic stalwart James Carville tapped into America’s classism when he suggested Jones’ allegations against then-Governor Bill Clinton had been bought: “If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” (Carville insists that the comment was in reference to Gennifer Flowers, with whom Mr. Clinton has admitted having a sexual relationship.) The Clinton spin machinery discredited accusers as either irrational and unreliable: Bill Clinton described Wiley as having “been through a lot” (and thus, perhaps, willing to either fabricate or misunderstand an encounter) in a 1998 deposition — or as sexually aggressive and promiscuous. Though Monica Lewinsky never accused the President of assault, White House aide Sidney Blumenthal adhered to this model when he labeled her a “stalker” obsessed with Bill Clinton.
Ultimately, while Hillary Clinton’s connection to the crusade against her husband’s accusers undermines her claim to the mantles of feminist and supporter of survivors, the GOP exploiting the treatment of Broaddrick, Wiley, and Jones for political fodder only belies their own failures to support survivors.
Beyond these overt victim-blaming tactics, several aspects of the allegations thought to undermine the claims against Mr. Clinton would now — at least in more progressive circles — be viewed in a different light. That Broaddrick at one point denied the alleged assault and later explained that it had occurred, or that she attended a fundraiser for Clinton several weeks after the alleged incident, would now be understood by advocates and activists, and rightfully so, not necessarily as indications that Broaddrick was lying, but as possible results of the burden of coping with trauma. At the time of the allegations, however, such knowledge was not applied to the investigations in the court of public opinion. The tactics deployed against the accusers demonstrated an extraordinary disregard more or less permitted by the public.
The Clintons have dismissed the Republican airing of the allegations as dirty politics. Unfortunately, insofar as the GOP impetus to raise the issue is expediency, the Clinton interpretation may be accurate. This is, after all, the party of Todd Akin, whose comments about “legitimate rape” in 2012 contributed to his loss to Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. As of February, national media outlets have also picked up the story of Idaho’s own Akin, state legislator Pete Nielsen, who claimed that “in many cases of rape it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the incident.” The false notions propagated by these members of the GOP, though not necessarily representative of the entire party’s views, represent a scientifically unfounded position, an utter lack of respect for survivors with the ability to become pregnant, and an erasure of survivors of sexual assault who cannot become pregnant. The cries of politicians such as Rand Paul over Hillary Clinton’s hypocrisy seem rather hypocritical themselves in light of such statements, and in light of Republican efforts to restrict access to reproductive health services.
Many conservative leaders have also opposed policy proposals that might support survivors. Quite recently, GOP Congress members began to press the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on its enforcement of Title IX, claiming that the OCR exceeded its authority by issuing Dear Colleague letters to institutions receiving federal funding. These letters detail pertinent regulations by which schools must abide. The national nonprofit Know Your IX responded with a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate committee currently addressing the matter, noting that because “other agencies have issued interpretive rules and other guidance of this sort with relatively little objection, it is striking that critics have specially singled out OCR’s action on this particular issue for searching scrutiny.” Attacking the Department’s work to clarify the law meant to ensure equity in education and protect student survivors represents a troubling disregard for both those goals. In February 2014, attempting to force debate on a measure to levy harsher sanctions against Iran, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee blocked debate on two different (Democrat-sponsored) bills meant to build more protections for survivors into military policy. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) pointed out that the resulting message to survivors indicated “that the deck is stacked against them right here in the Senate.” Backlash also arose when Republican lawmakers introduced the Safe Campus Act, a bill touted as seeking justice for survivors on college campuses by requiring that they report complaints of sexual assault to police before their universities begin investigating an alleged incident or conducting an adjudication process. The bill, however, would not institute the same requirement for any other crime. It has been condemned as denying survivors agency in how they choose to come forward, if at all, and represents another illustration of GOP policy proposals that in no way support individuals who have experienced sexual assault.
Republicans seizing upon the detriments of sexual violence in relation to the Clintons does not equate to these conservatives challenging problematic histories. Rather, the GOP criticism suggests a desire to exploit events that ought to serve as disturbing reminders of how power can obstruct healing and justice for survivors. Though the allegations against Bill Clinton have not been legally confirmed and his wife does not become responsible for them simply by virtue of being his wife, in a more humane world, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the nation would feel responsibility for centering the needs of survivors. Some commentators have argued Clinton’s assertion that survivors should be believed contravenes due process and the presumption of innocence, a claim that misinterprets the notion of offering those who report sexual assault the same degree of credibility as those who report any other crime. It was this degree of credibility that was, in many ways, denied to those who accused Bill Clinton of sexual violence, and that is too often denied to survivors today by liberals and conservatives alike. The quagmire developing around the Clintons and past allegations illustrates, through both the past behavior of the Clinton political apparatus and GOP expedience, a failure by both parties.
Snapchat, the four-year-old picture messaging app, is having its moment in the 2016 election cycle. While the app has a solid track record among young people — the app boasts upwards of 200 million users — its entrance into the political arena is a recent development. Snapchat has hired political veterans like Rob Saliterman, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush, and Peter Hamby, a former CNN political reporter, to coordinate its transition into the political sphere. These experts are facilitating new features for the 21st century electoral landscape, such as “Live Stories”, advertisements, and filters. Through these methods, Snapchat is becoming an indispensable tool for reaching millennials in elections and has the potential to dramatically increase political awareness, although the fruitfulness of this strategy is still unknown.
Snapchat’s popularity — and importance as a political tool — arises from its versatility. The app offers a platform for users to send picture or video messages to friends that last up to 10 seconds, after which the “snap” disappears forever. These messages can be altered with filters that include the location, time, and temperature. Users can also choose to add a message that is up to 31 characters long.
Almost all the presidential candidates have their own accounts on Snapchat. Users can follow their favorite politicians, as they do with their personal friends, and watch their stories. Once a user has added a politician as a friend on Snapchat, the politician gets free access to those users. Access to this information can be a savvy and cost-effective way to advertise to young people, as long as politicians can get youthful voters to view their images.
Candidates, especially Secretary Clinton, are becoming more innovative and trying to appeal to young people on the app. In a trendy “takeover,” US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent Snapchats from Hillary Clinton’s account for an entire day. These Snapchats were available to all who had previously friend-requested Hillary’s account. Booker documented his travels throughout Iowa on the app, including fast-paced anecdotes and selfies with citizens at rallies.
Political campaigns have taken this a step further by using the filter feature to spread the word about their candidates by paying for filters that are politically themed. These Snapchat-designed images feature information on the candidates, historical facts about the presidential race, or current primary results. Candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio took this route and sponsored a filter that featured their campaign slogans and logos. Conservative Solutions PAC even attacked Donald Trump with a filter. “Trump is a con artist,” the filter states, “Friends don’t let friends vote Trump”. Millennials can use these 2016 presidential election filters to talk to their friends about the election: “Does Donald Trump’s winning percentage in the Michigan primary make my arm look fat?” With these features, users can immerse themselves in all aspects of the campaign narrative, something that is harder on other social media sites.
Snapchat aficionados’ posts can also be shared with everyone that has an account. Users can choose to add their Snapchats to a “story” centering on a specific place or event, which all users can access. A moderator from the company ultimately decides which Snapchats will become public as part of the story. This feature has increasingly been used to mark states’ primaries and caucuses. For example, citizens at campaign events in early primary states often used Snapchat to capture their experiences and post them on the app-wide story. Peter Hamby makes routine appearances via these live stories to explain certain facts about the race or events. By adding substance to these live stories, Snapchat generates information and effectively functions as a news source.
Additionally, Snapchat provides some of its own content. The Discover Feature hosts a variety of advertisements — which come from media entities as diverse as Cosmopolitan and The Wall Street Journal — to offer an exciting way for companies to reach young people with short, visually-appealing videos, music, and stories. John Kasich used a paid advertisement on Snapchat to get his message across. For 10 seconds, he tried to appeal to users on their Discover page along with other flashy media content, perhaps marking a new venue for campaign advertisements.
26 percent of 14- to 25-year-olds report that they get their news strictly from social media, an all-time high for any age group.
Despite all these popular capabilities, however, Snapchat is severely limited in other areas. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, or even Instagram, Snapchat is not a particularly good conduit of substantial information. A user cannot exceed 31 characters when adding text to a Snapchat, and there is no way to link to an outside news article or video, either. If, for example, a user saw the famous “Just Chillin’ in Cedar Rapids” Snapchat video recorded by Secretary Clinton and wished to learn more about her, there is currently no way for a user to be linked from that video to her campaign website. Consequently, Snapchat has no definitive way to analyze users’ reactions to these advertisements. While users on other social media can attach links to more comprehensive articles or sources, Snapchat is limited to 10 seconds and 31 characters. This hinders the ability of campaigns to use Snapchat as a messaging tool to inform potential supporters about their platforms and biographies.
Nevertheless, campaigns have flocked to the social media app this cycle in what is arguably an inevitable strategy to reach young voters. 26 percent of 14- to 25-year-olds report that they get their news strictly from social media, an all-time high for any age group. As millennials embrace news through social rather than other traditional sources, merging politics and unconventional media platforms will broaden the scope of political recruitment. At least, this is what politicians and pundits are counting on.
However, the relationship between social media messaging and voter turnout is not always congruent. For example, Facebook’s membership grew from 100 million in 2008 to 1.01 billion in 2012. Over the same time period, the percentage of Millennials that voted in the general election dropped from 51 percent to 45 percent. This vast increase in Facebook activity alone did not necessary increase millennial voter turnout, despite energetic political discussion on the site during this period. Perhaps excessive exposure to political jostling — courtesy of round-the-clock social media saturation — made Millennials more apathetic about voting. If their social networks were filled with commentary and arguments, young people might have been alienated by the discourse.
Of course, Snapchat is not just any communicative platform. Rob Saliterman notes that “intimacy” with which Snapchat reaches its users might be an advantage over other forms of social media. The app is phone-based, and its photographic and video content creates the feeling of seeing someone face-to-face. The user feels physically closer to the content and is in direct contact with it, providing a different user experience than that of other, less immersive mediums of communication.
Snapchat is certainly on the rise in this election cycle, but it is still too early to understand its full impact. Unlike other emergent social media brands, Snapchat remains limited and therefore inherently informal in its format by lacking a computer presence, the capabilities to attach links, longer videos, and most notably, save and redistribute any material shared on the website. As always, politicians will have to walk the fine line between effectively utilizing a new communicative medium and overtly pandering to those who use that medium.
When Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, her emotional concession speech highlighted something she had ignored for most of her campaign: that she was a woman running for president. She professed her gratitude to the American people for allowing her to come so far, and expressed hope that the fight for a female commander-in-chief wasn’t over. “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time,” she said in her concession, “Thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”
Eight years later, it seems as though this hope is even closer to becoming a reality. Hillary is once again battling for her party’s nomination, and this time around, she’s centered much of her platform on her gender. Constantly citing her experience as a grandmother, and surrounding herself with a group of female senators she calls “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits,” Mrs. Clinton has embraced her gender wholeheartedly, in stark contrast with her previous campaign. She has focused much of her platform around so-called “women’s issues,” emphasizing the historical potential of her victory, and once again calling to break the last glass ceiling. Employing this strategy, when she first announced her candidacy, it was assumed that the voting bloc of female Democrats would be in the bag. However, the number of supporters she has in this category is quickly dwindling, most significantly in young women.
This stark lack of backing from the very group Clinton seems intent on championing has been highlighted dramatically in the first two Democratic primary contests. In Iowa, she scraped by, gaining 53 percent of the female vote, and lost it in New Hampshire, receiving 44 percent of the overall women’s vote and only 35 percent of those under 45. These statistics seem to highlight a peculiar paradox: the more Hillary tries to underscore her status as a woman, the fewer women appear to support her.
This unlikely problem has revealed a sharp dichotomy between old and young feminists in terms of their ideals, policy preferences, and candidate choices. Those over the age of 45 who grew up in the second-wave feminism of the ’60s and ’70s, staunchly support Hillary. They view her possible nomination as the ultimate victory for the feminist movement, epitomizing a century-long struggle for equal opportunities in all fields.
The older generation has a somewhat dated view of feminism itself. The battles that they associate with the cause are more aligned with the issues that they faced in their youth, such as breaking away from the cult of domesticity, supporting equal rights for women in the workplace, and reaching the same societal status as men. For them, Hillary’s platform is the one most aligned with these goals. As a Vox journalist Kay Steiger put it, “For second wave feminists, Hillary Clinton is the best shot at defending Roe v. Wade, achieving a more liberal balance on the Supreme Court, and finally advancing feminist causes like paid family leave.”
When she first announced her candidacy, the assumption was that the voting block of female democrats would be in the bag. However, the number of supporters she has in this category is quickly dwindling, most significantly in young women.
In opposition to these older women are the next generation; one that is composed of young people re-defining what it means to be a feminist. This new wave is more concerned with “intersectionality,” or the idea that all of the identities one identifies with — such as gender, class and race — are too intertwined for one to take precedent over another. For them, Hillary’s opponent Bernie Sanders presents a liberal platform much more in line with their goals and ideals.
College campuses around the country, a steady hotbed of feminism, are “feeling the Bern,” professing their support for a candidate who champions matters that they feel affect them more directly. According to Quartz magazine, the type of young women who choose Sanders do so because of his appeal to a wide variety of issues that have recently fallen under the umbrella of “feminist.” No longer are women’s rights limited to simply gender equality. They now include finance reform, criminal and racial justice, education and economic equality, to name a few. Ultimately, Bernie’s platform prioritizes many more of these problems than Hillary’s does, hence the appeal.
These “third-wave feminists” do not believe in voting for Clinton simply because she is a woman. In fact, many view this notion as anti-feminist in itself. While most concede that they would like to see a female president in their lifetime, there is a significant group who believe that it shouldn’t be this female. Jazmin Vargas, a senior at Barnard, voiced the opinion of many when she stated, “We’re at the point where we don’t want to select any woman, we want to select the right candidate for women’s rights. It’s not about symbolic representation anymore. It’s about selecting substantive representation.”
In an ironic twist, some of Clinton’s staunchest supporters have also hurt her campaign the most. In remarks that have quickly become infamous, Madeline Albright, the first female Secretary of State and a glass-ceiling breaker in her own right, stated that there is “a special place in hell” for women who don’t support each other. Following less than a week later, Gloria Steinem implied that young females are voting for Bernie because “that’s where the boys are.” While both these women subsequently apologized for their comments, they could possibly do irreparable damage to Hillary’s campaign.
Many of Hillary’s older supporters have tried to fight this damage by focusing on the role she and other second-wave feminists played fighting for the conditions that allowed third wave feminism to arrive. As Gail Ellis, 68, put it, “If it wasn’t for people like Hillary and Gloria Steinem — women in the feminist movement — they wouldn’t have the kind of life they have now.” Debbie Wasserman Shultz, chair of the DNC, echoed this viewpoint, a bit more bluntly. “Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.” These women have followed Hillary’s entire career as a politician, from the White House to the Senate to the campaign trail. To them, she represents the triumph of a movement that goes back to The Feminine Mystique and the Equal Pay Act, and who has long championed and embodied the traditional Feminist.
While these are valid points and certainly speak to many of Clinton’s virtues, Hillary will not be able to rely on past fights and victories to gain the support of a new generation. As Barack Obama demonstrated in 2008, running for president is about looking forward, not backward. Young people have recognized this, and unless Hillary does as well, she will be left in the dust of the fast-moving, future-thinking intersectional group of voters who are quickly hopping onto the Bernie bandwagon.
As Kate McKinnon takes the SNL stage in her monochromatic pantsuit, a conniving grin appears on her face. She acts out one of the satirical media’s favorite caricature: the ambitious, scheming, and deceiving Hillary Clinton. The Onion plays the game too, releasing an article entitled “New Hampshire Covered In Shadow As Floating Clinton Campaign Headquarters Takes Up Position Over State.” This is the Hillary Clinton who stops at nothing to achieve power, who lies to her people before she scoffs at them behind the scenes. It’s an image to which many American voters subscribe.
A substantial majority of Hillary’s critics cite her apparent untrustworthiness as the main reason they dislike her. Among younger voters, particularly on social media, she is specifically described as dishonest, untrustworthy, disingenuous, and even inhuman. When asked why, many will mention Benghazi, her mixed policy record, or her status as a Washington “insider.” Some will cite her voting history, some her perennial presence in Washington, and others simply find her too choreographed. But, these labels aren’t new — they are part of a larger history that has branded her with labels of dishonesty and coldness, whether she has warranted them or not. Hillary Clinton’s current public image has become a caricature as a result of decades of political attacks.
In 1992, Hillary Clinton became a household name when Bill Clinton moved from an under-the-radar Arkansas politician to a presidential candidate. From the start, Bill’s opponents dragged his wife into the mudslinging politics of the Democratic primary. Jerry Brown, a rival candidate in the Democratic presidential primary, famously accused him of having illegally funneled money to his wife’s law firm back in Arkansas. Brown even alleged that Hillary, while working at an Arkansas law firm, conspired to permit and cover up the contamination of an Arkansas water source. In the debate, he specifically directed the allegations at Bill’s wife; it fit into his larger strategy of using Hillary to target Bill’s electability and legitimacy.
By the general election, Republicans saw a powerful potential vulnerability in Bill’s campaign: Hillary. From then on out, Republicans viciously attacked Hillary by constructing an image of a corrupt, lying, “overbearing yuppie wife from hell,” to borrow the term used by an Ohio television interviewer. As one Republican consultant said to The New York Times in 1992, “it’s just that she’s grating, abrasive and boastful. There’s a certain familiar order of things, and the notion of a coequal couple in the White House is a little offensive to men and women.” Though Republican attacks targeted Bill’s administration, their criticisms of Hillary were often charged with sexism and misogyny. Frustrated by a woman’s independent role in public life, Republican, media, and public opposition forced her to retreat to family life while she fended off accusations of being too overbearing and ambitious. And when Hillary tried to take an active political role, the same critics shot her down as too outspoken and power-hungry. Consequently, anyone who disagreed with the Clinton administration could use Hillary’s image as an influential tool against it.
In very little time, opponents of the Clintons had another informal partner: the media. Both liberal and conservative media became obsessed with accusations of scandal and corruption, even when the evidence wasn’t quite there. In 1994, New York Times journalist Jeff Gerth wrote about the “Whitewater Scandal,” wherein he accused the Clintons of having harmful criminal associations. At the time, 52 percent of the nation believed that Hillary had lied about her involvement with such shady characters. While the allegations were later found to be almost completely fabricated, citizens were already used to Hillary’s image as a liar and a corrupt insider. The barrage of accusations against her kept coming: the media charged that she forced her husband to fire White House staffers, that she was responsible for the death of a government employee, and that she accepted bribes. Hillary was now the scheming, out-of-place wife whispering commands into her husband’s ears. Put out by the attention-hungry media and perpetuated by the disgruntled Republican Party, Hillary’s political caricature was stuck in the minds of the populace. As much as the Clintons tried to chase down the hasty accusations, catching up to a lie was a wild-goose chase.
Over the years, these accusations blurred the line between the personal and the political. The media and critics of the Clinton administration started to target Hillary’s character, regardless of whether it implicated policy. All the alleged “scandals” of the Clinton administration culminated in a harsh, retributive essay by a well-known New York Times columnist, William Safire. Safire wrote in this 1996 essay, “Blizzard of Lies,” that Hillary was a “congenital liar…compelled to mislead and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.” In turn, Americans started to identify with the media’s criticisms of Hillary. By Bill Clinton’s second term, she had under a 50 percent approval rating – down over 20 points from the start of her husband’s presidency.
As much as the Clintons tried to chase down the hasty accusations, catching up to a lie was a wild-goose chase.
Ten years passed as Hillary assumed a comparatively lower profile. In 2007, after having served as a United States Senator, she decided to run for president. Having disassociated herself from her husband’s political battles, she now found her own adversaries – most notably, Senator Barack Obama. Obama’s advisors saw that Hillary had a history of trust issues and an image of competitiveness and over-ambition that could keep her from the nomination. A leaked memo from Obama’s advisor, David Axelrod, laid out a comprehensive plan to defeat Clinton. According to Axelrod’s analysis, Obama would have to paint her as a candidate “driven by political calculation,” concerned with eliminating the opponent, and suspiciously connected to lobbyists and donors. In order to beat her, Obama needed to define himself more sincere and genuine in the face of her plotting politics. “The change we can believe in,” Obama’s famous campaign slogan, intentionally targeted Hillary’s image of deceit and self-interest. This was a crucial feature of the 2008 primary, as Axelrod and Obama went after her character as much as her policies. They were, to an extent, responding to the perceptions of many people, as shown by the outcome of the nominating process. The result was somewhat of a feedback loop: voters distrusted her, which the Obama campaign exploited by emphasizing her duplicity and Obama’s comparative sincerity, which in turn led to more distrust of Hillary. But whether through the people or the politicians, the 2008 campaign entrenched and perpetuated her negative image.
Now, after Hillary Clinton served as the nation’s Secretary of State, the Ghost of Politics Past came back to haunt her. Republicans have come at her with new scandals and allegations, such as Benghazi and her private email server. Conveniently, but far from coincidentally, the subsequent hearings and investigations came prior to the 2016 election. The criticisms bore a surprising similarity to those thrown at her before: that she skirted the law, that she lied to save herself, and that she put American citizens in grave danger. Yet in all of these accusations, Hillary’s opponents were running far ahead of the evidence in a suspiciously partisan effort, and as New Yorker journalist John Cassidy phrased it, “slinging more mud at Clinton in the hope that some of it would stick.” But Clinton was muddy enough already. Progressives view her as uncommitted, finance-reformists view her a political puppet, and other opponents view her as engulfed in secrecy.
When political or policy decisions are connected to an individual’s character, it becomes extremely difficult to separate them. Decades of public involvement have entangled Hillary Clinton’s persona in a web of politically motivated sexism, partisan battles, and scandal-hungry media. Now, when voters young and old watch SNL or read The Onion’s satirical jibes, they laugh: that’s the Hillary they know. In turn, when it comes time to cast their vote, they incessantly question, “Can I trust her? Do I want such a competitive, political woman to represent me?” Many people, it seems, are unaware that the reason they’re even asking these questions has more to do with a long history of partisan slander than it does with Hillary’s true character.
“It’s not done…Hillary Clinton will always be there for you.” With these words, Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, welcomed Clinton to the stage at a New Hampshire rally. Clinton, the third woman to hold Albright’s former office, took the microphone with a smile of thanks that seemed to extend beyond her predecessor’s kind words to all her female supporters.
In the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, the Clinton campaign organized events featuring prominent female Clinton supporters, like Albright, in an effort to win over female voters. The day before, in a speech meant to rally Millennial support, Gloria Steinem, a leader of the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, chastised young women for supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign over Clinton’s. These comments, coming from one of America’s preeminent feminists, drew considerable anger from many young female Sanders supporters, and rightly so. Steinem’s remarks insinuated that these voters are “less feminist” than their older peers, unnecessarily making the Democratic primary about divisions in voters’ age and gender than common policy goals.
Steinem’s address came a week after Clinton narrowly won the Iowa caucuses. In that contest, Sanders garnered roughly six times as many female caucus-goers ages 18 to 29. Steinem tried to explain this substantial margin by arguing that “the boys are with Bernie,” and thus young women are too. Female Sanders supporters countered Steinem’s charges by asserting that they support their candidate because of his stances on policy issues, not because they want to meet men. Steinem has since apologized for her remarks, saying that young women today are far more politically active than in past generations. Nevertheless, she continues to assert that Clinton’s lack of support among young female Democrats is because women “get more activist as they get older”— young women, she argues, have not yet experienced loss of power due to sexism and ageism in the workplace.
Even within the realm of so-called “women’s issues,” Sanders’ and Clinton’s platforms are nearly identical.
Recent election results challenge this statement, and demonstrate that women don’t necessarily become more politically active, feminist, and therefore Democratic as they age. In 2014, 54 percent of 18 to 24-year-old females voted Democrat while only 41 percent of female seniors did the same. The 2006 House midterm elections yielded similar results: 60 percent of women ages 18 to 29 voted for a Democratic candidate compared to 49 percent of women ages 65 and older.
Furthermore, Millennials and their older counterparts cite many of the same issues as most important in the upcoming election. Gallup found that economic concerns are the most common among a sample of all American voters, with 39 percent citing the issue as their top policy consideration. Noneconomic problems such as dissatisfaction with the government, immigration, and national security also topped the list. A poll conducted by USA Today and Rock the Vote found similar results among voters aged 18-34. 35 percent of Millennials believe that the economy is one of the most important issues for the next President to prioritize. Terrorism/homeland security and immigration also head the list of primary concerns. These are not “women’s issues” or “men’s issues” but American issues, affecting both genders equally.
Even within the realm of so-called “women’s issues,” Sanders’ and Clinton’s platforms are nearly identical. These similarities remove much of Steinem’s argument that Clinton is inherently “more feminist.” The Sanders campaign promises to protect and expand Planned Parenthood and abortion access, ensure that birth control is covered under health care, pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (granting men and women equal pay for equal work), and raise the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage. Clinton outlines a comparable platform including support for Planned Parenthood, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, and raising the minimum wage.
One major disparity is that Sanders vows to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a constitutional amendment that goes beyond the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law by emphasizing that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged…on account of sex.” The ERA failed to pass in 1972, and can be seen as the biggest unaccomplished goal of the 1970s feminist movement. Clinton fails to mention the ERA on her campaign website. This disparity is minor in light of the similarities between both campaigns on reproductive health and wage disparities, but it does place Steinem’s comments under more scrutiny.
It is clear that Steinem fails to account for Sanders’ popularity among young female Democrats; older women are not inherently more feminist or liberal than their younger peers. On the contrary, both groups seem to share similar concerns. As Democrats look toward the general election, the commonalities between Clinton and Sanders should be a cause for celebration, not separation, within the female voter base. American women concerned about these policies should stop focusing on the merits of nominating a woman versus a man and instead stress the importance of electing a Democrat. Sanders and Clinton have much more in common than they do with any of their Republican challengers. In order to actualize both candidates’ visions for reproductive rights, childcare, and pay equity, these two coalitions must set aside their marginal differences and unite in support of the Democratic nominee. For, as Madeleine Albright so candidly reminded us, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
The following are two separate interviews presenting contrasting opinions on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran Deal, negotiated between Iran and the “P5+1” nations, including the United States, in 2015.
Mark Dubowitz is the Executive Director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a foreign policy think tank, which opposed the Iranian nuclear agreement
BPR: One of your criticisms of this deal is that it gives Iran access to billions of dollars of its oil revenues that had been frozen, allowing it to potentially fund terrorism, while at the same time, lifting the arms embargo. Supporters counter that these funds rightfully belong to Iran, and that weapons it purchases can be countered by military support for allies, or interception of shipments. How do you respond?
MD: There was an alternative to giving Iran direct unlimited access to those oil funds. The idea being proposed was that Iran needed that money for its economy, not for funding of terrorists or buildup of its regional posture. If that is true, and there is an argument that Iran will spend most of the money on imports, even though there will be billions of dollars left for terrorist proxies, the option is to move funds from escrow accounts [all over the world] to accounts in the EU where Iran wanted to buy European goods and could have used them to pay for European imports. That would have been a much better way to control the use and access of those funds, rather than repatriating $100B+ back to Iran’s Supreme Leader so he can use it any way he wants … If you believe, which isn’t the case, that every country would comply with the embargo and not allow Iran to procure heavy weaponry, the fact of the matter is that when that arms embargo goes away in 5 years, countries will be able to do it legally, and China and Russia have been waiting, they are already negotiating multi-billion dollar deals. I find it hard to believe we will be able to police the use of this money, and stop weapons shipments.
BPR: A main concern of yours is the sunset clauses (points in time where provisions of the deal expire). Why are they such an obstacle? Won’t the US have the same or better military options in the future as now?
MD: We will still have the same military options, but Iran will be a much more difficult target. They will be a stronger power, moving toward an industrialized nuclear program that is much more widely dispersed, with multiple facilities buried under a mountain, with stockpiles of low and even highly enriched uranium. Military operations by their nature will be much more difficult then than today, when Iran’s nuclear facilities are relatively small and concentrated. We may only have a military option, we won’t have a sanctions option, because Iran’s economy will be stronger with hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment. People will be reluctant to agree to snapback sanctions, including our European allies. All the Iranians have to do is safely comply with the deal, not do anything that would precipitate a snapback sanction, and just wait patiently for these key restrictions to expire, so that at year 8 they can do advanced centrifuges R&D, at year 10 they can install unlimited centrifuges at Natanz, at year 15 they can build multiple emissions facilities and heavy water reactors, they can stockpile enriched uranium to 60% and keep thousands of kilograms around the country.
All the Iranians have to do is safely comply with the deal, not do anything that would precipitate a snapback sanction, and just wait patiently for these key restrictions to expire
BPR: Opponents strongly objected to a provision stating that Iran can block for up to 24 days being forced to provide access to suspected (not-declared) military nuclear sites. However, supporters contended that the 24 days is a hard maximum, the first such provision in a non-proliferation deal, and that fissile material cannot be cleaned or hidden that fast. Respond
MD: My biggest concern with the inspections regime is not necessarily the 24 days, but is that the Iranians have made clear over and over that they will not allow the IAEA into military sites. The Parchin (a suspected military site) arrangement will be the Parchin precedent. The Iranians will say, we didn’t let you in to Parchin, we are not going to give you physical access of a military site, we may not even give you monitoring. Without physical access to military sites our ability to go in and verify that Iranian weaponization [is not taking place] will be severely curtailed. Whether or not we can get in in 2 days, 24 days, or 80 days for the process to make its way through, we can’t actually physically get in to that military site to see what they are doing and verify they are not engaged in weaponization activities, and the verification and inspection regime becomes meaningless. Most experts agree the Iranians are not likely to build a nuclear weapon in their declared facilities. What they are much more likely to do is use their declared facilities to expand from an industrial side, perfect the use of advanced centrifuges, accumulate huge stockpiles of enriched uranium, and then divert uranium to clandestine facilities where weaponization will take place. We will be blind with respect to what the Iranians are doing on the weaponization side, and a lot of weaponization activities do not involve the use of enriched uranium, and so there will be no telltale signature signs of that activity even if we ever get into that site. [An expert testified before Congress that] if he had to judge the inspection and verification regime on a scale of 0-10, he would give the declared facilities 7-8, ability to monitor and detect suspicious sites, 5, and the access to those facilities where Iran might engage in military activity related to its nuclear program, 0.
BPR: Is snapback (immediately restoring sanctions in the event of a violation of the deal) realistic and functional? Why or why not?
MD: Snapbacks are a delusion. The very nature of a snapback assumes a few things. The target needs to be susceptible to a snapback, and I think the ability to inflict asymmetric shocks on Iran’s economy as we did between 2010-13 will be significantly diminished. Second, we will require at least the support of the Europeans to snapback anything, and even though technically speaking we can snapback sanctions without Russian or Chinese or European support, practically speaking we will not do it without European support. The snapback assumes transatlantic unity throughout this process, which becomes doubtful when you move into a world where the Europeans have sunken tens of billions of dollars into Iran’s economy and don’t want to risk their economic interests. The Iranians will also threaten a nuclear snapback to neutralize their economic snapback, so they end up with a much more formidable snapback option than we have.
BPR: If Congress had succeeded in blocking the deal, what would the day after that vote have looked like? What comes next?
MD: This is where we are today. The US Congress has rejected the deal. 61% of Congress is on record having opposed the deal.
BPR: But the deal is in force under US law; an effort in Congress to block enforcement of it was filibustered by Senate Democrats. What if it had been blocked under law?
MD: That was an impossibility. Congress could not have stopped the deal, even if it had 67 Senators to overturn the President’s veto, the President retains enormous executive power to neutralize any sanctions block that was put in the Corker-Cardin legislation. There was no scenario in which the deal was not going to be in force. The real question was, would the deal enjoy bipartisan support in the US congress? Would that give it the kind of political durability to ensure that the deal would outlive the current administration? The deal was protected by a narrow partisan minority in Congress, and now with a bipartisan majority having rejected the deal, and certain polls showing only 21% of Americans supporting the deal, the real question is then what does this mean for the next administration?
BPR: So what was your goal then in opposing this deal in Congress?
MD: To delegitimize it. There was nothing else that could be done but to delegitimize the deal. It couldn’t be stopped, it was going to move forward regardless of how many members of Congress opposed it. The question was, could the deal be delegitimized, what would that take in terms of Congressional opposition, what would that translate to in terms of public opinion polls, what would this mean for positions in the general election, and what would this mean for the next President, whoever he or she is. It would matter if it is a Republican or Democratic president, a Republican president is more likely to want to aggressively move forward to try and unwind the deal, and a Democratic president, even in the case of Hillary, who says she supports the deal, is going to be much more aggressive in enforcing it, and imposing sanctions against Hezbollah. That is still part of the strategy – how do you mitigate the damage of the deal?
BPR: If, by your admission, it was not ever possible to block the deal through Congress, was a “better deal” ever possible?
MD: Sure. Over the history of arms control agreements, many were treated as treaties, where Senate advice and consent was required, and in some cases, the Senate required the administration to go back and renegotiate a deal in order to get specific amendments, and once the amendments were given, the deal was ratified. In this case, the administration decided not to treat it as a treaty, but instead as a non-binding executive agreement. From the administration’s perspective, the advantage is that they did not have to get Senate ratification. The disadvantage is that it is a non-binding executive agreement. By delegitimizing the deal, you lay the predicate for the next President to come in and negotiate a follow-on agreement, for example, that would address the sunset provision today, or in 2017, rather than waiting 8-10 years and having the sunset provision create all the problems I’ve described
By delegitimizing the deal, you lay the predicate for the next President to come in and negotiate a follow-on agreement
BPR: And if the next President comes in and wants to do that and the rest of the P5+1 is not on board, how would that work?
MD: What the next President would have to do is initially go to the French, who were very unhappy with the deal, and see if there is a meeting of the minds between Washington and Paris on some specific aspects of the deal that can be addressed. Again, you are not going to be able to rip up the agreement, or start from day 1, or dismantle Iran’s entire nuclear program, or deny it enrichment, you are not going back to square one. But there are specific provisions of the deal that are highly problematic, the sunset provision, the lack of physical access to military sites, the nuclear snapback, specific provisions that the President would have to reach out to the French and see if they can get agreement in Paris and Washington to begin with. If they got that, it would be easier to get agreement from London and Berlin and then you’ve got a transatlantic agreement in trying to negotiate some follow-on agreement. I’m not suggesting this is easy, or will happen quickly, but I think there will be, particularly if there is a Republican president, a strong push to try and address some of the fatal flaws.
BPR: Is pushing back on the revolutionary guard’s activities complicated by US cooperation with Iran vis-a-vis ISIL?
MD: I think US cooperation with Iran regarding ISIL is foolhardy and wrongheaded and likely to [increase] ISIL’s advantage. If the US pursues a policy of partnering with Iran to fight ISIL, that will only help ISIL. If anything it will feed the fears of Sunis and Iraqis who are convinced that we are partnering with their mortal enemy, who is responsible for brutalizing them. We’ve got to make it very clear that we are not going to partner with Iran, not going to partner with Asad, or support the Russians….As long as we don’t it’s going to be a massive recruiting boon for ISIL.
BPR: Why were conservatives in the US uniformly opposed to this, while conservatives elsewhere, such as in Great Britain under David Cameron, were supportive?
MD: I can’t think of a time since the Suez Crisis that the US and Great Britain split apart on major national security issues, regardless of whether it’s a Republican or Democrat in the White House, or a Conservative or member of the Labor party in London. That so-called special relationship transcends party politics and ideology. The other reality is that Britain was quite disengaged with respect to Iran. Of the European powers, the French were most engaged and committed and had the longest experience and most expertise. The UK took a backseat. The other factor is that after the Syria chemical line debacle where Cameron felt very much let down by Obama, he wasn’t going to risk his political capital in any way on the Iran deal, so he sort of just quietly went along. Heading into reelection, he also understood that his road to reelection didn’t run through foreign policy.
BPR: How will this deal reshape the balance of power in the Middle East, the standing of the US and Israel individually, and their alliance?
MD: It is too early to tell. The US Israel relationship will certainly stabilize and grow closer again in 2017 probably regardless of who is elected. With respect to US credibility in the Middle East, that is where we are already seeing results, and the next President and the one after that will have to devote time and resources to repairing it. At this point, our enemies don’t fear us and our allies don’t trust us. That is going to be a challenge, because the next few decades are going to bring enormous national security challenges in the Middle East with respect to proliferation. You are starting to see the Emiratis, Saudis, and Egyptians moving in the direction of building their own civilian nuclear program, concluding multi-billion dollar deals with the Russians and South Koreans to build their own nuclear capability. None of the Sunni powers are willing to accept a status quo where Iran is permitted enrichment and is able to expand that enrichment capability over time.
BPR: Was the strategy that organizations opposed to this deal took wise? Was it worth the money and political capital to set the precedent you wanted for the next administration?
MD: Overall, most organizations I’m aware of had defined publicly or privately what their objectives were in a similar way, which was to delegitimize the deal. I think there were some organizations perhaps who believed you could actually block the deal, and there were others who knew better…. Absolutely [it was worth it]. Without 61% of the US Congress opposing this deal, or most Americans opposing it, there would be no follow-on strategy in 2017. …. With 25-30 Democrats opposing the deal, and deeply anguished statements even from supporters, saying the deal is dangerous and deeply flawed in the words of Cory Booker, and will trigger all these terrible consequences but I have to support the deal because I feel like I have no other choice, there’s a combination of opposition and deeply anguished support. That creates the necessary predicate for a potential reversal of the more dangerous elements of the deal and consequences it will trigger. And certainly it lays the foundation for a more aggressive posture towards Iran and its regional behavior.
Joseph Cirincione is the President of the Ploughshares Fund, which advances global denuclearization and nuclear nonproliferation through advocacy and funding of nonproliferation efforts.
BPR: How did your organization evaluate the terms of the deal?
JC: In the non-proliferation community this was a no-brainer. The overwhelming consensus of nuclear experts was that this was a great deal. It wasn’t so much that one organization or one expert thought this – I can’t name a major non-proliferation expert who opposed the deal. Almost all the opposition was political, not based on policy analysis. What happened was because a group disagreed with making any deal with Iran, they started cherry picking the agreement and exaggerating and distorting certain aspects to make it seem like it was a cave in to the Iranians, or that it was paving the way to a bomb rather than preventing one. It was one of the most intensely politicized policy exercises that I have ever seen. When you strip away the politics and the advocacy groups like AIPAC or FDD, or the Emergency Committee for Israel or the Israel Project, all groups with a political agenda, and you look at what the policy experts thought, it was an open and shut case.
BPR: Can the US realistically counter Iran’s regional ambitions after they gain access to additional resources?
JC: Any agreement with Iran was going to lift the sanctions, even if you had negotiated an agreement that completely bulldozed the entire nuclear complex of Iran, you would still lift the sanctions. If you object to lifting the sanctions because it will somehow aid Iran’s other activities, what you are really saying is that you are against any deal at all. In fact, the monies that will flow to Iran are much less than critics claim, and even after government officials repeatedly testified that the amount released would be under $50B, opponents continued to throw around false numbers, $100-150B. US officials testified that of the monies released, they felt very little of it would flow to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and I believe that to be the case. Finally, the years of sanctions against Iran have crippled their economy, but there is no evidence they ever slowed the Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and there is no reason to think that keeping these sanctions in place would somehow prevent Iranian support for those groups.
BPR: But opponents say that opposition to the cash repatriation is not opposition to any deal, but rather, that conditions should have been placed on how those funds could be spent.
JC: How do you do that? How do you dictate to a government how they are to spend money you are releasing to them? Where has that ever been done? It’s never been done.
BPR: A main concern of opponents is the sunset clauses in the deal. Supporters say that the US will not have any reduced leverage when the sunsets hit. Is that true, since Iran will have access to much more capital by then and be tied into the global economy?
JC: Most arms control agreements end over a certain period. Even the non-proliferation treaty was negotiated for only 25 years. The very first strategic arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union only last 5 years. Having an agreement that lasts 15, 20, 25 years is a remarkable achievement and it is longer than most agreements.
The ideal solution to the Iran problem is to eliminate Iran’s nuclear complex entirely. Many experts 10 years ago were in favor of such a solution, myself included. You want to have 0 centrifuges. We ran that play and it didn’t work. The Bush administration favored the 0 option, no capability ever. They tried threats of war, and increased sanctions, and the result was that Iran went from 0 centrifuges to 6000 at the end of the Bush administration, and 19,000 by the time the Obama administration started negotiations. The only negotiated solution you could get was one that allowed Iran some capability with limitations. The goal was then not to eliminate entirely Iran’s capability, but to make sure they couldn’t use that capability to build nuclear weapons.
That’s what this deal does. It rips out 2/3rds of Iran’s centrifuges, it forces them to ship out of the country almost their entire stockpile of uranium gas, they have to pull out the core of the plutonium reactor, drill it full of holes, and pour concrete into it, and they have to then agree to the most intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated, which runs for at least 25 years, at which point some of the terms lapse, but most of the inspections are like diamonds, they last forever. Iran is forever banned from producing or deploying a nuclear weapon.
In the course of doing this, at some point you have to relax the restrictions so that Iran can pursue a program for civilian use of nuclear technology. Some of the restrictions end at 10 years; it allows them for example to start developing more advanced centrifuges. But the limit on the number of centrifuges and the gas lasts for at least 15 years, so for 15 years you have a full 1-year breakout time. The key is what do we do between now and years 15, 20, 25? How can we take those restrictions on Iran and apply them to global standards, so that when Iran leaves one set of restrictions they actually enter a new global set of restraints that exert the same constraints on their nuclear program? There are experts already working on this. … There is not one treaty or agreement that solves the problem, rather what we’ve built up over the last 70 years of the nuclear age is overlapping, interconnected treaties, agreements, and security assurances that can slow, prevent, and reverse the nuclear threats. … It is a false claim that this is just kicking the nuclear can down the road.
How can we take those restrictions on Iran and apply them to global standards, so that when Iran leaves one set of restrictions they actually enter a new global set of restraints that exert the same constraints on their nuclear program?
BPR: Is snapback realistic and functional?
JC: Absolutely. This agreement allows one country, say the US, to re-impose the sanctions if it believes there is a violation, no matter what the UN security council does. I’ve never seen a provision written like this. If one country believes there a violation they can bring a resolution before the UN security council, and the resolution is in the form of a double negative, so if one country, say Russia, vetoes it, it has the effect of putting the sanctions back in place! It is remarkable. They built in enough flexibility so there can be selective application of sanctions to meet the perceived violation. You never want to be in a position where it is all or nothing, so if there is a minor violation you are afraid to call it because it would jeopardize the entire agreement.
BPR: Opponents say that the 24 days before the US can force access to a suspicious site is too much time, that there is not anytime anywhere inspections, and that the Administration crossed its so-called “red lines.” How do you respond?
JC: These charges are complete nonsense. They are polemical tricks rather than accurate assessments. All of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities are under 24/7 inspection. State of the art tools are being applied – fiber optic radio frequency seals, for example, that can detect any violation just as a home alarm system reports a break in to the police. The solution they developed for the inspections of suspect sites is a breakthrough in non-proliferation agreements. Up to this point, there has been no time limit on how long a country could block a challenged inspection. Disputes have gone on for years. UN inspectors have been trying to get into the Parchin facility for 10 years, this agreement limits any obstruction limits a challenge to any inspection for 24 days! In the inspection world that is the blink of an eye. Here is why. It is impossible in that short of a time to hide evidence of nuclear material experimentation. How do we know this? Because our nuclear scientists tested this provision out at secret facilities in the US, where Department of Energy nuclear scientists intentionally contaminated the site and then tried to clean it up in 24 days. They couldn’t do it. This is what you have to understand: the objections to this agreement are being raised almost exclusively by political opponents, but every sentence, every phrase was vetted by our best intelligence experts and nuclear scientists. We actually built Iranian model centrifuges and ran them at DOE laboratories to test out various formulas for how much uranium gas could be allowed, how many centrifuges could be allowed to operate, what quality the centrifuges could be. This is one of the most rigorous, detailed, non-proliferation agreements I have ever seen. It is a model for how you stop a country from misusing their nuclear technology.
The objections to this agreement are being raised almost exclusively by political opponents, but every sentence, every phrase was vetted by our best intelligence experts and nuclear scientists.
BPR: Do think this bill could lead to Saudi Arabia and other nations working to match the nuclear capacity left to Iran?
JC: This deal stops a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, it doesn’t start one. It makes an example of Iran. In fact, if there is another country in the Middle East that wants to have uranium enrichment capability, they will have to agree to the same onerous inspection regime that Iran has. I don’t believe there is any other country that is going to start up a uranium enrichment capability. There has been some loose talk from a few political officials in some of these governments, and a lot of wild claims raised by political opponents of the agreement, but there has been nothing actually done. There is no government that is moving to develop this kind of capability. Nothing, no sign, no research program, no procurement. And remember, if any country wants it, to have an uranium enrichment capability, they would have to buy it from the few countries who control this technology, and there would be strong opposition to the sale of technology to countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc. Any country that was investing in fuel technology at this point would be looked on as suspect.
BPR: Some members of congress have introduced legislation to bolster enforcement of the deal and shore up alliances. What is your position on this bill?
JC: Congressional oversight is going to be absolutely essential to the successful implementation of the Iran agreement. Congress needs to be involved. What is not needed is more sanctions, trick legislation to try to subvert the agreement before it is even implemented, or massive new military aid packages. None of that is necessary now. This agreement reduces the military threats in the Middle East, it doesn’t increase them. I don’t see any justification for increased military aid to any of our allies in the Middle East.
BPR: Iran claims that the biggest source of regional instability in the wake of this deal is Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Do you support that position? Should Israel be opened to international inspections, and forced to relinquish its arms?
JC: We don’t believe any country in the world needs nuclear weapons, and we are working to reduce and eventually eliminate everyone’s nuclear weapons. This includes Israel. But Israel is never going to agree to giving up its nuclear weapons as long as there are unresolved conflicts in the region, so the path to a nuclear free middle east has to go through a resolution of the conflicts now plaguing the area, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
BPR: Did you agree that the choice facing Congress was this deal or war? How do you substantiate that claim? Was a better deal possible?
JC: If we had walked away from this deal, General Brent Scowcroft said, we would walk away alone. One of the most important briefings that Senators got during their deliberations was the meeting they held with Washington based ambassadors of our partners in the negotiation: the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China all came and met with Senators, and they told them that it was this deal or nothing. No one was going to go back and negotiate a new deal because politicians killed this one. For the rest of the world this was not a controversial agreement. The only country in the world that opposed this agreement was Israel. Among our allies, including the conservative governments of the UK, France, and Germany, it was unanimous support. This is a damn good deal.
If the US tried to impose unilateral sanctions, even our closest allies would not conform to them, and you would be faced with a collapsing sanctions regime, an Iran that was now free of any restrictions on its nuclear program and doing business with the rest of the world. Iran would restart centrifuges, install new centrifuges, enrich more uranium, start operating plutonium production reaction, and that would put tremendous pressure on Israel or the US to consider military action. It would put us on a course for military conflict. That is why this deal became so much more than just an agreement on limiting nuclear technology. It was clearly a war and peace issue, and most objective observers saw it exactly that way.
Fueling concern about this was that most of the people who had supported a US invasion of Iraq were now against this agreement. They were now playing the same playbook, arguing there were no negotiations possible with this Middle East regime, that it was so evil that it could not be trusted, that it had links to terrorists that would threaten the US, and that in the end, only actions to overthrow this regime would solve the problem. Thankfully people understood what was going on here, rebuffed their attempts, and the agreement got overwhelming support in the national security establishment of the US, among our allies, and eventually, enough support in the US Congress to stop all efforts to kill the deal.
BPR: What was the reason for opposition if this deal was so universally recognized as a good?
JC: The opposition to this agreement came from three sources. One was the people who genuinely had doubts about the deal, as would be the case in any discussion of this magnitude, and were wrestling with the issues. But the majority of the opposition was political. The Republicans in Congress decided early on they would not give a Democratic President a major foreign policy victory. There was not one Republican vote for this agreement – that should tell you something. And they were very clear about it, they spoke quite frankly about blocking this agreement on political grounds. The third source was ideological opposition to any agreement with Iran. And that really fueled the fire here in a way that mere politics could not. Much of this stemmed from the position taken by the government of Israel, even though the Israeli military and intelligence officials disagreed with the assessment of Prime Minister Netanyahu. A lot of it came from supporters of the Likud party in the United States, like AIPAC and Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and Israel Project and others, who were opposed to any agreement with Iran that would legitimize the government. Their goal was to overthrow the regime, not to come to a compromise with it. Those groups have a lot of political influence in the United States, a lot of donor money involved in it. They poured resources into this in a way that I have never seen in a national security debate. You think this is normal? It’s not. This is not the way we normally debate major national security issues.
BPR: All of the Republican candidates for President oppose this deal. What will happen to this deal if one of them becomes President? Can it be unwound?
JC: Presidents can pull out of treaties. George W Bush abrogated the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and he walked away from the agreed framework with North Korea, which allowed that country to then go build and detonate nuclear weapons. The next President can do this, but is that what they are really going to want to do? Will they want to lift all restraints on Iran’s nuclear program? Are they going to want to have Iran reinstall centrifuges, rebuild polonium production reactors, or enrich uranium to near weapons grade? Is that what they are going to want to do? I don’t think so. I find it inconceivable that the next President of the United States would jeopardize US national security in such a cavalier manner just to make a political point.
BPR: What is next for US foreign policy, with regards to Iran, non-proliferation, and your work? JC: There are three schools of thought now contending. The opponents to this agreement will continue their efforts to kill it, to slow or delay its implementation, and to put on a confrontation with Iran. The second approach has been articulated by Hillary Clinton, who embraces the deal, but wants a new policy of containment toward Iranian influence in the region. The President has laid out the third path, which is to explore the diplomatic openings that have been created by this deal. By solving the biggest disagreement we had with Iran, it opens the door to conversations with Iran about other security issues in the region: Syria, fighting ISIS, stabilizing Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan. We don’t know if those conversations will prove fruitful. We do know they would have been impossible to have without this nuclear agreement. I think it is in the United States national security interest to be exploring those discussions, to see if there are ways we can cooperate with Iran to reduce some of the conflicts that are now ripping throughout the middle east.
Stephen Kinzer is a veteran New York Times correspondent, author, and academic. He has filed stories from over 50 countries, and served as the chief of the New York Times bureau in Istanbul from 1996-2000. Kinzer is currently a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University.
What is the best way to go about securing US national interests in the international sphere? What role does military intervention play?
We should be prudent and careful when dealing with the rest of the world. We have to protect our vital interests, but we should define our interests narrowly. Intervention is appealing for countries like the United States that have so many interventionist tools available. We have a variety of covert action possibilities, plus the world’s most powerful military. This…leads us to abandon reliance on diplomacy and other more productive tactics. Intervention can often bring us quick victory because we are so powerful, but quick victory is not true success. You only have true success when you have a sustainable outcome, and military instruments cannot produce that. Interventionist policy creates reaction and blowback. Sometimes it takes years, decades, or generations for the final results of an intervention to become clear. We forget about these interventions, but their memories fester and burn in the minds and hearts of the people of other countries.
You served as the New York Times’ bureau chief in Istanbul from 1996-2000. What are your thoughts on the results of the recent Turkish elections and the future of Turkish politics?
The elections showed, above all, that people want stability even under autocracy. It became clear to Turks that by voting for opposition parties, they would be opening the door to a coalition government and that parties would be fighting. I think many voters decided that it is better to have a unified stable regime under a repressive autocrat than instability. People in Turkey can remember having their entire life savings wiped out overnight because some idiots in parliament had an argument. Although I am no fan of the Erdoğan government, I can appreciate what led to his party’s dramatic increase in votes in the general election.
How should America’s relationship with Turkey proceed given their implicit support of ISIL on several occasions and their actions to weaken the American-backed Kurdish forces in Syria?
The United States has gotten itself into an odd situation regarding allies in the Middle East. A number of our allies and partners are “frenemies.” We have Turkey, Saudi Arabia, [and] Pakistan, just to name three. These are countries that have defined their security interests very differently from ours. We should not be partners with countries whose long-term strategic interests are very different from our own. We are walking a fine line with Turkey; on the one hand, we don’t want to alienate Turkey because it is our NATO ally, but on the other hand, Turkey is definitely working against our interests in Syria. While we need Turkey to support our strategic goals in Syria, the problem is that we do not have any strategic goals in Syria. If we do not know what they are, how can we ask other people to support them? We are against everybody in Syria — the Assad government, Iran, Russia, ISIL, and Al-Nusra. We haven’t figured out who we are for. If we want someone to get on our side, we should first figure out what side we are on ourselves.
What if there is no side we should support?
I am generally in favor of that policy. I don’t think we need to have a favorite in every fight in the world.
Many argue that if the United States had intervened and imposed a no-fly zone at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, many lives would have been spared. Should the United States have intervened?
The idea that increased military intervention would have reduced the scope of the conflict seems contradictory to me. A no-fly zone is a difficult proposition…It is an offensive military operation. You need to bomb every aircraft and every anti-aircraft facility in the area. You have to control the air, which means you have to suppress everything that can obstruct your control. You have to have troops on the ground to guard that perimeter because forces on the outside will be pushing against it. The idea that a no-fly zone is simply defensive is a great mistake. It is a way to drag a country into a big military morass. The United States did make a mistake at the start of the Syrian conflict, however, which I think greatly intensified it. At the very beginning we announced that Assad must go. We decided that we would not negotiate with anybody who did not already agree with this decision before negotiations began. That meant that we were never able to negotiate with Iran or Russia. It is axiomatic that you never resolve a war by negotiation unless all the parties involved in the war are present at the negotiations. By our Assad-must-go policy, we encouraged Syrians to pursue an extreme solution and not seek a mediated solution. What we should have done at the beginning was try to negotiate with all parties and seek a solution that could have been acceptable to the regime.
How do you think Hillary Clinton performed as secretary of state? What do you think the effects of her foreign policy will be if she’s elected president?
I can’t point to a single accomplishment of Hillary Clinton’s as secretary of state. She travelled many hundreds of thousands of miles and gave many speeches, but I don’t think Hillary Clinton left a mark on American foreign policy. She is very much a Cold War product, a believer in military power, a believer in the us-versus-them view of the world, a believer in American exceptionalism and the view that the United States is the “indispensable nation.” I suspect that the United States would be more interventionist under a Clinton presidency than it is now, and I find that disturbing.
Lincoln Chafee ’75 served as a US Senator (1999-2007) and the 74th Governor of Rhode Island
Brown Political Review: Starting with your personal background, you worked as a professional farrier for 7 years before entering Rhode Island state politics. What influenced you on your path from getting a Classics degree at Brown to equine hoof care and then onto politics?
Lincoln Chafee: I didn’t want to rush right into heavy duty responsibility after college. After four years of studying I wanted to enjoy working a regular 40 hour work week and getting a paycheck on Friday. … I was lucky that I got to work for a blacksmith who really taught me the trade. I went to a horseshoe school and worked hard to find someone to hire me. Once I found someone to teach me the trade, I went off on my own and had a terrific seven years working on a racetrack.
BPR: What led you to switch from the Republican Party to become an Independent, and then later to the Democratic Party?
LC: I think the Bush-Cheney agenda coming in really pushed me out of the Republican Party. I did stay for my term in the Senate as a Republican, but it was very hard. Coming in on Tuesday when we would have our lunch to talk about the agenda for that week, I would find an agenda I just did not approve of. At the same time, I had to deliver for Rhode Island, and Republicans were in power in the White House and controlled the Senate and the House. It was a definite conflict. I was also considering, would the pendulum ever swing back to Eisenhower and Rockefeller style Republicanism where we just care about balancing the books and letting people live their lives? After time, I didn’t think [this type of Republicanism] would come back.
The South has become more Republican, they care more about social issues. This change was happening through the 1990s, but it was really amplified when Bush and Cheney came in the 2000s. They had a unilateral approach to so many issues that I disagreed with, so I realized it was time to go find another party. It was an evolution that took me a while, first leaving the Republican party to become an Independent and then later becoming a Democrat. It was a thoughtful process.
BPR: What was it like running Rhode Island as an independent governor? Did you find that it helped you govern more effectively or less effectively?
LC: I learned that it was harder. I thought that by being an Independent I would be devoid of the partisan squabbles (as small as the Republican Party is in Rhode Island), but I just found it hard, with a tough economy inherited and having to make decisions without having a party behind me. For example, the legislature only took half of my first budget Had I been a Democrat, they would have taken more of my budget, and the economy could have recovered faster. I didn’t have anybody helping me defend it as an independent.
BPR: Why did you choose not to run for a second term as governor?
LC: A lot of it had to do with thinking about a potential presidential run. My wife and I were driving to Maine in the summer of 2013 and we had to make the decision of whether we continue the fundraising [for a gubernatorial race]. On that six hour drive to Maine, we were talking about what I ultimately want to do and I just kept talking about how I love international issues and really enjoyed being on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and my concern about what we were doing wrong in the world. In the conversation my wife said that it would be better for me to not be governor if I wanted to run for President. And that’s true; it was a good decision. It’s so hard to do both, especially with the challenges of being governor in Rhode Island and the challenges of running for President.
BPR: How do you view the current status quo in Rhode Island, and what can be done to improve it?
LC: Despite being an independent for much of my term as governor and some setbacks, I’m happy with how we ended up in Rhode Island. Our unemployment dropped and was one of the best in the country. There are only three states from when I took office to today that did better in dropping the rate of unemployment. I’m very proud of that. Also when I came in, a number of our cities and towns were eligible for state intervention. Their finances were thus that they could lead to bankruptcy, and one of them did go to bankruptcy, Central Falls. Even our capital city of Providence was eligible for state intervention, as were Pawtucket and Woonsocket. We put the resources back into these cities and got them back on firmer financial footing. We took care of our distressed communities and I’m very proud of that. As governor, I did not ignore them and tell them to figure it out themselves; I helped them.
BPR: Are there any votes you took that you disagree with now?
LC: The repeal of Glass-Steagall as Senator. It was my first day as it turned out when I was appointed to the Senate. The bankruptcy came later. I wish I’d understood better the ramifications of my vote at the time.
BPR: Secretary Clinton is the leading frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. What advantages as both a presidential candidate and then later as President do you have over Secretary Clinton?
LC: Well as a candidate, our approach to foreign relations is one of the largest differences between us, crystallized by the Iraq War vote. She took the muscular unilateral “we know it all” approach to that region without doing her homework as to whether there really were weapons of mass destruction. Then as Secretary of State, she continued that top-down approach to foreign relations. That is the biggest difference in campaigning. As far as governing, I think my experience reaching across the aisle will be very valuable. Secretary Clinton is still seen as a polarizing figure and the Republican vitriol is going to be hard to overcome. It’s unfair in many ways, but that’s just the way it is.
BPR: Turning to foreign policy – Before his re-election, Israeli PM Netanyahu spoke against a two-state solution (before taking it back later) and came and spoke to U.S Congress in a snub to President Obama. What do you believe are the next steps America should take in our relationship with Israel and ensuring a future peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians?
LC: Well the Israeli politics are Israeli politics. My preference would be is that they elect more of an advocate for a two-state solution, because I think that’s in Israel’s best interest. We all know the demographics of a growing Arab population and how democracy works. A two-state solution is better for their long term security as well.. You can’t just keep stirring up all those hornets in the region; we live in an age of nuclear weapons. We are worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons, while Pakistan is a country of 160 million Muslims and they have nuclear weapons and a sophisticated military.
BPR: Is there a problem with Muslims having nuclear weapons?
LC: No! It’s a fact. Pakistan is an Islamic country, and they have nuclear weapons. If we are going to be smart, in my view, we should try to denuclearize the region.
BPR: Israel is a majority-Jewish state with nuclear weapons. Do you see any difference between a majority-Jewish state having nuclear weapons as compared to a majority-Muslim state or majority-Christian state?
LC: No, no, I live by Realpolitik. I look at what the reality is. These are just the realities; we can’t afford to have these things flying through the sky and detonating. That’s my view.
BPR: President Obama spoke about a “pivot to Asia” in America’s foreign policy. Do you believe this is the correct shift?
LC: I don’t think we needed a re-emphasis on Asia; it is not an area of great tension. I know we do with Russia and with Venezuela. [Our relationship with] Venezuela has ramifications throughout South America — Ecuador, Bolivia, some of the like-minded countries. I don’t see any necessity to pivot to Asia. I would instead put my priorities in repairing our frayed relationships.
BPR: How should the United States respond to the Ukraine crisis and manage our relations with Russia?
LC: Poor Ukraine is caught just like the knot in a tug of war. On one side you have Europe pulling and on the other side you have Russia pulling … My view is, why is there a tug of war going on? Bring Russia into the European Union. Europe goes to the Ural Mountains; the heavily populated part of Russia technically is European. Let’s start working together. NATO shouldn’t be a threat, the EU shouldn’t be a threat. Those days should be over, but they are coming back unfortunately.
BPR: In the short-term, what are specific actions America can take right now to respond to the crisis in Ukraine?
LC: Broker the integration of Russia into more European entities. As I said, open up any atlas of Europe, and it will include that heavily populated part of Russia west of the Urals. It’s not going to happen immediately, but there are economic organizations — I don’t have them at my fingertips — but that are incremental steps for joining the EU.
BPR: How do you propose the United States does that given that the current Russian body politic is significantly anti-EU and anti-West?
LC: Well [the Russians] shouldn’t be that way. They have energy and other resources for sale. The European market is right there. I think it’s totally unnecessary.
BPR: Regardless of it being necessary or unnecessary, that is the present state on the ground. How can we work with Russia given the current political situation?
LC: At the G8 Summit in the spring of 2001 not that long ago, it was all happening then. In my view, America should not have started dictating what to do when Russia was at a time where their pride was tarnished after the Soviet Union fell. We didn’t need to rub their nose in that. Human nature being human nature, the Russians took a different path away from progressing towards the EU. At that G8 summit, Putin was there yucking it up with [Prime Minister Tony] Blair and [Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder from Germany and President Bush. I felt that, oh we had this. This is a good time right now, let’s not screw it up. Russia was right there at that G8 summit.
BPR: You are currently running for President in the 2016 election. Why do you believe you would be the most qualified person for the job?
LC: Being qualified to run for president starts with your record of accomplishments. You need somebody that has a history of getting things done, and I’ve had that. Secondly a vision of where you want to go. I’m passionate about how we can do better in the world and better at home. And then lastly, your character. I’ve had an impeccable run of public service, open to scrutiny. My motto has been “Trust Chafee” and it’s been accurate to my time in public service. You look at your record, you look at the vision where someone wants to take the community, and then their character, whether it is someone you can trust.
BPR: Why can we trust you?
LC: Because I have a record of being trustworthy. When I say something I do it. I didn’t just tell the immigrant community when I was running for Governor that I would repeal E-Verify because I needed their votes (which they expected, because they have been burned before). If I tell somebody something, I’m going to do it. I’ve earned the reputation of “Trust Chafee”.