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

REUTERS/Jim Young
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.

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.”

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?

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Comments (38)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/22/2015 - 09:10 am.

    Hillary has a whole lot of explaining to do. Unfortunately, she isn’t talking to anyone unless under subpoena and with the council of a lawyer.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/22/2015 - 11:01 am.

    Voters

    I doubt that most voters who would have any chance of voting for her are much concerned about what happened 15 years ago. Elections are more about promises for the future (see Obama, Barack).
    Conservative diehards talking to each other (or to themselves) are not going to have much effect on the outcome of the next presidential election.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/26/2015 - 06:19 am.

      Well…

      “I doubt that most voters who would have any chance of voting for her are much concerned about what happened 15 years ago.” I think this is in some ways very true. However, if you made a Venn diagram of the people who don’t care about why Hillary voted for the war and the people who think that every Republican should answer about how they would have voted, well, you’d have a large amount of overlap.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/22/2015 - 10:59 am.

    Valid questions, all

    She definitely needs to explain her votes on Iraq. At the very least, she needs to remember that those votes were the reason many of us chose to support Obama rather than her in 2008. Was the intelligence the same faulty, cherry-picked reports presented to the public (Congress has no intelligence gathering capabilities of its own, so needs must rely on the CIA, NSA, and military intelligence to present accurate information)? Voters need to know about this.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/22/2015 - 11:10 am.

    Here’s what she said 2 days ago:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mLwTTXwBmU

    Here’s Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi’s take on Mrs. Clinton’s thinking when asked about it by Bill Maher:

    “The democrats basically were afraid the war was gonna be over in two weeks that gas was going to be 50 cents a gallon, that Bush was gonna be doing parades all summer and they were going to be left out of it looking weak. They didn’t want to be on the wrong side of it if it happened to go right.”

    Profiles in courage? Not so much.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/22/2015 - 11:51 am.

      What she said?

      This is not “what she said 2 days ago.” It’s what Matt Taibbi opined. In any event, if that is what the Democrats really believed, it still looks like they were misled by the administration.

      To be fair, however, it does look like it was said two days ago.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/22/2015 - 04:35 pm.

      Taibbi is wrong

      Most congressional Democrats voted no. Funny how when Republicans want someone else to blame or when the media wants to play false equivalence, that little fact alway disappears down the memory hole.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/22/2015 - 12:25 pm.

    Pressure

    There was a lot of pressure at the time to stand by the administration. Even Paul Wellstone felt it, and by all accounts, he agaonized over his vote. Barack Obama made quite the issue of it with all the blessings of hindsight, but he wasn’t in the Senate at the time, and what he would have done if he had been in the senate at the time is a question to which we will never have an answer.

    Hillary isn’t answering questions and that’s irritating even for me. But really, how much does it matter? We know in a general sort of way what Hillary stands for, a lot more in fact that we will ever learn from the way her Republican opponents answer questions. The fact is, many of the questions she is avoiding are of little general concern, quibbles over email practices, and what’s going on at that silly vanity foundation her husband put together.

    Here is the way I see it. Between the years 2001 and 2009, President George W. Bush came very close to destroying this country. Republican presidential candidates what to return to those destructive policies at a crucial point in history where this country is still in recovery, and has a lot less of the resilience needed to survive them. That being the case, do we really put this nation at great risk of catastrophe, simply because we are unhappy with Hillary’s email retention policies?

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/26/2015 - 02:55 pm.

      I wasn’t in Minnesota during the Wellstone era

      but a friend of mine attended one his last rallies in the Twin Cities and had a chance to talk to Sheila Wellstone. According to her, the Senators came under tremendous pressure to vote for the IWR and were told that the American people were 100% behind invading Iraq and would reject any Senator who voted against it. Paul decided that he could not support it and voted against it, believing that it would possibly mean that Minnesota voters would reject him. He was therefore relieved and delighted when when his ratings went up after the vote and people at the rallies cheered his decision.

      Both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry had children of prime military age at the time of the 2001 vote, as did George W. Bush.

      I wish that all the Senators with children in their late teens and twenties had thought, “Is this important enough for my child to die or be maimed for? If not, why should I vote for other people’s children to die or be maimed?”

      Recall that during World War II, most House and Senate members had children, grandchildren, or other close relatives in the military. But World War II was a war in which two countries were blatantly trying to conquer the world, not a war in which the president was itching to depose a two-bit regional dictator.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2015 - 12:32 pm.

    I’m concerned, and I didn’t vote for her because of it.

    Well, that and health care. She had chance to pitch universal single payer and opted for a republican “market” approach instead.

    Anyways, this is not a small matter. I got it right, and I’m photographer listening to Democracy Now! MPR, and reading “Counterpunch” online. How did/could she get it wrong? All I did was listen to Blix and Elberadei’s reports to the UN on MPR. I didn’t trust Powel because he’s the guy came back from My Lai back in 1968 and reported than nothing happened and the Army had a good relationship with locals there. Besides, Blix and Elberadei dismantled Powel’s testimony point by point. Shouldn’t H. Clinton have been better informed than me? And after Sep. 11 and stealing the first election, What? You decide you can trust this White House? Not to mention the parade of fiasco’s based on CIA “intelligence” over the decades. What? Fool me 500 times… shame on you? Whatever.

    Hillary was either fooled by someone, which I doubt because whatever Hillary is, she’s not stupid. Or she made the typical triangulated political calculation she’s always been accused of. Either way, I don’t see how you can trust her. Even if she admits she made a mistake it’s like: “well duh” but what the mistake? Triangulating or being an fooled? Millions of people around the world and most other governments were NOT fooled, how could she have been fooled? The evidence didn’t add up and the people providing the evidence were demonstratively untrustworthy. I don’t know get around this. The BEST she can do is promise not to something like that again, but she just did it again with gay marriage, she triangulates.

    That war was probably the biggest foreign policy fiasco in US history, and she voted for it, while others voted against it… not a little oops.

  7. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 05/22/2015 - 12:32 pm.

    Meh

    Clinton wasn’t on the inside (of the Bush Administration) when the decision to go to war was made. She can say she was lied to, and unlike Bush and those in the administration, that is a credible explanation. I opposed the war and thought that the justification at the time was nonsense, but I know reasonable people who were convinced by Colin Powell. I really don’t think this is a big issue in 2016. As to the real reason she voted yes, I think Taibbi’s assessment (cited by Mr. Tester) is probably pretty accurate.

    If the question is whether Clinton would have gone to war in Iraq if she had been president then and had the same inside information, I feel confident that the answer is no. The people Clinton would surround herself with would (and will if she is elected) have a very different worldview than the hawks in the Bush administration.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/22/2015 - 01:25 pm.

    “She had chance to pitch universal single payer and opted for a republican “market” approach instead.”

    I think it was Obama who favored single payer as I recall, but getting that just wasn’t possible, and now, unless there is some sea change in our politics, health care policy will be frozen under Democratic administrations. What Republicans will tell you, if asked, is that they will repeal Obamacare, but in my opinion, and I may well be wrong about this, is that repeal for them is politically unrealistic. So Hillary won’t answer questions, but her stand is predictable. Republicans will answer questions, but they will lie. So which response is preferable?

    Back in 2003, once it was apparent that the decision was made and we were going to war, for a lot of people, it was a question of standing by our country in a time of crisis. It wasn’t an easy vote to take. But the political reality now, is that Republicans want to engage in a whole series of wars throughout North Africa and the Middle East, at least if their rhetoric is to be believed. Whatever her vote back in 2003, that won’t be her administration’s policy in 2017. And how many or how few questions she takes on the subject now won’t be very relevant at all then.

  9. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 05/22/2015 - 02:10 pm.

    How it plays versus what’s the right thing to do

    Matt Taibbi has it right about the mindset of Hillary and other democrats who voted for war (and against the Levin amendment). That quote perfectly captures the essence of DNC Capitol Hill thinking on this and most other issues. It’s never, what’s the right thing to do? It’s always, how will we look, how can we spin this?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/22/2015 - 05:28 pm.

      You’re right

      There’s a definite shortage of saints among American elected officials.
      As Adlai Stevenson noted, it’s hard to be intellectually honest and get elected.

  10. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/22/2015 - 03:59 pm.

    “The democrats basically were afraid the war was gonna be over in two weeks that gas was going to be 50 cents a gallon, that Bush was gonna be doing parades all summer and they were going to be left out of it looking weak. They didn’t want to be on the wrong side of it if it happened to go right.”

    Is this quote contemporary with the event? Does Matt have any source for it? Did he have a specific Democrat in mind? My best guess at the time was that the invasion would succeed quickly, but the aftermath would be long and drawn out. Certainly Matt is wrong about the price of oil thing. Waging war in oil fields is obviously destructive and likely to drive prices up. Even if the oil fields were not damaged, there was no reason to think Iraqi fields would increase their production sufficiently to drive the price of oil down.

    The appearance issue, I think mattered. Once the decision is made to go to war, the idea that we should present a united front is persuasive to some people. Perhaps Hillary, as the wife of a former president, and probably the only senator whose name was even known by a majority of Americans was particularly vulnerable to this sort of argument. The fact is there are lots of reasons why people do the things they do, and I don’t see how any sort of detailed explanation of those reasons would advance Hillary’s campaign for president twelve years after the fact.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/26/2015 - 05:41 pm.

      I thought that a “no” vote might have different repercussions

      At the time I thought that if Congress voted “no,” the Bush administration might engineer a false-flag attack on American soil or against Americans overseas.

  11. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/22/2015 - 04:43 pm.

    Why was it a mistake?

    And “because it worked out badly” isn’t an answer. Knowing now how it turned out, if you supported it at the time, how could you have avoided that mistake? Many of us figured that out at the time, so obviously it was possible to know invading Iraq was a lousy idea. The answer to that question of how the mistake could have been avoided is what will tell me that a war supporter has learned something.

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/22/2015 - 05:31 pm.

    The Ultimate Question

    is not whether Hillary Clinton is perfect; it’s whether she is better than the alternative.
    Since it does not look like she has any real competition for the nomination (and this is not necessarily good), the question will be whether she is more competent and espouses (a good term in this case) better policies than her Republican opponent.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/25/2015 - 06:56 am.

    Answers to questions Hillary won’t give you

    “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?”

    Yes.

    “Or, if the weapons were hidden, arguing to leave the inspectors in Iraq indefinitely to keep looking?”

    Yes.

    “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?”

    This is a compound question, really two questions in one. The obvious reason not to vote for the Levin amendment was that, as described by Mr. Black at least, it would turn the making of American foreign policy to the UN Security Council where our adversaries have veto power, something even a raging liberal such as myself would find it hard to accept. As for letting the inspectors continue their work, clearly that would have been the better policy.

  14. Submitted by John Appelen on 05/26/2015 - 07:36 am.

    Moderates

    It is interesting that Hillary is likely the Democrats candidate. I could just as well have seen her running on the GOP side. She has many ties to big business, her family loves money / power, they try to avoid paying taxes, they have many conspiracies surrounding them, she voted for war, etc. I am guessing that many Liberals will be making their vote while holding their nose.

    Though she likely will not get my vote, I don’t think I will be terribly upset if she gets in.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/26/2015 - 09:40 am.

      Well, yes

      Although it’s an easier choice to make when one thinks that the next President will be making at least one, probably two, Supreme Court nominations.

      Hilary has also long been thought to be further to the left than Bill, so she has that going for her.

  15. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/26/2015 - 08:24 pm.

    Curious

    So what answer are folks expecting?
    No matter what it is, it will be opinion-ed to death and questioned if it is true.
    Meat for the Hyena’s no matter if she answers or not.
    Not surprised that folks are more interested in picking apart 3-4 and 14 year old actions (that have already been pounded into dust) than wondering about how one might think and work in the future.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/27/2015 - 11:11 pm.

      Past and Future

      The past actions, decisions, methods, etc are one of the ways we try to understand what folks will do in the future. Remember when Romney was being crucified by the media for his being part of a venture capital group…

      Hopefully she can explain her rationale, what she learned and how it has changed her. Then she can explain her plan for the future.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/28/2015 - 10:29 pm.

        Past and future 2

        Is there any answer that she could/would give that would change your vote/attitude?

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/29/2015 - 07:33 am.

          Unlikely

          It is possible, but unlikely. It will depend on how far right her opponent is.

          I am assuming she will be pro-path to citizenship. (ie pardoning those who jumped in line ahead of legal immigrants) And pro-welfare spending with minimal work requirements. (ie enabling the foolish and free loaders) Both of which I think encourage behaviors that are not in the best interest of America.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/29/2015 - 09:43 am.

            “Pro-welfare spending with minimal work requirements”

            What in her record leads you to make that assumption? Or is this just a repetition of the blanket claim made about all Democratic politicians?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/29/2015 - 02:32 pm.

              Apology

              I apologize, I keep making the mistake of thinking that the Democrats are as Liberal as the liberal commenters here. I’ll keep watching to see where she weighs in on welfare reform and reducing the birth rate amongst young unwed women.

              I actually think Bill Clinton was an okay President. Not so sure about Hillary.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/29/2015 - 05:56 pm.

            Unlikely 2

            Well JA, that was the point. Folks aren’t looking for clarity, nor are they looking for understanding, they are looking for more fodder to take a shot at. Sad but true. Don’t necessarily care if it is red or blue hat, sad state of affairs. .

  16. Submitted by rolf westgard on 05/27/2015 - 10:18 am.

    Hillary’s vote

    As I recall the resolution that Hillary approved was to authorize the President to go to war using his best judgement. I think she never dreamed that Bush would be so gullible as to believe the nonsense about Iraq’s alleged super weapons, or be stupid enough to invade Iraq.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/28/2015 - 12:15 pm.

      If that’s the case…

      Her judgement cannot be trusted. This is the same president that took a month long vacation and ignored intelligence briefs warning of imminent terror attacks. If ever there was a president with demonstrably poor judgement this guy and his minions were the ones. Do you realize not a single cabinet member resigned after the worst intelligence failure in US history? And you’re going to trust these guys?

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/29/2015 - 07:05 am.

      Gullible

      Man, this is the theme that just won’t stop, isn’t it? Is there any evidence *anywhere* that Hillary didn’t believe in the same intelligence regarding WMD in Iraq? Any?
      Her public speeches suggest that she believed it. So do Bill’s, by the way, tracing back to his presidency. AFAIK, she hasn’t written about her reasons for skepticism anywhere.
      I don’t think there is any reason to suspect that she believed any differently than her public statements.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/29/2015 - 11:37 am.

        The theme that won’t stop

        Did she believe a lie? If so, does that make the lie any less false, or the liar any less culpable?

        • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 05/29/2015 - 04:10 pm.

          Lie

          Ok, let’s see some evidence that this was a lie instead of a mistake.

          Don’t know how many people saw this, but last Sunday Bob Woodward talked a bit about the ‘lie’ business. http://althouse.blogspot.com/2015/05/bob-woodward-bush-did-not-lie-about-wmd.html

          “[Y]ou certainly can make a persuasive argument it was a mistake. But there is a time that line going along that Bush and the other people lied about this. I spent 18 months looking at how Bush decided to invade Iraq. And lots of mistakes, but it was Bush telling George Tenet, the CIA director, don’t let anyone stretch the case on WMD. And he was the one who was skeptical. And if you try to summarize why we went into Iraq, it was momentum. The war plan kept getting better and easier, and finally at the end, people were saying, hey, look, it will only take a week or two. And early on it looked like it was going to take a year or 18 months. And so Bush pulled the trigger. A mistake certainly can be argued, and there is an abundance of evidence. But there was no lying in this that I could find.”

          If someone wants to say that Bush engineered a lie to get us into Iraq, I think, after all this time, they need to provide some good counter-evidence.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/29/2015 - 05:09 pm.

            The Woodward Quote!

            George Tenet told Bob Woodward that the intelligence was alright. Well, heck, that settles everything. “No, sir, I didn’t lie, nope, no one ever wanted me to do that.” If that isn’t exoneration, then I don’t know what is.

            The Senate Intelligence Committee found some good counter-evidence some years ago, but that certainly doesn’t outweigh a self-serving line from a former CIA director to a former journalist.

            http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/press/record.cfm?id=298775

  17. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/27/2015 - 06:15 pm.

    Ok Eric

    The comment I posted last night couldn’t have gotten any softer W/O turning to Whip cream!
    Have I been (Tagged?)

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