As leaked audio of Donald Trump bragging about his history of sexual assault became the biggest story of the 2016 election, WikiLeaks released another trove of Hillary Clinton documents. They include portions of transcripts from her mysterious speeches to big banks, as well as emails from campaign chair and longtime ally John Podesta. While much of the content is illuminating, little of it is outside the scope of the dirty politics the Clintons have long been known to play.
One email that received a great deal of attention came to Podesta from former National Endowment for the Arts chairman Bill Ivey. Ivey wrote, “We’ve all been quite content to demean government, drop civics and in general conspire to produce an unaware and compliant citizenry.” To some of Clinton’s most reactionary critics – including InfoWars host Alex Jones, who thinks Clinton is literally a demon – this is a smoking gun piece of evidence that the Clinton crime cabal is out to rule the world.
But in context, Ivey isn’t laying out any master plan of dumbing down the population on the Clintons’ behalf. In fact, he was lamenting the dumbing down of the population, holding the media and both political parties accountable for it. Only a sentence later he wrote, “This problem demands some serious, serious thinking.” Many of the leaks have, like this one, been far more sensationalized than they deserve.
Even the bank speeches haven’t turned out to be that damning. Clinton is nearly as guarded speaking to high-dollar investors as she is to the American public. One controversial remark was her admission that she’s “kind of far removed” from middle class struggles and concerns. The flack she caught for this frank observation of her own life was totally undue. She is far removed, and it’s better that she recognize it. Her statement on needing “both a public and a private position” also isn’t as bad as it sounds. In context, she’s talking about how to pitch policy proposals to different audiences – in other words, how to make deals.
Some of the emails are hilariously hypocritical. In one exchange, her team discusses a bill that would make all legislators’ emails public. Others complain of the corrupting influence big money has on government. There is a great deal of elitism, collusion between Clinton’s camp and the media, and paranoia about left-wing opposition from the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She’s awkward, cynical, and dismissive of liberals. But anyone expecting to hear super villain Clinton declare her intent to destroy the world will be disappointed.
What comes closest are the emails related to foreign policy. Clinton admits that her proposed no-fly zone in Syria, which she continues to favor, would “kill a lot of Syrians.” She also acknowledges that Qatar and Saudi Arabia – both of which receive US funding and weapons, including while Clinton was Secretary of State, and both of which are regularly pitched as regional allies – are known financiers of terrorist groups like ISIS. Again, though, this is not new information. There’s little in Clinton’s emails that can’t be found in the standard neoconservative playbook. The leaks just provide a gross look at the inner workings.
Maybe more troubling than the leaks themselves has been the reaction to them. To silence Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder responsible for publishing the leaks, the US pressured Ecuador to cut off Assange’s internet access at the Ecuadoran embassy where he has lived in asylum for years. Clinton has become a neo-McCarthyite, blaming the leaks on Russian hacking meant to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. US intelligence supports Clinton’s claims, but even if they are accurate it doesn’t change the veracity of the leaks. She is shooting a nuclear-equipped messenger.
Russia has featured more prominently in this election than perhaps any other since the Cold War ended. There are reports that Donald Trump has extensive business ties to Russian oligarchs. He has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, a petty despot cut from the same mold as Trump. Meanwhile, Clinton is fiercely critical of Russian involvement in Syria, as well as in the US election. And Russia is projecting its military and nuclear capacities throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A Russian legislator recently threatened that a Clinton presidency would lead to nuclear war.
All of this builds to a situation that is very much like a rekindling of the Cold War. Trump is certainly Russia’s biggest booster in American politics. The centerpiece of disagreement now is Syria, where Russia backs the dictatorial government of Bashar al-Assad while the US backs radicalized, dangerous insurgents. Clinton regularly casts Russia as a rogue state and insists on the ouster of Assad to a stubborn degree.
Like in the Cold War, and as with most of the last century, much of the hardship is going to fall on civilians in the Middle East. Already the superpowers’ Syria policies have led to one of the greatest refugee crises in history. Millions of human beings have been killed or displaced in ongoing wars between state armies and insurgents, which are increasingly acting as proxy agents for either the US and its allies or Russia and its allies – not to mention the US invasion of Iraq, still this century’s greatest crime and the catalyst for much of the regional instability.
Clinton will almost certainly win the election. Her opponent is an incompetent, self-promoting huckster of the cheapest variety who disqualifies himself in every speech. He is even more extreme than Clinton when he discusses torturing terrorists “even if it doesn’t work” and murdering their family members. But Clinton’s long history of reckless foreign policy suggests Russian tensions will worsen under her administration. The most important job of her presidency will be preventing the Cold War from turning nuclear, and the most important job of progressives will be organizing to push her toward the least-violent options in the Middle East.