Paris Attacks Could Impel Sanders

The Paris attacks could have the effect of empowering the Bernie Sanders campaign and confronting Hillary Clinton with an unsolvable dilemma. The vicious attacks will trigger demands by reasonable Americans for an increased commitment to defeating ISIS. Many, like me, will call for a Third Gulf War to battle for civilization. But the left wing of the Democratic Party won’t go along. Even though Americans will clamor for action, the anti-war left will resist a commitment of ground troops.

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As the nation reaches consensus, Obama will become increasingly isolated in resisting the calls to invade and destroy ISIS. Sanders will, of course, back Obama and oppose sending ground troops to fight ISIS.

But what will Clinton do?

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From the start of her independent political career, she has taken a hawkish line on foreign policy. Perhaps to offset the natural concerns some voters would have about electing a female commander in chief, she has always toed the hard line when issues of foreign wars were involved.

Clinton voted for the Iraq War. She sought and obtained appointment to the Senate Armed Services Committee early in her first term and voted consistently for appropriations for the Iraq War. In the Obama administration, she is reputed to have been a vigorous advocate of armed intervention in Libya and for arming Syrian rebels.

To preserve herself as a viable general election candidate, she has little choice but to adopt a hard line toward ISIS, advocating stepped up U.S. military action. Particularly after Joe Biden’s announcement that he will not run in 2016, Clinton will assume that she has the nomination locked up and will take care to avoid positions that could make her unelectable in November. This caution was evident in the last Democratic debate when she defended the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and supported a $12 minimum wage but declined to back a $15 one.

Now, she will likely take a position on ISIS to the right of Sanders. The liberals who dominate the Democratic primary won’t take kindly to the prospect of a third Gulf War. As Clinton edges right to be presentable for the November election, she will alienate increasing portions of the Democratic primary electorate.

The Paris killings will ratchet up the pressure for American involvement. It will become the main issue of the day. Indeed, France may move out ahead of the U.S. in demanding a tough response, sensitive to the demands of the French voters.

It is easy to see the Democratic Party — which was reborn in the 2004 election as an anti-war party –differing sharply with Clinton on the issue.

Before the Paris attacks, it was a bit irrational for a Democratic primary voter to support Sanders over Clinton. Clinton, they would assume, was going to win and Sanders could not. So why vote for Sanders and weaken your candidate going into the holy war against the Republicans?

But after Paris, a vote for Sanders is a vote against sending 100,000 American troops to Iraq and Syria. If Sanders is able to open enough space between his position and Clinton’s, voting for him will make increasing sense to Democratic liberals. The higher profile the issue achieves, the more pressure there will be on Clinton to act like a commander-in-chief for general election voters and to act as the anti-war candidate for the Democratic primary electorate.

And Clinton may fall down in the middle, unable to be hawkish enough to satisfy the center or dovish enough to appease the left.

Because she is a woman, Clinton had got to tack to the right on foreign policy. She must be likened to Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir. No soft peacenik will win. Her strident anti-war background and record in college and law school will work against her. She must live down that image. But can she do so without alienating the left and driving it into the waiting arms of Bernie Sanders?

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