Sunday, February 11, 2007

A good word for Hillary Clinton on the Iraq War

Hillary Clinton is taking a bad rap on her position on the Iraq War. I've criticized her myself because well into 2006, she was suggesting that more American troops were needed in Iraq. I was even more concerned about her position on the closely related issue of war with Iran, which would really be a big expansion of the Iraq War. She was sounding very hawkish on that issue a year ago.

But the lazy conventional wisdom of that group we generously call our "press corps" is that Hillary is in big trouble with Democratic primary voters because she refuses to distance herself from her vote from
the 2002 war resolution on Iraq, which she voted to support. Or, in the version that the Big Pundits, steeped as they are in High Broderisim, trotted out on Meet the Press Sunday, she refuses to say it was a "mistake". In fact, David Broder himself, the Dean of All Pundits, was there in person to pronounce High Broderist verdict on the issue. The transcript itself isn't up yet, but you can access the broadcast by download or MP3 at the Web site.

There's a nugget of truth in the conventional wisdom: Hillary's hawkishness on the Iraq War has disturbed a lot of Democratic voters. And, in general, a lot of Demcorats are concerned that she may still be trying to operate by bipartisanship and "triangulation" in an environment where the Republican Party has become so authoritarian and beholden to Christian dominionists and conservative Southern white voters (two categories which heavily overlap) that such approaches are neither feasible nor desirable.

But we can't forget that our "press corps" operates under Clinton Rules, i.e., that you can say any dang fool thing, no matter how dishonest or silly or trivial, as long as you say it about the Clintons. And the Big Pundit script on Hillary and The War as displayed on Meet the Press is an example of Clinton Rules at work. My own attitude toward the 2002 war resolution, which I thought then and think even more so now was a horrible mistake for any member of Congress to have supported, is somewhat different that the take that a lot of war critics have on it (more on that below). So I don't regard her vote for that as unmitigated evil on her part.

And as Bob Somerby diligently points out, she has been saying since 2004 that knowing what we know now, she would not have supported the resolution.

Thanks to the laziness of our Establishment press, John Edwards - who I tend to favor over Clinton for the nomination at this point - has at this point successfully positioned himself as more antiwar than she, though he too voted for the 2002 resolution. But, via Somerby on 01/18/07, here was what Hillary Clinton had to say on the war back on 08/29/04, here to Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER (8/29/04): When you voted for that resolution, like almost everyone else, you believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?

CLINTON: Right, right. Well, indeed I did. And if someone asked me that if we had known then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote. You know, no administration would have come to the Congress and asked for a vote that would have authorized any kind of action based on what we now know.
And here to Timmy Russert:

CLINTON (8/29/04): There would not have been a vote, Tim. There would never have been a vote to the Congress presented by the administration. There would have been no basis for it. But we are where we are, and what I think we have to do now is try to understand the series of miscalculations which for the first time ever the president admitted in an interview last week, have occurred, which have rendered our situation more dangerous, less safe, and have put back the effort to try to stabilize and democratize Iraq. I believe with all my heart that, you know, we have to have new leadership at the highest level of our government in order to be successful in the strategy we have embarked upon in Iraq. No matter how we got there, and as I said, we wouldn't have even had a vote if all the facts had been available.

RUSSERT: But John Kerry said he would vote again today for authorization, even knowing what he knows now.You don't agree with that.

CLINTON: Well, but I think the point John was making was the same one I was making, that we don't have a choice to have hindsight.
I disagreed with any Democrats voting for that October 2002 war resolution because it was clear that Cheney and Bush would use it as a political cover for launching a preventive (illegal) war and that they would use it to beat the Democrats who supporter them on it over the head whenever they criticized anything about the war or its conduct.

But we should also be clear about just what that resolution authorized, because under our much-embattled Constitution, it is the responsility of Congress to declare war and to make rules for the armed forces generally, including the paramaters within which the Executive is allowed to wage war. Cheney and Bush violated that 2002 Congressional war resolution when they invaded Iraq.

only very recently that I've heard Democrats in Congress begin to make that point. And they don't make it nearly often enough or prominently enough. Cheney and Bush violated that resolution. And their doing so is a clear-cut impeachable offense.

John Dean laid out the details of this in
his book Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (2004). Dean also discussed the issue on Democracy Now! of 04/06/04, Worse Than Watergate: Former Nixon Counsel John Dean Says Bush Should Be Impeached. He deals with a closely related impeachable offense here: Worse Than Watergate Salon 06/11/03. Short version: the resolution authorized war with Iraq only if there were no other way of dealing with Iraq's (non-existent) "weapons of mass destruction" and if there were a clear link established between Saddam's regime and Al Qaida, including involvement in the 9/11 attacks (a non-existent link on both counts).

So, as much of a mistake as the war resolution was, that resolution did not authorize the war that Cheney and Bush launched in March of 2003.

Hawkishness on Iran

At the moment, I'm more disturbed by the stance that Edwards is taking on Iran than by Clinton's. Via Eric Alterman's
Altercation of 02/07/07, this article by John Judis, Flying Blind on Foreign Policy The Plank blog 02/06/07, looks at Edwards' stance. I don't agree with Judis' conclusion, reflected in the title of his post. But I'm concerned that he's not been willing to confront the disastrous consequences of attacking Iran under current conditions.

Also via Alterman, from Clinton's Seanate Web site, is the text of her 02/01/07 speech to AIPAC, the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is the Likud-friendly, very hawkish group that is the most influential lobby group among what is often called the Israel lobby. And AIPAC is pushing a hardline policy on Iran.

I've seen this speech reported in various ways, some of which - reflecting the press corps script - makes Clinton's position sound unrelentingly hardline, as well. What she said in that speech included. This part quoted in isolation certainly sounds straighforwardly hawkish:

U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal. We cannot, we should not, we must not, permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. And in dealing with this threat as I have said for a very long time, no option can be taken off the table.

But Iran is a threat not only because of the hateful rhetoric spewed by its president, not only because of its nuclear ambitions, but because it uses its influence and its revenues in the region to support terrorist elements that are attacking innocent Israelis; and now we believe attacking American soldiers. Hezbollah's attacks on Israel this summer using Iranian weapons clearly demonstrate Iran's malevolent influence even beyond its borders.
I would much prefer that everyone drop the "no option can be taken off the table" line. That normally goes without saying. And it would be better to let it go without saying it.

But she also told the AIPAC audience this, which not all of them were entirely happy to hear:

There are no easy answers to the complex situation we face today. I have advocated engagement with our enemies and Israel's enemies because I want to understand better what we can do to defeat those who are aiming their hatred, their extremism, their weapons at us. And I believe we can gain valuable knowledge and leverage from being part of a process again that enables us to get a better idea of how to take on and defeat our adversaries.

This is a worthy debate to have in our country today. There are many, including our President who rejects any kind of process of any sort of engagement with countries like Syria and Iran. I do believe that that is certainly a good faith position to take, but I am not sure it is the smartest strategy that will take us to the goals that we share.

It is a debate worth having because right now we know that there are direct threats to Israel, to our young men and women in harms way in Iraq, to the very fragile democracy in Iraq and to the one in Lebanon. As bad as the situation looks to us today, it could become even worse. And what do I mean by engagement or some kind of a process? Well I'm not sure anything positive would come out of it, I have no expectations whatsoever. But there are a number of factors that I think argue for some attempt to do what I am suggesting: number one I don't think we know enough about how Iranian society and their government really functions. I was struck by the rejection of the President's party in those recent elections. If we are having to pursue potential action against Iran beyond enforcing the toughest sanctions that we can and bringing the world community along as hard as it is, to recognize the danger to them as well as to us and to Israel then I want to know more about the adversary we face. I want to understand better what the leverage we can bring to bear on them will actually produce. I want to get a better sense of what the real power centers and influentials are. And I also want to send a message if we ever do have to take war, drastic action to the rest of the world that we exhausted all possibilities because we need friends and allies to stand with us as we stand with Israel in this long war against terrorism and extremism. I talked with a number of you about how we best pursue our mutual goal of reining in terrorism and extremism of protecting and guaranteeing the security of Israel, of preventing a state that sponsors terrorism from becoming a nuclear power. There are no good analogies that we can pull from history because we're living with new threats and asymmetric warfare and state actors and non-state actors, each of whom have the potential to wreak such horrible damage on innocents, but I suggest and hope you will consider thinking of a smart way to pursue our interests and Israel's at this dangerous time that gives us both more information and more leverage. Similarly with Syria which is becoming an even greater problem because of its support for Hamas, because of its involvement in both Lebanon and Iraq against Israeli and American interests, we also have to do more to figure out what, if any real leverage we can bring to bear. And all during the Cold War we met with the Soviet Union while they had thousands of missiles pointed at our cities while their leaders threatened to bury us while they sowed discord and military uprisings and actions against us and our allies. That was a smart strategy even though it was a difficult one. Today we face a new set of dangers that in some way are more difficult because we're living in not a stable, bipolar world, but living in an unstable, multi-polar world. And I think you can send a very clear message to your enemies about what they will face if they do not change while trying to figure how best to create conditions internally and externally within those societies to cause that change. (my emphasis)
Except that I would prefer she lose the "all options on the table" line, what she's describing here is the right policy. The Iranian nuclear program, even leaving aside some of the more hysterical claims that are being made, is a real concern for the world: a problem made far more acute the Cheney's and Bush's preventive war against Iraq, sending a strong signal to Iran and others that if you don't want to be invaded by the US, you better have usable nukes ready to use. In signficant part because of the Iranian program, the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists just recently moved the hands on their famous Doomsday Clock from seven minutes before midnight to five minutes before midnight.

At the same time, to recklessly reject Iranian diplomaticinitiatives and take very concrete steps toward war with a serious, major-league diplomatic effort to prevent it is the kind of recklessness and irresponsibility that has been the hallmark of the Cheney-Bush administration's foreign policy.

The Establishment press reports Hillary Clinton's position's through a false lens, defined by Clinton Rules. We don't have to endorse every jot and tittle of her foreign policy statements to recognize and try to get around their laziness and professional misconduct on reporting her positions. (For our godless heathen readers, "jot and tittle" is a Biblical reference in King James English, similar to "dotting every "i" and crossing every "t".)

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