Clinton, Trump, and the ends of great power hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of the politicians stinks almost as much as the corpses of the dead.

Dolls depicting Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC [Getty]
Dolls depicting Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC [Getty]

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rail against Russia’s support for the Syrian government’s horrific bombing of hospitals and other crimes of war. Meanwhile, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen to Israel, the US and its allies have either yet to account for or continue to engage in wars and pursue policies that have killed hundreds of thousands of people and ruined the lives of tens of millions more.

Truth be told, the Middle East is an intricate wheel of war and oppression whose spokes stretch across the Middle East into Africa and Central Asia, and which rolls roughshod over most every attempt by citizens across these regions to achieve a measure of democracy, accountability, development and dignity.

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Why are are western leaders surprised when those crushed under the wheel ride the spokes across the water in the desperate hope of arriving at a better, or at least livable, future.

Overlap in policies

Last Monday’s presidential debate has no doubt revealed the stakes involved in choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, at least in terms of their differences in temperament and treatment of women.

But as we rightly condemn Trump’s so-called “fat-shaming” and his lack of command of life-or-death issues, the overlap in policies between the two candidates when it comes to supporting massive levels of violence across the Middle East is as troubling as it is depressing.

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True, Clinton isn’t crazy enough to try to steal Iraq’s oil (let’s face it, neither is Trump); but she had no problem hijacking that country’s future (and ours) in 2003, and continuing to support every brutal government  that serves the American elite’s consensus of the country’s “national interest” since then.


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‘sober’ hand hardly seems less dangerous than Trump’s recklessness from the point of view of those caught under the wheels of US foreign policy, or that of the other major powers, allies and adversaries alike.”]

Her “sober” hand hardly seems less dangerous than Trump’s recklessness from the point of view of those caught under the wheels of US foreign policy, or that of the other major powers, allies and adversaries alike.

Yet whatever their past, or allegiances or entanglements, we can assume that both Clinton and Trump would, each in their own way, like to be remembered as having in some fundamental sense significantly improved the United State’s standing, and global security with it.

Trump’s cowboy imperialism is not that far from the attitudes that his favourite president, Ronald Reagan, brought to office. And yet Reagan produced several of the boldest foreign policy tacks of the post-War era, including calling on Soviet President Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” as well as completely abolish nuclear weapons.

Global peace

Neither Trump nor Clinton has Reagan’s rhetorical and ideological genius. But both Clinton and Trump could call for a major change in the architecture of world politics and diplomacy that would have an equally profound effect on global peace and security: namely, an end to the veto power of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

It is hard to overstate the harm the P5 veto has done to the cause of world peace. Rather than shore up stability and a balance of power between the emerging two global blocs, the Security Council veto ensured a shared a balance of terror and the ability of the great powers and their most favourite allies and clients to get away with literally anything, no matter how gravely their actions violate international law and norms.

Former US President Ronald Reagan [Getty]
Former US President Ronald Reagan [Getty]

From the US invasion of Iraq, to Israel’s continual violations of international law, and the even more egregious actions of the Syrian government and its Russian patrons, hundreds of millions of people continue to suffer because the world community has almost no leverage to prevent systematic violations of the UN Charter and fundamental international laws by one of the P5 or their allies.

While it is true that an end to the veto – or at least increasing the number of permanent members necessary to wield it – would prevent the US and its friends from violating international law at will, as a fundamental rule of the international game it would in fact impact all the major powers more or less equally.

It would also hamstring Russia, China and their allies from pursuing policies such as supporting Assad, that are destabilising the global system.

An end to the veto

Indeed, calling for an end to the veto would offer two major advantages to the next president.

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First, if enacted it would clear the diplomatic slate for the new administration and draw a line under the failed policies of Obama and his predecessors, offering unprecedented freedom of action to reshape US priorities in line with either Trump’s or Clinton’s core foreign policy goals.


Second, because changing the UN Charter in this manner would, according to Article 109, requires approval of all five current permanent Security Council members (as well as two thirds of the General Assembly), a US call to abolish the veto would put the new president squarely on the right side of history without constituting an act of immediate and unilateral strategic disarmament.

Either Russia and China would agree to raise the bar for international law to a much higher level for all international actors, and in so doing profoundly improve the global security climate, or they would look like obstructionists to a much more just and humane order, while the United States under President Clinton or Trump would assume the mantle of leadership for envisioning that order.

Needless to say, such a position would greatly improve America’s standing in the very regions where decades of hypocrisy and callousness have caused such harm – both to citizens there and ultimately in the United States.

Given the desperate state of American and global politics today, it would be nice to imagine, if only for a moment, an American president with the vision and courage to make such a call.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.