In her recent debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton once again marketed herself as a champion of women’s rights and a crusader against sexual assault.
The performance earned Clinton big points from people who have apparently not found it necessary to reflect on the fundamental irreconcilability of feminism and giddy warmongering.
But the fact remains: Clinton’s performance on the international battlefield over the years makes a mockery of any pretense of support for the rights of women not to be violated, either sexually or otherwise.
Take, for example, Clinton’s firm endorsement of the war on Iraq — or what might be more appropriately termed the total destruction of that country. In one chapter of the new collection False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, edited by Liza Featherstone, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin describes confronting then-Senator Clinton in the run-up to the 2003 invasion:
“Having just returned from Iraq, I relayed [to Clinton] that the weapons inspectors in Baghdad told us there was no danger of weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi women we met were terrified about the pending war and desperate to stop it. ‘I admire your willingness to speak out on behalf of the women and children of Iraq,’ Clinton replied, ‘but there is a very easy way to prevent anyone from being put into harm’s way and that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm.’”
It’s a bit difficult to disarm, of course, when one is not in possession of the arms in question. And unfortunately for Clinton’s current campaign against sexual violence, the “harm” that continues to plague the nation of Iraq courtesy of the U.S. and its friends has included plenty of instances of rape by invading soldiers—as tends to happen in such situations.
In fact, it’s not at all farfetched to liken rape to the very act of military invasion, characterized as it is by unwanted penetration of a given area and the infliction of often permanent physical and psychological damage.
Furthermore, the institutionalization of rape within the U.S. military itself would seem to underscore the inherent incompatibility of being pro-woman and pro-army. In 2008, former U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman wrote that “women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq … As the old Pogo cartoon says, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’”
In Clinton’s world, meanwhile, one can never have too many enemies. A 2014 TIME magazine article notes some of her warmongering efforts as Secretary of State under Barack Obama, when her State Department “helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes.” The article goes on to observe that “on at least three crucial issues — [escalation in] Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid — Clinton took a more aggressive line than [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.”
Out-hawking the hawks, you might call it.
And what do you know: an April New York Times Magazine piece delving into Clinton’s “affinity for the armed forces” calculates that “in the bombastic, testosterone-fueled presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton is the last true hawk left in the race.”
To be sure, only a “true hawk” would have threatened — during her previous presidential campaign — to “totally obliterate” Iran in the event of an attack on Israel. That same Israel meanwhile continues to obliterate Palestinians at an alarming rate, with Clinton’s loyal approval.
“I think Israel did what it had to do” was her assessment of the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip that killed some 2,251 Palestinians, among them 299 women and 551 children. It’s no wonder, perhaps, that more than one observer has referred to Israel’s devastating domination of Gaza as itself tantamount to rape.
And while Trump is an undeniable affront to humanity, at least he doesn’t pretend to have morally sound principles or compose tweets like: “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.”
The issue with this particular Clinton tweet is not the sentiment; the issue is that Clinton herself doesn’t believe it — because if she did, she’d be in for a whole lot of listening to the victims of America’s violations abroad. Fortunately for the overseers of empire, however, imperial victims are easily disappeared from the global discourse — unless, of course, they can be portrayed as begging us to bomb them into liberation.
In her own False Choices chapter, feminist scholar Zillah Eisenstein notes that “U.S. bombs were wrapped in women’s rights rhetoric in the Afghan and Iraq wars” and that “similar problems appear in Hillary’s newest drive toward yet another war” in Syria.
Asserting that “most feminisms in the United States and abroad have over the last three decades become … more intersectional, actively anti-racist and anti-militarist,” Eisenstein predicts that “Clinton as president will be used to stop this radical evolution and disguise militarism with a friendly white female face to read as a feminist achievement.”
Clinton can accuse Trump all she wants of going after women’s “dignity”— and she’ll be right. But she’s also doing a hell of a job of it herself.