[Marxism] Hillary Clinton and Iraq
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 23 09:45:47 MST 2005
In A Fog Of War
By: Ben Smith
Before the American project in Iraq turned from reconstruction back to
combat, Senator Hillary Clinton liked to chide the Bush administration
about its analogies to World War II.
It took 10 years to create a stable, sovereign government in postwar West
Germany, she reminded the Council of Foreign Relations in November 2003.
And, she noted, we still have troops in Germany.
On the question of Iraq, she said, we have not only the need for patience
but a sense that we are going to be involved over the long run.
Nobodys talking about the long run any more. The call for withdrawal from
a little-known Pennsylvania backbencher, Congressman Jack Murtha, exploded
a debate that had been dominated by the caricatures Stay the Course and
Cut and Run. Both parties in Washington are now discussing how many
troops will leave before the Congressional elections in 2006. And as the
Congress inserts itself into the conduct of foreign policy more forcefully
than it has since Sept. 11, 2001, Mrs. Clintons complex position on the
war is moving into the political foreground.
Mrs. Clinton has been a force on both sides of the debate over the war. She
was an early, consistent defender of the rationale for invading Iraq: that
Saddam Hussein posed a danger to the U.S. Unlike former Senator John
Edwards, among others, she never backed away from her vote to give Mr. Bush
the authority to wage war. But she has also questioned whether the invasion
was necessary, and from her perch on the Senate Armed Services committee,
she has become a leading critic of the wars prosecution.
Now the Murtha train is leaving the station, and Mrs. Clintons calibrated
stance could leave her behind. But that stance, with a foot in each camp
and a focus more on health care for soldiers than on grand strategy, seems
to be making her the right allies (Senate Republicans) and the right
enemies (like the antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan) for a national election.
As reels of American politics from the Vietnam era flicker across the
screen, a lesson of that era seems to apply: The Democratic Presidential
nomination in war-ravaged 1968 went not to peace candidate Eugene McCarthy,
but to Lyndon Johnsons Vice President, Hubert Humphrey. (Of course, it is
possible that peace candidate Robert F. Kennedy would have been the partys
nominee in 68, but he was murdered before the convention.)
Mrs. Clinton hasnt sought out opportunities to talk about Iraq. A
1,500-word section of her campaign Web site devoted to national security
mentions Iraq just twice in passing, and is silent on American policy
there. But questions have increasingly followed her and her peers, and a
small press conference at a Rye Brook community center on Nov. 22 turned
into an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters on the war.
I have not agreed with either of the positions, she said. You know,
there are some who believe we should withdraw immediatelyI think that
would be a big mistake. I think it would cause even more problems for us,
she added, warning that it will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses
into civil war, if it becomes a failed state like Afghanistan was, where
terrorists are free to basically set up camp and launch attacks against us.
She continued: On the other hand, what you hear from the President, the
Vice-President, the Secretary of Defense is, Well stay as long as it
takes until the job is done. Theyve never defined the job, and I dont
think we should give Iraqis an open-ended invitation not to take care of
My approach is different. My approach is, we tell them we expect you to
meet these certain benchmarks. And that means getting troops and police
officers trained, equipped and ready to defend their people. She said the
Dec. 15 Iraqi elections would be crucial in moving that process forward.
New Yorks Democratic voters might have preferred an anti-war champion in
Washington, but both of the states Senators voted to give Mr. Bush the
authority to invade Iraq. More recently, both signed a letter calling on
Mr. Bush to provide a clear plan for American forces there, and both backed
a bipartisan Senate resolution pressing the White House on the same point.
Senator Charles Schumer shares the rough outlines of Mrs. Clintons
position, though he has at times sounded more supportive of the invasion
itself. He remains among the Democrats who still defend the necessity of
the invasion, though he has been a critic of the wars conduct. My vote
was seen, and I still see it, as a need to say we must fight a strong and
active war on terror, he told Meet the Press Tim Russert in October.
Mrs. Clintons position is not one that lends itself to easy slogans.
Unlike some Senate Democrats, she has not accused President Bush of
misleading her; unlike others, she has not laid out a plan or a timetable
Its not clear, not for most of usyoure in or youre out, said Nita
Lowey, a Westchester Congresswoman and close Clinton ally. Its a more
The lessons of national politics in recent years, however, have not favored
nuance, something of which Mrs. Clintons advisors are intensely aware.
Heres the question: Can you, in a media environment that tends to see
things all one way or all the other, in black and whitecan you be a
thoughtful, forceful, longstanding critic of the way the administration has
prosecuted the war, while at the same time believing that success in Iraq
is critical? asked Howard Wolfson, an advisor to Mrs. Clinton and the
communications director on her 2000 campaign.
Mrs. Clintons husband, the former President and her chief floater of
trial-balloons, has also tested a slightly more anti-war position, calling
the war itself a big mistake in a recent speech in Dubai, drawing fire
from the right and praise from the left.
To the Senator, however, immediate withdrawal is the big mistake, and her
position has drawn fire from the anti-war left and put her in a group of
Senators that Marshall Wittmann, a conservative Democrat who is close to
Senator John McCain, labeled the coalition of the adults.
Shes a charter member, Mr. Wittmann said of a group that also includes
Mr. McCain, retired General Wesley Clark and Senator Joe Biden of Delaware,
who, like Mrs. Clinton, is eyeing the 2008 Presidential contest. She has
stood by her position from the very beginning. She has been critical of the
administrations prosecution of the war, but she has stood by her position
that the war was right.
New Yorks junior Senator arrived in the Senate in 2001 with her husbands
legacy on Iraq policy. That included bombing the country repeatedly to
enforce the settlement of the 1991 Gulf War, as well as a bipartisan
resolutioninspired by many of the people who would lead the country into
Iraq under President Bushthat made regime change in Iraq the official
policy of the United States.
By the time Mr. Bush came to the Senate for permission to go to war, Mrs.
Clinton was convinced that Saddam posed a danger.
It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue
to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will
keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor,
he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East,
which, as we know all too well, affects American security, she said on the
floor of the Senate on Oct. 10, 2002.
But the vote to give Mr. Bush the authority, she said then, was probably
the hardest decision I have ever had to make.
She also said at the time, and has maintained since then, that she was
voting not for war, but to give the President leverage to force tough
A vote for [the resolution] is not a vote to rush to war, she said in the
Senate. 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.
Her hedging hasnt prevented the Republican National Committee from using
lines from her speech in a television advertisement that accuses the
Democrats of switching sides on the war.
But since her speech on the Senate floor, Mrs. Clinton has gone further,
saying in August of last year that had the Congress known that Saddam
Hussein apparently did not possess banned weapons, There would not have
been a vote
. There would have been no basis for it.
I had thought that we would let the inspectors continue their work, and we
might very well have found out what we later discovered, which is that they
did not have weapons of mass destruction, she said in Westchester. But,
unfortunately, the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of
Defense did not want the inspectors to finish their job.
And at the same time, her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee has
given her a regular opportunity to grill Bush administration officials on
their plans, leading to tart exchanges with Mr. Rumsfeld and his former
deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.
Mrs. Clinton has kept the broader issue of Iraq policystay or go?off her
public agenda, however, in favor of the details. In particular, she has
dwelt on the details of soldiers lives, introducing legislation with
Senator Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina Republican, to expand
health-care benefits to reservists and National Guard members.
But in a hardening political landscape, and with a rush away from war, Mrs.
Clintons position on the war remains ambiguous, hard to call pro- or
To her supporters, her stance is responsible; to her critics, opportunistic.
I think she is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to
keep up with the big boys, Ms. Sheehan wrote last month on the Web site of
filmmaker Michael Moore.
Mrs. Clintons political gamble is that those voices from the left wont
matter and that pragmatism will, in this case, trump clarity. Its a bet
that Iraq is, in a sense, another Vietnam, in which Eugene McCarthys
anti-war message excited young voters but failed to win the nomination. And
her stance is in line with the Washington wisdom about Democrats who run
The center of gravity of the Democratic Party is not there any more, said
Norman Ornstein, who studies Congress at the American Enterprise Institute,
of Mrs. Clintons stance. But she has to worry about it less than a lot of
others, and what remains true for the countryeven for people who think
this war was a drastic mistake, and even for a sizeable number of those who
want to get out of thereis that the Democratic Party remains in a very
shaky position in regards to its reputation for being weak on national
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