Warren: Tough on Wall Street, indifferent to Palestinians

Warren: Tough on Wall Street, indifferent to Palestinians
Comment: American progressives are hoping for an Elizabeth Warren presidential bid. But they will be disappointed by her foreign policy positions, which do no veer from Democratic Party orthodoxy.
6 min read
15 Feb, 2015
Warren is a rebel hero to progressives but she toes the line abroad (Getty)

Elizabeth Warren is a rising star. She has emerged as the hero of American liberal and progressive circles who see in the Senator from Massachusetts the embodiment of their fight against “vulture capitalism,” especially on Wall Street.


Yet, somehow inexplicably, Warren and her fans part ways on foreign policy. Even though Warren rarely speaks on foreign affairs, she has toed the line of the Democratic Party by taking the side of Israel, a position that is unpopular with many Progressives in the party.

     I think she's very disinterested in foreign policy and so she just goes with the default Democratic positions.

- Zaid Jilani


Foreign policy notwithstanding, Warren’s popularity has prompted her fans to launch the “Draft Warren” campaign in a bid to push her into the 2016 presidential race. Warren has emerged as a principled alternative for America’s Left, especially after their disappointment with their previous candidate, now president, Barack Obama.


Leftists today accuse Obama of entering into various unnecessary deals with Congress Republicans, the last of which allowed Republicans to dismantle parts of the Dodd-Frank Law that was designed to prohibit banks from speculating with depositors’ money on Wall Street.


Warren, whose surged to fame came after her participation in the making of the Dodd-Frank Law and her role in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), has shown resolve in standing up, not only to capitalist ideologues, but also to leading Democrats, including President Obama himself.


When Obama nominated Wall Street banker Antonio Weiss to become Under Secretary at the Treasury Department, a position that requires Senate confirmation, Warren launched a crusade against the nomination and forced the White House to withdraw it.


Warren ran for the Senate in 2012 in a tough battle against Republican incumbent Scott Brown. Her victory and her Senate activism made Progressive groups believe that they can replicate her success, not only against Republicans, but also against the Democratic establishment formed mainly of liberal centrists. In August, progressives started their push to make Warren run for president. In November, they launched the ongoing Draft Warren campaign, even though the Massachusetts Senator told Fortune magazine that she is not running.


“Warren doesn’t want to run for president,” according to Zaid Jilani, an activist who worked for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee that raised over a million dollars for Warren’s Senate run. “If she wanted to run, she would have indicated it by now.” That is why Jilani has not participated in Draft Warren.


Jilani added: “I think Warren would be popular if she decided to run for president because she speaks well to the economic anxieties of most Americans, and her allies would be a mishmash of people across the Democratic coalition.”


Warren’s candidacy, however, would be an uphill battle, especially facing an all-but-certain run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who once led all possible Democratic rivals by 43 points. Months after its launch, Draft Warren has only narrowed the gap between Warren and Clinton down to 40 points.


Another problem for Warren would be fund raising. Even though she played a central role in raising money and motivating the Democratic base in the 2014 elections, competing with the formidable Clintons might prove a different challenge.

Progressive isolationist

And with a thin record on foreign policy, Warren might find it hard to beat Clinton in that domain. As far back as July, reports had it that Warren ran away to avoid a question about Israel’s assault on Gaza. But in August, she voted in favour of giving Israel $225 million for its “Iron Dome” missile defence system. Warren later defended the vote by citing America’s “very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world," according to the Cape Cod Times.


Warren's unequivocal support for Israel echoes the electoral platform on her website in which she says that Israel "must maintain a qualitative defensive edge", that America should "ensure that Israel can defend itself", and that "Palestinians' membership efforts before the United Nations are unhelpful" and would make her "support vetoing a membership application". In November, Warren took her first foreign trip as a senator to Israel.

“I think she's very disinterested in foreign policy and so she just goes with the default Democratic positions on issues like that, which are bad,” said Jilani. “She has allied closely with the Progressive movement for her bank reform ideas, so it does impact her that increasingly young Progressives view Israel's policies as harmful to US interests and to Palestinian human rights.”


Jilani might be right. In September, Warren stayed away from a letter to the State Department in which 88 Senators called "for preventing Hamas from rebuilding its military capabilities" and "preventing negative developments at the UN General Assembly" resulting from the Palestinian bid for statehood.


Warren also did not sign a letter by 10 Democratic senators threatening President Obama that should negotiations fail to produce tangible results by March 24, they would join 54 Republicans in voting for new sanctions on Iran. Should the Democratic senators live up to their threat, they would put the majority very close to the 67 votes required to override a presidential veto.


While being a non-signatory to both letters might seem a balancing act on the part of Warren, it should be noted that she seems to have taken her cue from Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, who also passed on both. On foreign policy, Warren clearly toes the line of the Democratic establishment.


It all begs the question: Why does this rising Progressive senator star, who went as far as rebelling against Obama over his nomination of a Wall Street banker, simply stick with the official party line on foreign policy?


“If she learned that the same people who want her to take on Wall Street want her to tout a more balanced line on Palestine, she can be pushed on the issue,” Jilani argued.


But Progressives do not seem as hard on Warren on foreign policy as on domestic issues. Perhaps, the populist she is, Warren knows that America's Left is much more focused on domestic issues than foreign ones. And while America's Progressives think the government has an ethical duty to help the less fortunate inside the US, they are often oblivious to the pleas of those in distress overseas, whether in Palestine or Syria, and think that world problems should not be of America's business.

Read more: Jim Clancy and the parlous state of American journalism

There is a strand whereby progressives have combined domestic activism with foreign policy isolationism.

Whatever Warren decides on running for president, she has to do so soon. Warren is 66. 2016 marks her last chance for a candidacy. And whatever her election chances, a Warren run would certainly force Clinton to veer to the left on domestic issues.


That might be good for many American liberals. But on foreign policy, Warren's position will not influence Clinton's.


Even if Warren chooses to run, wrote The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, "she won’t run as a tough-on-Israel liberal”. By sticking to her hawkish pro-Israel position, "Hillary knew what she was doing," said Goldberg.


It seems it is Progressives hopeful of a Palestine-friendly Warren who do not know what they are doing.