2016 presidential candidate (and possible 2020 presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton thinks Western leaders need to get tough on refugees and immigrants — despite backing the wars that led to the European refugee crisis.
When The Guardian newspaper asked the former Secretary of State, two-term U.S. Senator, and First Lady about the insurgent anti-immigrant movement in Europe that fueled Brexit and the election of anti-immigrant leaders like Donald Trump and Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni, Clinton suggested center and left leaders were too soft on immigrants and refugees.
“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said. “I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”
The refugee crisis hit Europe particularly hard starting in 2015, when refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war-torn countries started migrating en masse to European countries seeking stability for themselves and their families. As the below chart from the BBC shows, the vast majority of refugees came from countries that were directly impacted by U.S. military intervention.
As both New York’s junior U.S. Senator and as U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was a staunch supporter of foreign military intervention. Clinton was one of the Senate Democrats who voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq in 2003 (which she later admitted was a “mistake”), and supported the troop surge in Afghanistan during the first year of the Obama administration. The second Iraq War is widely seen as one of the biggest contributors to the destabilization of the Middle East.
Clinton’s hawkishness toward Syria was well-documented by Foreign Policy magazine. The outlet reported that she was in favor of regime change policies targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as early as 2012, proposing that the Obama administration provide arms to rebels seeking to topple Assad, which Obama initially refused saying those weapons could end up in the wrong hands. In 2017, USA Today reported that arms the U.S. sent to anti-Assad fighters in Syria were captured by the radical terrorist group ISIS. In her first interview after losing the election to Donald Trump, Clinton called for the U.S. to bomb Syria.
The number of refugees seeking asylum in Europe following the destruction of their home countries was even greater than the number of refugees fleeing the violence of World War II, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. By the end of 2015, the UN found that there were more than 65.3 million people displaced by violence around the world, with over 12 million of those displaced as a direct result of conflict and destabilization. Five million of those displaced came from Syria, and nearly three million came from Afghanistan.
Despite this, Clinton seems to focus her attention on the refugees themselves, rather than the initial causes that led to the waves of refugees seeking safety in the West. She told The Guardian that until the left and the center get behind tough anti-immigration policies, the electoral success of anti-immigrant politicians will continue.
“I don’t think it’s reached its peak,” Clinton said in response to a question about anti-immigrant leaders winning elections around the world. “I think it will peak, in my view, when the center ground recovers its mojo and has a strong forward agenda.”
However, there is evidence to argue that centrist politicians’ failure to speak out against strict immigration policies are already costing them elections. Clinton underperformed with black and Hispanic voters in 2016, according to exit poll data. Her lackluster performance with Hispanic voters, in particular, could be due to her silence on President Obama deporting more immigrants than any of his successors, with ABC News reporting that Obama deported more than 2.5 million immigrants between 2009 and 2015.
Likewise, there is evidence that politicians showing compassion toward immigrants and refugees can lead to electoral success. Angela Merkel was re-elected to a fourth term as Germany’s chancellor after admitting more than one million refugees into Germany, and defeated an anti-immigrant insurgency in the 2017 election.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.