Last week, former acting CIA director Michael Morell endorsed Hillary Clinton in an op-ed for the New York Times. Clinton proceeded to publicize Morell’s endorsement over Twitter.
The following day, Morell told PBS that the United States should arm Syrian rebel groups and instruct them to kill Russian and Iranian personnel in their country. As a model for his proposed operation, Morell cited America’s support for Islamist groups fighting off the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s — a tactic that some observers believe aided the rise of Al Qaeda.
“What they need is to have the Russians and Iranians pay a little price,” Morell told Charlie Rose. “When we were in Iraq, the Iranians were giving weapons to the Shia militia, who were killing American soldiers, right? The Iranians were making us pay a price. We need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. We need to make the Russians pay a price.”
“We need to make them pay a price by killing Russians and killing Iranians?” Rose asked.
“Yes. Covertly,” Morell replied. “You don’t tell the world about it. You don’t stand up at the Pentagon and say ‘we did this.’ But you make sure they know it in Moscow and Tehran.”
Morell also suggested that U.S. forces bomb Syrian government installations, including government offices and presidential guard positions. Taken together, Morell’s proposals would constitute a major escalation of American involvement in Syria’s civil war, one that would move our country toward direct confrontation with Iran and a Nuclear Weapon State. Even if one supports the substance of Morell’s position, there’s a distinctly Trumpian recklessness to floating a plan for “covert” aggression against nations we aren’t at war with on national television.
But Morell’s brazen hawkishness shouldn’t be a surprise to the Clinton camp. Like many of the neoconservative foreign-policy elites whom the campaign has embraced, Morell helped facilitate America’s invasion of Iraq, suggested that the nuclear agreement with Iran would make the world less safe, and defended waterboarding as an effective (if morally questionable) means of intelligence gathering.
The Clinton campaign has adopted an open-border policy with regard to anti-Trump Republicans seeking refuge from the GOP’s civil war. The tactical logic of this move is clear: Cross-over endorsements buoy the argument that all Americans, regardless of ideology, should be able to recognize that Donald Trump is not qualified for the presidency.
Beyond its strategic benefits, there is an ethical argument for taking this big-tent approach. Trump’s xenophobic authoritarianism represents a unique threat to our liberal democracy. By amplifying the voices of Republicans willing to acknowledge this fact, Clinton helps to delegitimize the hateful creed Trump stands for.
There’s no question that Democrats should take in some #NeverTrump refugees. But a more rigorous vetting process is in order — because when Clinton holds up unrepentant supporters of Bush era foreign policy as arbiters of what does and does not “make America safe,” she is giving legitimacy to views nearly as dangerous as Trump’s.
“Our country’s most experienced and bravest military leaders will tell you that torture is not effective,” Clinton said in March. “It does put our own soldiers, and increasingly our own civilians, at risk.”
If her remarks were sincere, then Clinton does not consider Morell one of our country’s bravest military leaders. She should make that view explicit. Otherwise, she invites the suspicion that she sees eye-to-eye with neoconservative foreign-policy elites on far more than just Trump’s lack of fitness for the Oval Office.
After all, Morell currently works at a consulting firm founded by longtime Clinton aide and ally Philippe Reines, and is often “mentioned for national security jobs” in a potential Clinton administration, according to the Associated Press. What’s more, in his endorsement of Clinton, Morell specifically cited the former secretary’s advocacy for a more “aggressive” policy in Syria as one of his reasons for supporting her:
During the early debates about how we should respond to the Syrian civil war, she was a strong proponent of a more aggressive approach, one that might have prevented the Islamic State from gaining a foothold in Syria.
On Charlie Rose, Morell said that he hadn’t discussed his “make the Russians and Iranians pay a price” plan with Clinton, but did say he believed she would support efforts to gain “diplomatic leverage.” If Clinton is sympathetic to Morell’s plan, then her foreign policy represents a far more dramatic break from the Obama doctrine than she has publicly acknowledged.
Earlier this week, 50 former GOP national-security officials signed onto a letter announcing their opposition to Donald Trump. The mogul replied:
The names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place … They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power, and it’s time they are held accountable for their actions.
Your average liberal Democrat agrees with Trump on very few things; that the architects of George W. Bush’s War on Terror have no business wielding power is one of them.
It remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton is your average liberal Democrat.