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.