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Hillary Clinton needs to explain how she got the Iraq War vote wrong

Why wasn’t then-Sen. Clinton arguing against unleashing the attack, saying that the results of weapons inspections indicated war was unnecessary?

Hillary Clinton owes us more explanation of how she came to get it wrong.

I know there is plenty of time for Hillary Clinton to take a position on everything for which a presidential candidate should have a position. But she continues to play a waiting game that is off-putting or worse.

It’s more than a month since April 13 when she “announced” her candidacy via an online video in which she barely appeared and in which she said nothing of substance other than that she was running.

Seven weeks later, there is still no link to an “issues” section on her campaign website, although there are links you can follow to donate or to volunteer.

The campaign press corps has been publishing a running score of how many questions she has answered from the media. A week ago, the number stood at 13 — most of which were barely substantive, one of which was “how are you liking Iowa?” — but that was getting embarrassing, so she took six more. And, in some cases, her answers are non-committal fluff.

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Scott Galindez of Reader Supported News gave her a hard time about it this week, and published a few reasonable questions that he would like to ask her. Basic, obvious, what’s-your-position-on-issues-in-the-news questions, including at least one that she supposedly already answered but didn’t really.

According to Galindez, the campaign’s excuse for all this mystery is that Clinton is more focused on hearing from “ordinary Americans.” He sassed back: “What that argument fails to say is that there weren’t many more than 20 everyday Americans at any of her Iowa events, and they were handpicked by the campaign. So they were everyday Clinton supporters.”

It’s willfully naïve of me to think that Clinton, or any candidate, would run the grave risk of taking positions on issues when she doesn’t really have to. But I’m clinging to some out-of-fashion notions about what politics and campaigns and elections are supposed to be about, which includes offering and debating the merits of concrete policies — in part so that one can claim a mandate for particular actions if one is elected.

‘I got it wrong’

I have a question I’d like her to address, and it’s the follow-up to several matters on which I’ve recently obsessed in regards to the “mistakes were made” decision to bomb and then invade Iraq, a decision that even Jeb Bush is no longer defending.

Bush mentioned during Round One of his recent torment that Clinton, then a senator, had voted to authorize the war. In one of my follow-ups to that post, I said that Clinton in her most recent book wrote that in voting to authorize the war: “I got it wrong. Plain and Simple.”

But since wrongly endorsing a war, especially one that has turned out so badly, is a fairly big lapse of judgment, I believe Clinton owes us more explanation of how she came to get it wrong. (In her Senate floor statement at the time, she endorsed pretty much all the main aspects of the Bush administration’s justification for the war.)

When she first ran for president in 2008, long after so many of those justification had proven wrong, she had not yet figured out how to say that she “got it wrong.”

It is true — and likely something that she will emphasize if she has to explain her “aye” on the 2002 Senate resolution authorizing the use of military force — that even at the time she said she did not consider it a vote for a pre-emptive strike, but rather a vote to force Saddam Hussein to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq to find out whether or not Saddam was amassing chemical, biological or nuclear capabilities. Here’s an excerpt from her Senate floor statement to that effect:

“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.”

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But that very point brings me to the question I would most like to have her address in explaining her vote and her position in 2002-03.

Levin amendment

At the time of the vote to authorize U.S. military force against Iraq, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) offered an amendment. It would have asked for United Nations authorization on the use of force and would have called on Saddam to allow U.N. inspectors back in to see what he was hiding.

The understanding at the time was that if Saddam had refused to allow inspections, the U.N. would have authorized force. It even included a provision allowing the president to use force without U.N. authority if he decided that the U.N. was delaying action in a way that threatened the United States.

But then-Sen. Clinton voted “no” on the Levin amendment, and the amendment failed (by a wide margin). That left the matter entirely at President George W. Bush’s discretion.

But Saddam — presumably knowing that he had no weapons and that he was about to get bombed — nonetheless agreed to allow U.N. inspectors back in. The U.N. inspectors did go back to Iraq and were allowed to look everywhere they wanted without delay. They found no WMD.

But Bush decided to unleash the dogs of war anyway.

During those last days, should not Sen. Clinton have been arguing publicly and privately against unleashing those dogs, saying that the results of those inspections indicated war was unnecessary? Or, if the weapons were hidden, arguing to leave the inspectors in Iraq indefinitely to keep looking?

Why did Clinton vote no on the Levin amendment and why, after the U.N. inspectors were given access to every corner of Iraq and could find no WMD,  did she not argue to postpone the attack and let them finish their work?