We are in strange times indeed when a presumptive US Republican presidential candidate can hope to score political points by accusing his likely Democratic rival of being a war hawk, but this is apparently the world we inhabit in 2014.
The accuser in this case was Kentucky Senator and leading light of the libertarian movement, Rand Paul, who was targeting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in his comments to the Meet the Press program last weekend. Paul called Clinton 'gung-ho' where foreign policy was concerned, and appeared to lay out the welcome mat for disaffected Democrats who were 'tired of war' ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Paul, it should be said, has done himself no favours in this particular policy arena of late by vacillating in response to the question of whether his support for US non-interventionism extends to cutting off aid to staunch ally Israel (the latest position appears to be a firm 'no').
Nonetheless, he has raised a question worth investigating in light of the multitude of military challenges facing the US in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the strong likelihood that Clinton will occupy the White House fairly soon: is Hillary Clinton a war hawk? And does this count in her favour?
One factor that seems to answer the first question in the affirmative is the sizeable distance she and her camp have recently sought to put between her positions and those of President Barack Obama. In a much-publicised interview with The Atlantic, Clinton called out Obama's failure to offer support to rebels fighting Bashar Al-Assad's regime in Syria as being culpable in the rise of the Islamic State, an organisation most recently in the news for the horrific beheading of US journalist James Foley.
'The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,' she said, adding that great nations needed better organising principles than Obama's favoured 'don't do stupid stuff.'
So far, so hawkish.
Clinton has also departed from Obama on the question of US support for Israel in light of what many consider to be its grossly overzealous response to the threat of Hamas in Gaza. She has shown far less frustration than the President and Secretary of State John Kerry towards Israeli leadership under Benjamin Netanyahu, and proclaimed Israel's right to defend itself in recent speeches and in that same article in The Atlantic, in which she went as far as to figure that anti-Semitism had played some role in the global reaction to Israel's counter-offensive.
Back in 2008, Clinton also said that as president she would be willing to break a near 70-year run in US policy and use nuclear weapons against Iran if it were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel (at this point we should remember that an embrace of the Israeli cause and a general hawkishness have long gone hand-in-hand as far as US foreign policy are concerned).
Then there is Clinton's record of supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for which she has since offered deep regret but which remains evidence of her propensity to be swept up in the sort of militaristic fervour that could again arise should the US come under some sort of attack post-2016. It also points to Clinton's hawkish instincts being far more than a response to Obama's foreign policy, which continues to divide the US public, and more in keeping with that of Bush and her husband.
The logical conclusion is that Obama, and indeed Paul, are the anomalies here and that not being a hawk is very much the exception to the rule for US leaders.
Should Hillary have carried on as Secretary of State through the crises in Ukraine, the Middle East and elsewhere it would have been interesting to watch how she handled the implementation of her boss's increasingly hands-off foreign policy.
The political calculus of all this is in turn quite fascinating, given that polls continue to show most in the US oppose further US interventionism. That includes a huge 70% of the public being against the type of involvement Clinton wants to see in Syria. Owing to one of those rather depressing quirks of US politics, the fact that her more muscular outlook is nevertheless considered politically shrewd can be attributed to the country's elites being decidedly more hawkish than the general public, at least according to one recent argument.
While some have claimed that Clinton's recent accuser Rand Paul will be her only viable Republican challenger, it's difficult to see him avoiding the fate his father and fellow libertarian outlier Ron Paul, who was hugely exciting to a certain segment of the Republican base but too much on the fringe to be considered a viable candidate.
Besides, a contest between a hawkish Democrat and a dove-like Republican will surely be too disorienting for anyone to consider.
Photo by Flickr user kakissel.