Barry Eisler

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Real Issue on Hillary and Iraq

I'm intrigued by calls from various Democratic quarters for Hillary Clinton to apologize for her 2002 vote authorizing military action in Iraq.

Clinton has said that knowing what she knows now, she wouldn't have voted the way she did. Saturday Night Live hilariously interpreted her remarks to mean, "Knowing what we know now, that you could vote against the war and still be elected president, I would never have pretended to support it."

As a matter of logic, Clinton's position has merit. Some mistakes you never should have made (unjustifiable); others, you made reasonably, based on what you knew at the time (justifiable). And even though she refuses to utter the "M" word (taking her cue in this regard from President Bush), Clinton is simply arguing that her mistake was justified based on the faulty intel she received from the White House.

But I think there's something more important going on here than whether someone made a mistake in voting to authorize the war, whether the mistake was justified at the time, and whether the mistake warrants an apology. The real issue here is judgment.

It's easy to forget that before the war, the Bush administration was hardly alone in believing Saddam Hussein had or soon would have WMD. So Senator Clinton is entitled to her position that she authorized the war based on what turned out to be faulty intelligence. But she's avoiding the harder, and more relevant question, of whether war made sense even if the intelligence had been accurate.

Kim Jung Il has long had a universally acknowledged active WMD program (which has subsequently led to an actual North Korean nuke) and is a demonstrated missile and nuclear know-how proliferator. The al-Saud fund hate-inculcating madrasses worldwide and supplied three quarters of the 9/11 hijackers. Iranian sponsorship of global terrorism is well documented. We know the Pakistani government was complicit in AQ Khan's nuclear proliferation efforts, with North Korea, Iran, and Libya as Khan's customers. Yet of all these demonstrated WMD and terrorist threats, we made war only on Saddam Hussein.

I wish Senator Clinton and others (including myself) had thought to ask: if we can live with Kim Jung Il and the al-Saud and the Iranian mullahs and Masharraf's complicity with AQ Khan, why can't we live with Saddam? And if we *can* live with him but are going to attack him anyway, what is the real motive for the attack? There might have been good, persuasive answers to these questions, but Senator Clinton didn't ask, and President Bush didn't volunteer them.

My own take: The Bush administration honestly believed Iraq had WMDs or dangerous WMD programs. But they never adequately considered alternatives short of war because the exigencies that inhibit us from going to war with North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and (so far) Iran were all absent in Iraq. Bush didn't intentionally invent Saddam's WMD, as many on the left have accused him of doing, but nor did he deal with the WMD possibility honestly. Instead, he thought, "Hussein's WMD are a threat. Yes, we could manage the threat another way, as we have with threats posed by Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia... but if we deal with the threat by invasion, we can simultaneously intimidate Iran and Syria, and possibly the al-Saud; we can rebuild Iraq's sanctions-crippled oil industry and lower the price of a barrel in the process; and we can even unleash a wave of democracy in the middle east."

I can understand the appeal of such a plan before the fact, but its implementation has been a catastrophe. Perhaps the catastrophe could have been mitigated, or even avoided altogether, if the Senate and House (and the media) had probed Bush's real objectives -- which, as the counterexamples above demonstrate, could not logically have been solely about WMD, no matter how honestly Bush or anyone else believed those WMDs to exist.

The real question, then, isn't whether Senator Clinton's mistake in voting to authorize the war was justified by what turned out to be faulty intelligence. The real question is, why didn't she ask why war was necessary even if the intelligence was accurate? Why if we could deal with so many other dangerous regimes short of war, we had to go to war in Iraq?

Hard questions like the ones above would have shown real depth of consideration and judgment -- the kind showed by, say, Barrack Obama, who spoke out against war, though as a State senator he could have kept his mouth shut and had it both ways later.

I'm afraid Saturday Night Live got it about right about Senator Clinton.
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13 Comments:

Blogger Tempest said...

Finally...after shouting this very opinion to anyone and everyone within earshot for at least two years, I get to read the affirmation I've waiting for.

Thank you, Barry.

Daniel

Saturday, February 17, 2007 4:10:00 PM  
Blogger ~ Busybooklover :D said...

Sadly it seems to end up being about plausable deniability. Reframing it later. Positional safety nets... (Referring to your Slippery Redundancy post as well.) With every word spoken, every question asked just WAITING to go into someones tell all. It makes me admire the voices of an Obama, or anyone for that matter, questioning the herd even more.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 4:14:00 PM  
Blogger ~ Busybooklover :D said...

Jeez. My point exactly! *rolls eyes* PlausIble* ANOTHER reason why people don't take risks. The humiliation factor.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 5:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This topic concerning Senator Clinton only touches the tip of the iceberg concerning her political decisions in the past. Why everyone is only focusing on the issue of the war in Iraq, seems a very shallow query. She has been on several committees in the past that were ineffective and costly. Every time I see her on TV, her opinions have changed on everything from education to how she refers to various people/groups in her speeches. Why no one is questioning her other decisions causes me great alarm.
I am also going to throw this idea out here. Meant only to provoke thought and discussion. Europe is quickly becoming a neo-muslim nation, much in the way America is home to Mexico. However, the lifestyle of the muslim community tends to be more extreme, religious, and cliquish. The number one name in England last year for new borns was Muhammed. France has an unemployment rate of 35%. Why would people work a minimum wage job when welfare pays a pretty penny? Perhaps, a reason for entering Iraq was because Saddam was easy propaganda, and the US and those who are interested in our protection might like to see a safe, secure country for Muslims to flee to rather than become a drain on Europe's social economy, as well as secure our interests in the Natural resources Iraq has to offer. These are just a few thoughts. Currently, it seems we are still trying to react rationally to the irrational.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 5:18:00 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

These are shrewd and important questions to consider. Perhaps by thinking about them now future mistakes will be avoided.

I've thought about the decision to to to war a lot. In particular, why did Canada choose to stay out of it? I'm left with three main options:

a) It was 100% politics - the government at the time realized the population would kick their ass over it and fear of the voting public was greater than fear of Bush,

b) The Canadian government was more discerning and cautious than some other governments were,

or

c) We were broke and it just worked out well for us.

Of course, we know how it would be spun today, if the same party was still in power here. But at the time, there was one thing that went through my mind over and over again: If Bush had proof why wasn't he sharing it with the allies he was criticizing for not supporting him? Whatever the real reason behind my government's choice at the time, that was the one hard question that kept coming to me, and the hesitation of my government left me uneasy.

The other thing that stays with me is what my husband said the minute Gore conceded to Bush:

There'll be another war in Iraq.

I'm still left to wonder how my husband could see that coming, but one thing he's proven repeatedly is that he's an astute judge of character. He's never yet been proven wrong about someone he's told me to stay away from, whether he's met them in person or only read their blog online.

You don't want to know what he thinks of Hillary.

And - right or wrong - we've lived with far worse than Hussein. Let no one delude themselves into thinking most wars are fought over principles alone - the principles are the excuses used once the government has decided that the threat is too great or that they believe they can win. The US got involved in WW2 after they were attacked, not before, and Hollywood would have us all believe the US saved the world.

If only principles had counted a hell of a lot sooner. Many more lives could have been saved. Reality is, most wars are fought on a very real threat or for gain.

Sunday, February 18, 2007 2:35:00 PM  
Blogger BayAreaKen said...

Your blogs are generally thought provoking causing in me an inevitable “ah ha” moment. But this post hasn’t set right since I first read it earlier today. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is, except to say the following:

My first problem is your opening statement: “…various Democratic quarters…” This is the same tactic Fox News uses when issuing sniper salvos at any Left Wing news. Usually it’s in the form of “Some people are saying” but they never tell us who. Yes, there are some people who want Senator Clinton to apologize, but I’ve never found any people in the Democratic party who are pushing it. I find it originates from the Right Wing Punditry and filters its way down to the actual politicians. Honestly if you want her to apologize, why not demand it from EVERYONE who voted for the war (whether Democrat or Republican…they were all wrong as it turns out).

My second issue is your comment, “The real issue is judgment” inferring that she had none. Your arguments are, as typical for you, solid and reasonable. But let’s be clear: every person who failed to ask the question whether or not invading and occupying Iraq made sense, let good judgment suffer. The people who were asking the tough questions were labeled as traitors, or treasonous, or sympathizers and other ridiculous and profane words. Where is your comment about McCain? Was his judgment sound on the day the vote was cast?

And my last issue revolves around this comment, “The Bush administration honestly believed Iraq had WMDs or dangerous WMD programs.” If you haven’t read through the manifesto at the Project for a New American Century, well you’re missing out on the who’s and the why’s of Iraq. The brain trust of the Bush administration all had a hand in writing it, (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Pearl, etc) and it was published shortly after the first gulf war and modernized in the late 90’s. Every excuse that we used to justify bombing Iraq was preconceived in those writings. The problem is that in making those claims, the facts refuted it. Intelligence in 2001/2 and the beginning of 2003 stated that the sanctions were working, WMD programs had been disbanded, and that the inspectors were actually quite thorough. If you are right and Bush honestly believed Iraq had WMDs, it’s because the filtering of actual intelligence by the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (set up by Cheney and Rumsfeld to vet, redact, or to blatantly ignore the “truth”) before Bush had a chance to read it. And there is something quite criminal in that.

It bothers me that Senator Clinton is being held to a higher standard. She made a mistake. One that many people made. But the outrage should not be directed at her or anybody who voted yea. It should be directed toward the Executive Office. Why are they being allowed to skate?

Monday, February 19, 2007 8:55:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Ken, you saw the NYT link, right? "Various quarters" felt like fair shorthand to me, especially because the calls for an apology aren't really the point, as I went on to argue.

I'm not trying to pick on Senator Clinton; I have no more axe to grind with her than I do with President Bush. Her judgment was bad; so was McCain's. McCain now claims he always said the war would be tough... except, oops! He was on Larry King at the time, saying “I believe that the operation will be relatively short,” and “I believe that the success will be fairly easy.” So much for the Straight Talk Express...

So I don't think I'm holding Clinton to a higher standard; rather, the same standard to which I hold all our elected leaders, and the same standard to which I hold myself. And I don't think anyone who reads HOTM would accuse me of letting the Executive Office skate!

As for the honesty of Bush's mistake, I guess reasonable people can differ; it seems both sides have evidence that can be cherry picked. In some ways, though, again, I believe the honesty issue can become a distraction. Whether the Bush administration really believed there was a WMD threat or whether it was lying, it's clear to me that the decision for war wasn't really motivated by WMD, otherwise, again, how is it we can deal with other WMD regimes short of war? If we put the "honesty" issue aside, we can focus more dispassionately on judgment, or lack thereof. I find that a focus on apologies and honesty, while certainly not irrelevant, tends to cause heated arguments that obsure these more fundamental issues.

Cheers,
Barry

Monday, February 19, 2007 9:29:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

“Intelligence in 2001/2 and the beginning of 2003 stated that the sanctions were working, WMD programs had been disbanded, and that the inspectors were actually quite thorough.”

Really? Because I have worked in the intelligence community for almost 23 years and I do not recall seeing any intelligence within the IC that indicated any of that. I would like to know who your intelligence sources are.

“The real question is, why didn't she ask why war was necessary even if the intelligence was accurate? Why if we could deal with so many other dangerous regimes short of war, we had to go to war in Iraq?”

Let me say this much, the ‘decision makers’ are much more well informed about matters of national security than average Joe Public. There are teams and teams of analysts who specialize in specific areas and countries who form opinions – educated opinions – on what a specific country or individual is capable of and what true viable threat they pose. And there is an enormous amount of redundancy in the IC, so that you never have one analyst going off on some unrealistic tangent. CIA, DIA, NSA, DoD, and the other twelve intelligence agencies all have analysts looking at the same thing. These people keep the ‘decision makers’ informed.

It pains me so that the IC has taken such a bad rap on this War, really it does. During the Clinton years, as you may know, “we had to do so much with so little for so long that we got to be able to do anything with practically nothing.” The Intel was there – we had so much corroborated information coming in from so many different directions that we knew Saddam and his boys were up to something. Hell, I’ve got a report from early 2001, from the DEA no less, which showed that Columbian drug runners were using their routes and mules to smuggle enriched uranium to the Middle East – the primary buyer? I’ll give you three guesses and your first two don’t count.

So the comments like “…voting to authorize the war was justified by what turned out to be faulty intelligence,” really cuts deep at times. So, you ask, where the hell is the WMD? Can’t say. But I know a bunch of folks who could make a pretty good SWAG at it. Small country to the west – rhymes with hysteria. But let me also put a little bug in your ear, if Saddam and his boys hid their nuclear materials out in the desert somewhere for safe keeping, would it be in the US Military’s best interest to NOT make any of their searches and/or findings public when there are 75,000 insurgents running loose throughout the country? Wouldn’t you be concerned, just a tad bit, about who might find that nuclear cache first? Wouldn’t it make sense to keep that and everything to do with that quiet? Seriously.

As for how they all voted: A sickeningly common theme asserted by media members and liberals around the country is that Iraq is “Bush’s war,” and that Democrats who voted for the resolution in October 2002 have no responsibility because they were supposedly misled by a president from a different political party.

Well, a fascinating event transpired on Sunday’s “Chris Matthews Show” as one high-ranking media member – the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward – fervently refuted this disingenuous media myth. And, maybe more shocking, CBS’s Gloria Borger agreed with him.

The panel was discussing the recent nonbinding resolutions voted on in Congress, when Bob Woodward said something that few in the media would dare utter with cameras rolling:

“One of the things that we forget as we’re caught in the heat of the current debate: this is a legal war. The Congress three to one in 2002 said, gave Bush the right to go to war. He decided to do it. So, you know what really amazes me is that Bush, and Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid don’t get together and say, “We’ve got to come up with a bipartisan strategy and consensus on this.” We’re all in to a certain extent in this war. And we owe it to the troops.”

Matthews then asked: “Do you think the Democrats are willing to be party to this war, or they’re trying to get disengaged from it?”

Woodward shockingly responded: “They are a party to this war. They voted for it.”

Borger then said something maybe equally astounding: “They don’t want ownership of this war, Chris. I mean, I think the Democrats are trying to have it both ways. If you definitely cut off funding, then you have ownership of what comes next.”

Moments later, the following remarkable discussion ensued:

Woodward: “If everyone’s thinking about politics and not the troops on the ground. Those people are our surrogates, and we owe them everything, and we can’t even reach political consensus in this country.”

Matthews: “But what happens when you have a country that is so divided if you just poll regular people about this war, so much against this war, but yet the commander-in-chief is for the war. How do you reach a consensus between a majority who don’t want the war, and a president who wants one? How do you do it?”

Woodward: “I think that people have to rise above politics and party here. And, think, I’ve talked to these people who have come back from Iraq, and in communication with some there, and they wonder: “What the hell is going on in America? What? You know, we’re here, they sent us here. And we’re talking about cutting off funding?”

Here’s the REAL question folks, “What the hell is going on in America?”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Marcus said, "the ‘decision makers’ are much more well informed about matters of national security than average Joe Public."

My sense is to the contrary, although I haven't done a scientific study. But did you catch the recent interview with (IIRC) the head of the Select Committee on Intelligence? The guy didn't know whether AQ was Shiite or Sunni. I suspect that if you quized President Bush, you'd be apalled at his level of knowledge. But I haven't done so, so this is just my opinion.

Regardless, information is only one part of the story. Judgment matters at least as much. After all, you could offer the same amount of information to two people and still have two different opinions. So even if I bought the "the decision makers are better informed than you" argument, the conclusion -- that I should therefore trust their decisions -- still wouldn't logically follow.

"It pains me so that the IC has taken such a bad rap on this War, really it does. During the Clinton years, as you may know, “we had to do so much with so little for so long that we got to be able to do anything with practically nothing.” The Intel was there – we had so much corroborated information coming in from so many different directions that we knew Saddam and his boys were up to something. Hell, I’ve got a report from early 2001, from the DEA no less, which showed that Columbian drug runners were using their routes and mules to smuggle enriched uranium to the Middle East – the primary buyer? I’ll give you three guesses and your first two don’t count.

"So the comments like “…voting to authorize the war was justified by what turned out to be faulty intelligence,” really cuts deep at times."

Understood. It's never my intention to insult anyone. In this case, I was trying to articulate Clinton's position. In fact, I think she used the phrase "false intelligence," which I think is insulting, inflammatory, and inaccurate.

"So, you ask, where the hell is the WMD? Can’t say. But I know a bunch of folks who could make a pretty good SWAG at it. Small country to the west – rhymes with hysteria."

I've heard this theory, usually advanced by supporters of the White House. Which is strange to me: if we fought the war to secure Iraqi WMD, then the war was a disaster whether the WMD didn't exist or whether we failed to prevent its transfer to Assad.

"But let me also put a little bug in your ear, if Saddam and his boys hid their nuclear materials out in the desert somewhere for safe keeping, would it be in the US Military’s best interest to NOT make any of their searches and/or findings public when there are 75,000 insurgents running loose throughout the country? Wouldn’t you be concerned, just a tad bit, about who might find that nuclear cache first? Wouldn’t it make sense to keep that and everything to do with that quiet? Seriously."

I don't buy it. First, there are plenty of ways the insurgents could find this stuff without our help. Second, we could present the findings without being that specific. Third, if we had the specific intel, surely we would have made some attempt to secure the materials ourselves, rather than let Assad keep it all or transfer it further (otherwise, what was the point of the war in the first place?). Finally, IME politicians care more about reelection than they do about substance, and would gladly take a chance on material falling into insurgent hands if it meant keeping the House and Senate.

"A sickeningly common theme asserted by media members and liberals around the country is that Iraq is “Bush’s war,” and that Democrats who voted for the resolution in October 2002 have no responsibility because they were supposedly misled by a president from a different political party."

Congress authorized the war. Since then, the Bush administration has been prosecuting it. If you borrow the family car and then get drunk and drive it into a tree, is your dad responsible for the accident because he gave you the keys?

“One of the things that we forget as we’re caught in the heat of the current debate: this is a legal war."

I've never contended otherwise, at least with regard to the US system of authorizing war.

"...what really amazes me is that Bush, and Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid don’t get together and say, “We’ve got to come up with a bipartisan strategy and consensus on this.” We’re all in to a certain extent in this war. And we owe it to the troops.”

There's the Biden plan. There's the ISG plan. It may be that when the two parties fundamentally disagree, bipartisanship is impossible. But that doesn't mean Democrats haven't offered alternatives.

"Borger then said something maybe equally astounding: “They don’t want ownership of this war, Chris. I mean, I think the Democrats are trying to have it both ways. If you definitely cut off funding, then you have ownership of what comes next.”

That's certainly true, and shameful, as I've pointed out in previous posts.

"Woodward: “I think that people have to rise above politics and party here. And, think, I’ve talked to these people who have come back from Iraq, and in communication with some there, and they wonder: “What the hell is going on in America? What? You know, we’re here, they sent us here. And we’re talking about cutting off funding?”

Woodward's call to action is so general it's meaningless. As for his discussion with troops, I've talked to troops, too, and have heard contrary opinions. There are 130,000 US troops in Iraq... how many did Woodward base his conclusion on?

"Here’s the REAL question folks, “What the hell is going on in America?”"

Again, more general than I can respond to...

Thanks again for comments, Marcus, it's great to have some political balance here!

-- Barry

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

(And now for some more political balance...)

Okay, let me caveate this by saying that this youtube video is from Hotair.com and is so far right - - that it almost ruins the message. Almost. Ms. Clinton asked for a conversation... this is a Video Response. You're familiar with those. Even though you may feel uncomfortable with the inferred politics of the folks who made this video, why not give it some attention?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgB1KiOpbRc

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 2:26:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

You know - I would like to point out that it wasn't just Bush's decision to go after Saddam - -
From: http://www.slate.com/id/2159572/

The record is very plain and easy to look up. Here is what [Hillary Clinton] said in her crucial speech of October 2002:

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001."

Notice what this does not say. It does not say that she agrees with the Bush administration on those two key points. Rather, it states these two claims in her own voice and on her own authority. A man like John Edwards can back away from his own 2002 vote easily enough by suggesting that he was deceived by Republican propaganda, but he was barely in politics before 2000. Sen. Clinton, however, was not just in politics. She was in the White House. That's why she had to speak of "the four years" that had elapsed since the relationship between the United States and Iraq went critical once more. As the preceding paragraph of her speech said:

"In 1998, the United States also changed its underlying policy toward Iraq from containment to regime change and began to examine options to effect such a change."

Indeed, it was on the initiative of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, both of whom delivered extremely tough speeches warning of another round of confrontation with Saddam Hussein, that the Senate passed the Iraq Liberation Act that year, making it U.S. policy to remove the Baathists from power. It was the Clinton administration that bombed Sudan, claiming that a factory outside Khartoum represented a chemical-weapons link between Saddam and Osama Bin Laden. And, as Sen. Clinton reminded us in the very same speech, it was "President Clinton, with the British and others, [who] ordered an intensive four-day air assault, Operation Desert Fox, on known and suspected weapons of mass destruction sites and other military targets" in Iraq. On its own, this is enough to make childish nonsense of her insinuation that an "obsession" with Saddam took root only after the Bush-Cheney victory in 2000.

After speaking to the U.N. General Assembly meeting of 2006, President Jalal Talabani of Iraq found himself in a room with President Bush and former President Clinton. He embraced them both. "Thank you," he said to Clinton, "for signing the law that called for the liberation of Iraq. And thank you, Mr. Bush, for being the one to implement it." To rat on this would be one thing if you were, say, a Dennis Kucinich fan who had opposed all engagement with Iraq from the beginning. But for Sen. Clinton to do so would be a bit more than just re-ratting. It would be more like ratting pure and simple.

At stake, then, is not just the credibility of an ambitious New York senator who wants to be the next President Clinton. At stake, rather, is the integrity of the last President Clinton and of those in his administration who concluded that coexistence with Saddam Hussein was neither desirable nor possible. If the subject was less important, it might be amusing to watch Hillary Clinton trying to "triangulate" her way out of this and find a way of impugning the Bush policy that did not also impugn her husband's own consistent strategy. But the thing cannot be done and can't really even be attempted without raising the suspicion that a major candidate for the office of the presidency is, on the main issue of the day, not just highly unprincipled but also completely unserious.

** There seems to be more than enough "poor Judgment" to go around. I think that the thing that frustrates me more than anything is the liberal selective, and/or apparent lack of, memory. Why not stop pointing fingers at one group or another (or one President or another) and come to the realization that we are in a war of our own making - and that it is our responsibility to carry it thru to the bitter end? It’s too late to debate whether we should have gone to war at all, this war has been in the making for quite sometime, so why not do our best to be the victors? **

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 3:13:00 PM  
Blogger E. Ann Bardawill said...

The only Americans who went to war against Kim Jong Il were Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Bless them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger BayAreaKen said...

Imagine if she really gave a speech like this:

The speech Hillary should give
I voted for the Iraq war to save my political skin. I can no longer lie to myself, or the American people, about the most important issue of our time.
By Gary Kamiya (Salon.com)

Feb. 27, 2007 | My fellow Americans.

As is widely known, I have been under intense pressure to apologize for my vote authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq. While I have become increasingly critical of his conduct of the war, and have proposed capping the number of new troops that can be sent there, I have refused to apologize.

But I have reconsidered. I have decided that my current position is not only politically unwise, but so dishonest, so contrary to my deepest beliefs, that I can no longer maintain it.

I do not come to this decision lightly. Like all politicians, I have to balance political realities against idealism. I've taken a lot of heat for being too pragmatic, too cold, too calculating. I have always rejected this critique because I know the risks I've taken, the principles I hold dear and how hard it is to achieve anything in the real political world. It galls me that so many people see me as some kind of Lady Macbeth, when I have been a feminist, a fighter for social justice, and a strong, powerful and independent first lady. In my small way, I hope that I played a role in the continuing evolution of women in American public life.

These are the things I am most proud of. They are the reasons I got into politics in the first place. They are who I am.

So I don't apologize for the many compromises I've made in my life. I have made those compromises because I believed I needed to in order to win on more important issues.

But after reflection, I have come to understand that on this subject, the harsh criticism I have received is justified.

I now see that my -- quite legitimate -- political concerns have led me to betray my core beliefs. On the most important issue of our time, I cannot continue to publicly mouth a position I don't believe in. I have fought too hard to win power to find myself an empty shell now that I have it. And the direction Bush and Cheney have taken the country is too appalling to go along with.

To be perfectly honest, I also have come to realize that my current position is politically untenable. I thought that I was aligning myself with the great moderate center of America. But on Iraq, that center has moved to the left, leaving me badly out of step not just with most of my party but with independents and swing voters.

Besides, I don't want to spend the next 18 months having food fights with Barack Obama over David Geffen.

I know that I will be called a flip-flopper for changing my position. I know the right wing will call me a liberal, a wimp, not strong enough to lead America in a dangerous world. And I know that my gender will be used against me. But I will be attacked no matter what I do. So I have decided to tell the truth as I see it.

Until now, I have been saying, "If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have voted for it." That is a pathetic evasion. So let me say it clearly and forthrightly. I was wrong to vote to authorize the use of force against Iraq. Like most of my blue-state Democratic colleagues, I voted for the war out of cowardice, for purely self-serving political reasons. I didn't want to appear "soft on terrorism." I knew I was giving an incompetent president surrounded by ideologues with dubious motivations carte blanche to launch an unjustified and incredibly risky war. And I did it to save my own political skin.

Moreover, I knew I was wrong even as I did it. It was the greatest mistake of my life, and I will never stop regretting it. I will feel to my last breath that I bear some share of responsibility for an unjustified war that has become America's greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, and has needlessly cost the lives of more than 3,000 American troops and as many as 700,000 Iraqis.

My vote is an albatross around my neck now, but I want to remind people that it made a lot of political sense at the time. Karl Rove, Fox News and their ilk were successfully smearing everyone who stepped out of line as a traitor and an appeaser. Bush's approval ratings were sky-high. The media had completely rolled over. The New York Times was docilely printing administration lies about scary aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds. The Washington Post, the bible of the Beltway, was banging the drums loudly for war. (I'm not making excuses, but those of you who don't live in D.C. don't understand how insular and distorted it is here in the bubble. We begin to think that what David Broder writes reflects reality.) The foreign policy establishment was mostly on board. Many of my Democratic colleagues were voting for the war too, so there was a lot of tall grass to hide in.

But mainly, I was scared. I was terrified of getting too far away from the American mainstream. My greatest fear was that I'd be seen as weak. Most Americans were still traumatized and angry about 9/11. They didn't know anything about Iraq -- thanks to Bush propaganda, in September 2002, 51 percent of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11 -- and they were prepared to support anything the president proposed. A reflexive, ignorant, fearful "war on terror" mind-set was rampaging. I was afraid the American people would turn on me if I fought them on this one. I'm a Democrat, a woman and a Clinton -- I had three strikes against me on "national security" before I even got to the plate.

So I decided to tack right. The only loud opposition to the war came from liberals, and I assumed they'd vote for me anyway. That was my thinking. It was totally Machiavellian.

Contrary to what I have publicly maintained, I knew that the administration had not made the case that Iraq posed such an imminent threat that war was justified. Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction appeared somewhat compelling at the time -- although we now know that it was a tissue of fabrications, half-truths and distortions -- but even then it fell far below the level of proof needed to justify starting a war. The truth is that we didn't know whether Saddam had WMD. Moreover, even if we assumed he did, there was no reason to believe that he was going to use them against the United States. His entire history showed him to be a Stalinist thug obsessed with his own power and survival, not an ideologue who would decide to launch or sponsor a suicidal attack against a superpower. That's why we sent Donald Rumsfeld to shake hands with him in 1983. That's why we happily allowed him to use weapons of mass destruction against Iran. He was just a two-bit regional thug we used to fight what we perceived to be a bigger threat.

Besides, I never believed anything the Bush administration said about Iraq anyway. If staunch Republican loyalists like Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell and James Baker knew what was going on, not to mention millions of Americans, you think I didn't? Everybody knew that Bush was surrounded by hard-line neocons and far-right hawks who had been planning to take out Saddam for years. It wasn't exactly a secret that Bush's Mideast policy was identical to that proposed by the Project for a New American Century, that unholy alliance of power-mad Cold Warriors like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, Christian Zionists and neocons like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol and Lewis Libby -- the people Colin Powell called "the JINSA crowd." These guys wanted to play Risk with the Middle East -- for U.S. hegemony, for Israel, for oil, and to show we could. They thought if we flexed our big muscles and slapped around some evil ragheads we could end terrorism, remake the region, inspire democracy, and put a chicken in every pot. This was no secret. Both in the Project for a New American Century documents and in their National Security Strategy, the neocons and über-hawks who planned the war laid out their plans for all to see.

When you vote to go to war, you have to consider who's going to be waging it and why. It wasn't just a matter of voting for a war to remove an evil dictator who might conceivably pose a threat to the U.S. someday -- the most benign interpretation one can put on the motivations for war, and not the entire truth by a long shot. It was voting for a war that we knew was going to be prosecuted by the Bush administration.

That administration was about as incompetent, ideologically driven, manipulative and corrupt as you can get. We all knew Bush and Rove had decided that war was good for them politically. That's why they engineered the Iraq vote the way they did. They screwed us royally. It was "vote for the war or be Neville Chamberlain." It was "sign off on bombing Baghdad or enjoy the rest of your political life as Tokyo Rose." These guys take no prisoners -- look at what Cheney and Libby did to Joe Wilson. They're good, I have to give them that.

Of course I knew that launching an unprovoked war against an Arab country in the heart of the Middle East was incredibly risky and could go dreadfully wrong. None of these things -- the neocons' agenda, the hawks' quest for global dominance, Rove's thuggish tactics, the enormous risk -- were a secret. Some of my colleagues in Congress spoke eloquently about these things, and plenty of journalists wrote about them well before the war.

But frankly, the risks were down the road, and they meant less to me than the immediate risk voting against Bush posed to my political career.

So I acknowledge that voting to authorize war was a catastrophic mistake. (I also want to recant my ridiculous attempt to claim that I didn't believe I was voting for an actual war, just for the threat of one. Everybody knew Bush had made up his mind to attack.) But merely saying it was a mistake is not enough. Why was the war a mistake? If we don't fully address that question, we're in danger of learning nothing from this debacle.

Invading Iraq wasn't just a mistake because there turned out not to be any WMD. Even if there had been, we'd still be in exactly the same mess we're in today. Nor was it a mistake because it was a good idea that Bush executed badly. Yes, it is theoretically possible that the war could have turned out better if we had gone in with 400,000 troops and a genuine international coalition, if we had not disbanded the Iraqi army, immediately provided better security, limited our purge of Baath Party members, aggressively practiced regional diplomacy, made a real effort to resolve the crucial Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not filled the Green Zone with incompetent party hacks, actually planned for the aftermath, and so on. But it is more likely that even then our invasion would have opened a Pandora's box. In any case, such conjectures are counterfactual, and it is intellectually irresponsible to cling to them in the face of the grim reality.

No, the mistake was going to war against Iraq in the first place. Here's why.

First, we went to war utterly cavalierly. The Bush administration acted as if war was just another tool that we could casually use to achieve desired ends. This is outrageous. Our "preventive" war on Iraq -- of course, it turned out there was nothing to prevent -- was immoral and illegal. It was a departure from just war theory as well as from our own cherished national traditions.

Second, we allowed irrational emotions -- of fear, anger, patriotism and vengeance -- to drive us. Sept. 11 became an all-powerful totem. Bush had only to invoke it to sweep away all resistance. Of course Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. When nations begin acting out of mere emotion, especially atavistic emotion, they have taken a baby step toward fascism.

Third, Bush's entire approach to the Middle East, including his invasion of Iraq, was dreamed up before 9/11 by neocons ignorant of the Arab and Muslim world and egregiously biased toward Israel. I remain a staunch supporter of Israel, but our Mideast policy needs to be much more evenhanded. I have come to realize that the Jewish voters in my state of New York are actually ahead of me on this issue. The same holds true for Bush's dangerous saber rattling on Iran. I have foolishly tried to stake out a position to Bush's right on Iran, going hat in hand before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to assure American Jews that I would be prepared to attack Iran. That's crazy talk, and it's not even a political winner. AIPAC doesn't speak for the majority of my Jewish constituents, and it certainly doesn't speak for me.

Fourth, the very idea of a "war on terror" is self-defeating. Terrorism is a tactic embraced by weaker parties, sometimes used to pursue ends we may agree with -- which is why no state has ever adopted a consistent policy toward it, and policy based on a purely moralistic condemnation of it ends up becoming hypocritical and self-contradictory. A state can condemn terrorism without committing itself to a doomed mission to eradicate it. As Iraq demonstrates, basing one's foreign policy around making a "war" on it is folly.

And finally, the war was a mistake because it greatly damaged our national security. The number of global terrorist attacks have soared since we invaded. Thanks to Bush's folly, al-Qaida has made a stunning comeback and is now recruiting in North Africa, among other places. Afghanistan is a mess because we opened a second front without enough troops. The point is, all this was entirely predictable -- and many people did in fact predict it. Waging war and occupying a nation is not likely to win friends, even if the war topples a brutal dictator. As the Iraq Study Group made emphatically clear, we have to give up Bush's force-addicted approach and turn to diplomacy and cooperation.

This takes us back to where we started: national security. Fear of being accused of being soft on national security is the reason I cast my vote for the war. Well, the time has come to say, "Enough."

I'm sick of letting my entire political life be warped by this lie. I've tied myself into knots trying to prove my "toughness." But the fact is, the "tough" Bush Doctrine has been a disaster for America. And my country means too much to me to play this stupid game anymore. The whole "Democrats are weak on national security" line is a meaningless smear, and the more we try to act tough -- which in reality shows our weakness, our inability to stand up to GOP bullying -- the more we perpetuate it. Frankly, there are always going to be authoritarian, resentful, ignorant yahoos who will vote for whatever demagogue gets up and says he's going to launch self-defeating "wars on terror" and beat the world into submission. Well, let those Fox News mouth-breathers vote Republican. We don't want them anyway.

The only way to break out of this "weak on national security" trap is to challenge its very assumptions. Challenge the idea that force is always the best response to threats. Challenge the idea that the Republicans have a monopoly on national security. Point out that Bush's incessant fear-mongering is unworthy of our great and powerful nation. And proudly proclaim that an America self-confident and wise enough to reject authoritarianism and militarism is a far stronger America than the musclebound, myopic, vengeful, fearful one imagined by Bush. We tried Bush's approach and the results are in. I am prepared to use force when necessary. But it's time to use brains, not just brawn, to fight our enemies.

A few years ago, when my husband, Bill Clinton, was president, I spoke out about "a vast right-wing conspiracy" dedicated to bringing him down. History has vindicated me. And today, I can no longer remain silent in the face of a much more powerful and sinister right-wing conspiracy -- this one directed out of the Oval Office. This is a conspiracy aimed at giving the executive branch unprecedented power. It uses secrecy, intimidation, demagoguery and outright lies to pursue its radical goals. It is run by men who are so convinced they stand in the light of truth, justice and godliness that they deem any means justified to achieve those goals. Like all true believers when forced to confront reality, they have become increasingly delusional -- look at the ravings of Dick Cheney, a certifiable lunatic who apparently believes that Iraq is a shining success. These men call themselves conservatives, but have nothing to do with traditional conservatism. They are radicals.

The Iraq war was the culmination of this conspiracy. And if I do not speak out, not just against that historic disaster but against the deeply corrupt and dangerous administration that brought it to us, I will be complicit with it.

For far too long I have been a follower, not a leader, timidly shaping my views to correspond to some imagined political center, some vague sense of a "silent majority." It's the same gutless deference to "Middle America" that caused the media to cave in to Bush's war. Well, I've decided it's time to lead, not follow. The truth is, Middle America is more sensible, and conservative in the traditional sense, than we give it credit for. And it's waiting for someone to tell it the truth.

I know the risks in speaking out. I know I may doom my political career. But this is about something bigger. This is about turning America in a different, more honest, more hopeful direction. It's about trying to change our civic culture so that politicians no longer pander to the lowest common national denominator, and by so doing never inspire, educate or elevate the American people. It's about remaking our great country so that the United States will once again be admired around the world, not feared and hated. And it's about making a world in which America will be far more secure than it is today.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007 12:03:00 AM  

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