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Iraq War: Shameless lies from Trump, brief acknowledgement of ‘mistake’ from Clinton

REUTERS/Mike Segar
Donald Trump's big blunder was probably saying that under the Obama-Clinton regime, “the generals have been reduced to rubble.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump didn’t exactly share a stage last night, but they sat on the same stage minutes apart but separately for a half hour each and answered questions that were designed to allow voters to compare their ideas about how to perform the commander-in-chief portion of the job of president.

It was a good idea. The outcome wasn’t that great, and I wonder whether many minds were changed. Moderator Matt Lauer probably spent too much of his half-hour with Clinton asking about the trouble with her emails. Some may (I wonder) find this topic endlessly fascinating. I don’t think there’s much left to learn. Clinton knows she blew it with the private server stuff. Luckily it appears no great harm was done to the national security. The underlying character flaw it may suggest about her may still be present (character is hard to change), but I’m sure she won’t make that particular mistake again if she becomes president.

I’ve heard the media berated lately for grading Donald Trump on the curve. That is, the allegation goes, we’ve become so inured to his recklessness, his hyperbole and his lying that we declare him to have done well if he tells fewer lies than usual and doesn’t insult the moderator or any major ethnic or gender groups.

Trump blunder: Generals ‘reduced to rubble’

By that standard, I suppose Trump had a good night. His big blunder was probably saying that under the Obama-Clinton regime, “the generals have been reduced to rubble.” That, one gathers, was his diplomatic way of excusing the generals for the many alleged failures of the U.S. military during the Obama-Clinton era, so he can focus all the blame on President Obama and Clinton personally.

Lauer pressed Trump on his dare-one-say ludicrous claim to know more about ISIS than any of the generals do. Trump has both claimed to have a plan for defeating ISIS (“bomb the shit out of them,”) and also to “take the oil.” On that score, you might note that such old-fashioned plunder would be a war crime under both international and U.S. law.

Trump said last night that although he does have his own plan for defeating ISIS, which he cannot divulge for fear of tipping off the enemy, he would also ask the generals for their plan and perhaps adopt theirs or combine the best elements of both.

Since the current top generals have long been associated with what Trump considers the failure of U.S. policy against ISIS, he said both that “the generals have been reduced to rubble” and that, when he was in charge: “They’ll probably be different generals.” Some of the post-debate commentators, including retired generals, were troubled by those quotes, both the disrespect of the “rubble” quote and the impression that Trump implied that the president promotes and fires generals.

As regular readers of this space may have detected, I am fairly obsessed with the 2002-03 decision to bomb and invade Iraq (on grounds – Weapons of Mass Destruction – that turned out to be nonexistent) as the signal blunder of U.S. military policy of the 21st century, so far. To me, shedding more light on how both the nominees came to support the war and what lessons they have learned from it would be the main point of a discussion of their fitness to be the commander in chief.

Clinton ‘evolved’ on war

Until now, Trump has simply lied, consistently, doggedly, shamefully, and claimed to have opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. Clinton has, as the saying goes, “evolved” on the issue. As a senator, in 2002, she voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq. Her floor speech explaining the vote was full of problems, which I elucidated here.

Clinton didn’t concede for many years that there was anything wrong with her 2002 vote, and only in her most recent book, written during the run-up to her current campaign, did she finally admit, of her 2002 vote: “I got it wrong. Plain and Simple.”

Hillary Clinton
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Hillary Clinton: “I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake.”

The war vote remains my biggest complaint against Clinton’s record. I beg forgiveness of those who are sick of hearing about it. I’m not sure she has explained very well how she came to make that mistake, nor did she last night, but Lauer asked about it straightforwardly. Here’s the exchange:

LAUER: Secretary Clinton, let’s talk about your vote in favor of the war in Iraq. You’ve since said it was a mistake.

CLINTON: Look, I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake. And I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake. I also believe that it is imperative that we learn from the mistakes, like after-action reports are supposed to do, and so we must learn what led us down that path so that it never happens again. I think I’m in the best possible position to be able to understand that and prevent it.

But I will say this. I’m asking to be judged on the totality of my record, what I’ve done for our veterans as first lady, as senator, what I’ve done for Gold Star Families, working with them to increase the death benefit from $12,000 to $100,000, working with Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, to get TRICARE for our National Guard members who didn’t have health care unless they were deployed, working to provide more support for the care of our veterans, those who are wounded, working with the Fisher family, now into the third generation of caring for our fallen heroes, working with John McCain to raise money for Brooke Medical Center’s Intrepid Center to take care of those who are coming back with profound injuries, working on TBI and PTSD and so much more, working with groups to end veteran suicide, like TAPS. So, yes …

LAUER: I’m going to get on to that subject in a second.

CLINTON: There was — there was a mistake. Now, my opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn’t. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it. So he supported it before it happened, he supported it as it was happening, and he is on record as supporting it after it happened. I have taken responsibility for my decision. He refuses to take responsibility for his support. That is a judgment issue.

This is still not the lessons-learned speech I would like to hear from her. She managed to work in a bunch of less relevant things-I’ve-done-for-members-of-the-military stuff, but not nearly enough (is there any?) of how-and-why-I-got-it-wrong-and-why-I-would-not-make-a-similar-mistake-as-president explanation I would like to hear. But that’s my hang-up/obsession.

Issue of fundamental honesty

She said at the end, accurately, that Trump “refuses to take responsibility for his support” for the war. She calls it a judgment issue. I would call it an issue of fundamental honesty. I’ve written about it before but I really cannot believe the gall of the guy to stick to his lie, which contradicts every bit of known evidence. This is beyond the usual political tap-dancing. Anyone who excuses this level of mendacity simply has no concern for accuracy or truth.

I don’t think of Clinton as a brave consistent truth-teller. But when one of her lies or half-truths gets exposed, she doesn’t just keep asserting it. Trump is shameless on this stuff and, sure enough, Trump did it again last night.

Soon after Trump came on stage (he followed Clinton), without even waiting for Lauer to confront him with what Clinton had said about his Iraq war lie, he brought it up himself, thus:

LAUER: What have you done in your life that prepares you to send men and women of the United States into harm’s way?

TRUMP: Well, I think the main thing is I have great judgment. I have good judgment. I know what’s going on. I’ve called so many of the shots. And I happened to hear Hillary Clinton say that I was not against the war in Iraq. I was totally against the war in Iraq. From a — you can look at Esquire magazine from ’04. You can look at before that.

And I was against the war in Iraq because I said it’s going to totally destabilize the Middle East, which it has. It has absolutely been a disastrous war, and by the way, perhaps almost as bad was the way Barack Obama got out. That was a disaster.

I’ve been over this before so I’ll to be brief. The question of whether to attack Iraq was discussed throughout 2002 and into 2003. The bombing started in March of 2003.

Never said he was against it

Trump was publicly asked about the war several times before it started. He never said it was a bad idea. He never said he was against it. He never warned that it would destabilize the region. The closest he came to taking a position was when his friend the radio shock jock Howard Stern asked him, in September of 2002 (a month before Clinton cast her vote on the Senate floor), whether he favored invading Iraq. He replied:

Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was, I wish the first time it was done correctly.

The Esquire interview he alluded to last night was in the August 2004 issue, a year and a half into the war, and even then, he didn’t say that the Iraq war was a mistake, nor had he yet invented the lie that he had been against it from the beginning. By then, a great many people knew that it wasn’t going as well as the Bush administration had expected and that no WMD had been found. But even then, as he described the war as a huge blunder, he didn’t claim to have been against it from the beginning, a lie he made up later.

I’ll offer Mr. T a deal: Stop repeating your Big Lie, and I’ll stop writing about it.  

For another more objective take on the evening, here’s the Associated Press account.

The Washington Post offers a transcript of last night’s MSNBC interviews here.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 09/08/2016 - 09:51 am.

    Good Grief

    This space has pretty well covered this position for a long time now. There is no nuance to be noted.

    When does repetition become rant? Really? Good Grief…isn’t it time for many people to find some new myelin to sheathe their nerves? It is what it is…and what shall be shall be. Becoming rather boring, all this.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 09/08/2016 - 10:43 am.

    Wow, these 2 are the best we can come up

    with out of plus 300,000 million people? Hillary was so defensive on emails, her vote for Iraq war and pledge to not have any troops in Iraq she had to do a press conference (her favorite thing to do) before entering plane this morning and Trump was just plain vague all night. I am now convinced both will be a poor Commander in Chief so who will do a better job of getting Americans working, raise the wages of hard working middle class folks and get us a growing economy?

    After the disasters of Bush (too much intervention) and Obama (head in sand it will all go away) the past 16 years, add in both taking our national debt to plus 19 TRILLION dollars and the USA being in a 10 year recession many want someone who will address our concerns here at home.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 09/09/2016 - 09:03 am.

      If you want someone to address

      our concerns at home you’re going to need to fire the entire Republican party. They’re the one’s who’ve created the majority of that debt, Reagan:186% increase(nearly tripled the debt), Bush 1: 54% increase, Bush the lesser: 101% increase (Doubled the debt) Clinton and Obama increased the debt, 32% and 56% respectively. If you’re concerned with Debt, PLEASE don’t give us another Republican.

      Secondly the president doesn’t really control legislation that might have made the Bush recession pass more quickly, that would be the Republican led Legislature, for all but a few short months of the Obama presidency Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress. If you’re looking for someone to blame for the continued malaise in our economy that would be a good place to start.

  3. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 09/08/2016 - 11:22 am.

    “I don’t think of Clinton as a brave consistent truth-teller”

    Eric – you have a firm grasp of the obvious.

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/08/2016 - 12:06 pm.

    The War vote

    The Bush administration mislead or lied to all Americans about the threat of imaginary Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Misleading or dishonest – it doesn’t matter, as the vast majority of members of Congress and and members of the American public placed undeserved trust on the Bush leadership.

    Singling out Hillary or Trump for this mistake is really pathetic. Hillary has said it was a mistake on her part – a hard thing for any politician to do. – Trump has claimed he wasn’t tricked, when he was – compounding on lie with another. Do you choose to be equally critical of both? Then you are favoring Trump’s dishonesty over honesty.

    And for the point of full disclose, every reporter who talks about this issue should disclose whether they personally favored or opposed war, reviewing their reasoning. Otherwise, they are judging others for a mistake that they made themselves and are not acknowledging – hypocrisy.

    I personally favored the war not because of WMD, but for humanitarian reasons. Saddam was a horrible tyrant who was killing tens of thousands of his own people. I saw no reason to rush into that war, particularly as we had not achieved our objectives in Afghanistan, but when war fever is active, it is hard to get people stop and think.

    We were so unprepared and the war could have been avoided completely. It was a national mistake and all Americans bear responsibility for what happened – and particularly the media, that did too little to challenge Bush administration assumptions.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/08/2016 - 12:40 pm.

      Before that invasion of Iraq…

      …I was in a protest march against it down Hennepin Avenue to Loring Park. I KNEW that WMD stuff was complete BS and as bad as Saddam was we had no business there. At the time the Bush and the politicians were pretending to be thoughtful about it but it was OBVIOUS an invasion would happen regardless of the facts. How could I, a guy who’s depth of knowledge was reading the paper and watching TV news know that was all BS but the politicians and general public didn’t. My answer to myself is that they weren’t that stupid. They just figured Americans are always right and can do anything they want and after all, most of the dead would just be Iraqis. Same mindset that lets Trump say, “take the oil”.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/08/2016 - 02:35 pm.

      Hey, Joel…

      you said, “I personally favored the war not because of WMD, but for humanitarian reasons. Saddam was a horrible tyrant who was killing tens of thousands of his own people.”

      I have always likened this war to a bunch of cops going into a crowded bar to arrest a bad guy and shooting the place up regardless of consequences for no other reason then to get their man, collateral damage be damned. Agreed, he was a tyrant, but there are many tyrants and oppressed peoples. How many tens of thousands died due to our war? What does that make us? How many are still dying and yet to die? I suspect the only think keeping you and others from calling Bush a tyrant is that he was killing citizens of another country, not citizens of his own country. It also took our focus off the more morally justifiable war in Afghanistan.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/08/2016 - 01:07 pm.

    Time to move on

    I can’t criticize the content of analysis, but suspect that the comment section will similarly retread well covered ground.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/09/2016 - 09:25 am.

      Sorry if We’re Boring You

      The reason this particular ground seems well covered is because it persists.

      The issue here is really the media, not Trump’s mendacious lies. When he repeated his claim about opposing the war in Iraq, why did Matt Lauer not call him on it? “Mr. Trump, that claim has been shown repeatedly to be untrue. Why do you continue to make it?” Why was he not pressed on his praise for Vladimir Putin (And what would the same media be saying if Clinton said anything more laudatory about the late Hugo Chavez than “I hope he is burning in Hell?”)?

      Contrast that with the media treatment of Hillary Clinton. Yes, a candidate for President should be asked hard–even uncomfortable–questions. Should they just “retread” the same ground? Was it a good use of one-third of a forum on national security issues to ask the same questions? Or to talk over her, and interrupt her?

      Both candidates should be asked hard, uncomfortable questions. The media is falling down on its obligation to do that towards Donald Trump. On the other hand, it is hard to blame them. The public is letting them do it, and even encouraging it. We see expressions of exasperation (“Not THIS again!”), and watch as the consumers of news eagerly listen to the newest food-on-a-stick at the State Fair, or evaluations of Apple’s latest iTchotchke.

      So it’s a pity that the ground is being retread. I can’t hep but think that’s because what’s at stake is important, but that’s just my opinion.

      • Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/09/2016 - 01:43 pm.


        My naive idealism is long gone. I’d love for our candidates to dive deeply into the issues, their thought processes & approaches to problem solving. I’d like them to respectfully debate their opponents’ positions. I’d like to see disagreement without being disagreeable. All that would be wonderful & perhaps approach the democratic ideals to which the founders aspired. But let me tell you – it ain’t gonna happen. Sorry.

  6. Submitted by Noel Martinson on 09/08/2016 - 02:23 pm.

    There is a larger topic I would like to see addressed

    Namely, how should journalists deal with persistent attempts at historical revisionism? It seems that Mr. Black is trying one approach and several readers are tiring of it. I, for one, appreciate his efforts but are there alternatives that would inform those just starting to take an interest in the elections without alienating readers that have been watching this marathon for months and find the topic to be repetitive?

    Promoting misconceptions seems to succeed when the perpetrator goes unchallenged by the press. The perpetrator’s strategy is to keep repeating the misconception until it becomes mistaken as fact by the public. How does the press maintain a consistent challenge to this strategy and stay fresh and interesting rather than simply becoming repetitive itself?

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any suggestions but perhaps there are some good ideas to be found among the other readers.

  7. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 09/08/2016 - 02:36 pm.

    False equivalency (again)

    “This is still not the lessons-learned speech I would like to hear from her.” you write. So, what would you have her say? She said it was a mistake. She’s said it over and over and over. You seem to need more. What is it? I’m trying very hard not to resort to sarcasm and downright snarkiness, but, really? Perhaps if you write a template she could use to explain it better for you, readers like me would better understand just what would satisfy you. And , the headline, “Shameless lies from Trump, brief acknowledgement of ‘mistake’ from Clinton” demonstrates how many in the media cover these two very different candidates. With a shameless false equivalency. If you can listen to last night’s forum and come away with “He did that” and then “She did this” then, there’s really nothing else to say.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/08/2016 - 03:13 pm.

      Shameless False Equvalency?

      This topic has become far too worn, to the point of being threadbare.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/08/2016 - 06:39 pm.

      First, I agree with you about the false equivalence.

      Clinton is qualified, Trump is a nihilistic farce, and the notion that we need eight more weeks of this to make a “choice” is absurd.

      But as to Clinton’s Iraq vote? Here’s what I think. My objection to Clinton – and the objection of the left generally, if articulated clear-headedly – is not that she is corrupt, dishonest, etc, but that she is the establishment par excellence, with the hawkist, corporatist worldview that this connotes. Those of us who (like Mr Schletzer) marched against the war did so with the knowledge that the Cheney march to war sat on a pile of lies. We knew this because we went outside of establishment media for our news and analysis and read about Western intelligence leaking like crazy against the official story. Conversely, Clinton was inside her bubble of establishment power, receiving carefully massaged briefings that she had no reason or motive to question because they accorded with her worldview.

      So it’s easy now for her to say it was a “mistake,” and we the public are all too easily engaged by morality plays and eager to receive confession without substance. What would be meaningful would be for her to say what caused her to be mistaken, and how she has corrected those flaws in her approach to processing the world so that she will not to make the same sort of mistake again. But, she will make the same mistake next time because her worldview is her worldview, and there is no evidence that establishment power is about to change its apprehension of its goals, methods or cultural norms.

      Which of course doesn’t mean I’m not voting for her, alas.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/11/2016 - 12:40 pm.

        Clinton’s mistake

        Was believing the story told by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld.
        As President Bush had access to information that Clinton didn’t. In hindsight she should have given his story a healthy discount, but that’s hindsight.

  8. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/08/2016 - 09:47 pm.

    Take the oil…

    As soon as Trump said we will “take the oil” He should have been asked why Paul Wolfowitz failed at this and how he would be different.


    Trump claimed that in his confidential security briefing his briefers made clear that Obama discarded their advice and they were fed up with it and desiring a change.

    1. This was a confidential briefing preparing the candidate to be President and not a place to gather political fodder. Trump fails again and proves his judgement cannot be trusted.

    2. Another Trump lie goes unchallenged and the lie will likely will not be disputed by the briefers: but; it should be and he should publicly be denied anymore: he simply cannot be trusted.

    3. Look at any fact checking organization and one can see the Hillary, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell all run at about a 25-35% rate of stretching the truth (lying) to feather their political nest. Trump runs at about twice that rate: the lyingest candidate ever encountered. It is a long way from George Washington who could not tell a lie to Donald Trump who cannot tell the truth.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/09/2016 - 09:11 am.

      Why Paul Wolfowitz Failed at This

      “As soon as Trump said we will “take the oil” He should have been asked why Paul Wolfowitz failed at this and how he would be different.”

      That’s an easy one. Appropriation or destruction of property is a war crime, unless there is a military necessity for doing it. Revenge, or paying for our Splendid Little War, is not a “military necessity.”

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/09/2016 - 12:04 pm.

        A very good point

        And one more reason to bang our heads against the wall as this guy closes within 5% of the popular vote for President.

        It is the wholesale failure of the media for their inability to convey his incompetence and the wholesale failure of our schools for producing people so unthinking as to accept it.

  9. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 09/08/2016 - 10:30 pm.

    “Is this all there is?”

    I suppose if one wants to vote for either/or, it is merely a matter of pushing the molting hawk feathers under the voting booth, hold your nose and wait for the next global war?

    Or that’s right, call it “intervention” not war like Mideast scavenger hunts again for power-oil and profit…call it POP, with creeping corporatism sponsored by Trump doing his Mideast oil sucking all the way. Or be it Clinton starting a war with Iran first and stroking Israel at the same time with money in buckets and guns so who cares about the Palestinian…not Hillary that’s for darn sure?

    Maybe power blinds one first…then profit follows as a selfish incentive?

    We can look forward to a bright future be the leaders of the world again, sans democracy?

    Be prepared and read up on the finer points of creeping corporatism with neo-fascism as its playmate?

    A fun time will be had by all who pledge loyalty to Either/Or?

  10. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/09/2016 - 08:51 pm.

    Political reporting

    It seems to me that when a political reporter like Eric publishes a piece about a current event in the Presidential election, it merits his attention, regardless of how many times he or others might have gone over it before in the past. I think it is newsworthy and worthy of commentary at least to acknowledge that HRC has evolved her position on the Iraq War from supporting it to at least admitting it was a mistake. That, plus the fact, that her latest remarks were virtually simultaneous with remarks on the same subject by her opponent.

    It’s probably too much to hope for that Clinton, for all her well known ties to the establishment, is going to do anything more than support a continuation of the “Washington DC consensus” as Andrew Bacevich and other national security critics have described it. If Clinton has even read anything by Bacevich, she would only admit to it to disagree. I quite agree with Mr. Holtman as far as he goes. But the leadership in this country, such as it is, is so beholden to money, which means to the military-industrial- Congressional complex from which it flows, that the best we can hope for is that someone like Trump, who seems to have even less insight into the relationship between the US and the rest of the world that the DC commentariat, can never get within a mile of the Presidency.

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