Late last week, Senator Hillary Clinton offered a bill that would effectively revoke the 2002 congressional authorization that allowed the Bush Administration to wage war in Iraq, and require the president to convince Congress to re-approve the war this October. It’s the latest step taken by Clinton to establish herself as the Democratic Party’s anti-war candidate. If she’d only known in 2002 what she knows now, she has repeatedly said, she would never have supported the earlier resolution.
At its essence, Clinton is saying that the Bush Administration tricked her into voting for the war resolution. “I Was Duped” is hardly an inspiring slogan, and in Hillary’s case it’s a thoroughly disingenuous one as well. She wasn’t duped. She was playing the polls, and at the time she concluded that a vote for war was the smart bet.
Take a look at Clinton’s October 10, 2002, floor speech in which she authorized the use of force against Iraq. She didn’t just side with the Bush Administration, she more or less endorsed its entire case for war:
Intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program . . .
If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.
While acknowledging that there was no evidence to tie Saddam to the September 11 attacks, she said he had “given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members,” and went on to say:
This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make–any vote that may lead to war should be hard–but I cast it with conviction. Over eleven years have passed since the U.N. called on Saddam Hussein to rid himself of weapons of mass destruction as a condition of returning to the world community. Time and time again he has frustrated and denied these conditions. This matter cannot be left hanging forever with consequences we would all live to regret . . . A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him - use these powers wisely and as a last resort. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein–this is your last chance–disarm or be disarmed.
Dick Cheney could hardly have put it better. Now compare Clinton’s remarks with those made by other prominent Democrats during the runup to war. Even if they believed that Saddam had WMDs, many of Clinton’s Democratic colleagues opposed the war and challenged the administration’s case for an invasion. Take Al Gore during a September 23, 2002 speech in San Francisco:
The resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. Here’s why I say that; we know that he has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country. As yet, we have no evidence, however, that he has shared any of those weapons with terrorist groups. If the administration has evidence that he has, please present it, because that would change the way we all look at this thing.
Senator Edward Kennedy’s speech in Washington on September 27 rejected just about every argument tossed out by President Bush.
Information from the intelligence community over the past six months does not point to Iraq as an imminent threat to the United States or a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years. And the administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. As General Joseph Hoar, the former Commander of Central Command told the members of the Armed Services Committee, a case has not been made to connect Al Qaeda and Iraq . . . To the contrary, there is no clear and convincing pattern of Iraqi relations with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
When Hillary cast her “yes” vote “with conviction” a few weeks later, Kennedy and 22 other Democratic senators (and a majority of Democrats in the House) rejected the use-of-force resolution. “The question,” Senator Patrick Leahy said during the debate on the vote, “is not whether Saddam Hussein should be disarmed; it is how imminent is this threat and how should we deal with it?” Leahy continued:
The resolution now before the Senate leaves the door open to act alone, even absent an imminent threat. It surrenders to the President authority which the Constitution explicitly reserves for the Congress . . . Many respected and knowledgeable people–former senior military officers and diplomats among them–have expressed strong reservations about this resolution. They agree that if there is credible evidence that Saddam Hussein is planning to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or one of our allies, the American people and the Congress would overwhelmingly support the use of American military power to stop him. But they have not seen that evidence, and neither have I. We have heard a lot of bellicose rhetoric, but what are the facts? I am not asking for 100 percent proof, but the administration is asking Congress to make a decision to go to war based on conflicting statements, angry assertions, and assumption based on speculation. This is not the way a great nation goes to war.
Then there was Robert Byrd, who unsuccessfully tried to mount a filibuster against the resolution, which he described as “the Tonkin Gulf resolution all over again”:
The resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is also a product of presidential hubris. This resolution is breathtaking in its scope. It redefines the nature of defense, and reinterprets the Constitution to suit the will of the Executive Branch. It would give the President blanket authority to launch a unilateral preemptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States.
Byrd rejected the administration’s arguments about Saddam posing an imminent WMD threat and noted that no one “has been able to produce any solid evidence linking Iraq to the September 11 attack.” He also said that any overthrow of the Iraqi regime “would require a long term occupation,” and that this “kind of nation-building cannot be accomplished with the wave of a wand by some fairy godmother, even one with the full might and power of the world’s last remaining superpower behind her.”
So here are some questions for Hillary:
- Other Democrats knew. Why didn’t you?
- Why did you trust President Bush more than you trusted top figures in your own party?
- Did you, in fact, vote for the war resolution on the basis of polling numbers and political calculations about an expected future run for the presidency?
- And finally, if you won’t vote your conscience on questions of war and peace, when will you?
The answer to that last question is “never.” A recent Washington Post story on Mark Penn, Clinton’s pollster, described him as taking “taking increasing control” of her presidential campaign. “Armed with voluminous data that he collects through his private polling firm, Penn has become involved in virtually every move Clinton makes, with the result that the campaign reflects the chief strategist as much as the candidate,” the Post said. “If Clinton seems cautious, it may be because Penn has made caution a science, repeatedly testing issues to determine which ones are safe and widely agreed upon.”