It is either ironic or karmic that just as Iraq is interrupting into yet another spasm of civil war, Hillary Clinton steps into the public arena to promote her book--and her presidential campaign (be my guest if you want to believe that she is really deeply weighing this or not). A lot of attention has been paid to her interview yesterday on NPR, mostly because of her (dissembling) explanation of her views on gay marriage. But, far less attention is being paid to an entirely dishonest attempt to wash away the blood she helped spill in Iraq--a tragedy generations will pay for in many ways.
A few people have written me in the past few hours to ask whether I saw that, for the first time, she said her vote to authorize the war was a "mistake." I had. But, perhaps brilliantly, the acknowledgement of the "mistake" comes with a dishonest, disingenuous and, ultimately, shallow explanation of how that vote came about. But, the answer to the question about the Iraq War summarizes why it would be disastrous to have her lead the country because it shows a deep lack of judgement, a weak moral compass and, ultimately, a view of American foreign policy that is dangerous (and, in fairness, bi-partisan).
First, let me reprint, in full, her response to Terry Gross' question (based on NPR's posted transcript)
GROSS: I want to start with something that you told my colleague Renee Montagne this week on Morning Edition. And you said to her, the most important thing I did was to help restore America's leadership in the world, and I think that was a very important accomplishment. We were flat on our back when I walked in there for the first time. We were viewed as being untrustworthy, as violating our moral rules and values, as being economically hobbled. I'm wondering how you think the war in Iraq changed how America was viewed internationally.I'm going to put aside from the moment her claim that she restored America's leadership in the world--largely, because it is both disputed if she had any role in whatever has changed and, indeed, whether and what kind of leadership America now exerts in the world--and focus just on the Iraq war.
CLINTON: The war in Iraq, first and foremost, had a very negative effect on our standing in the world and on the way that we were viewed by friends, not just adversaries. The way it was conducted, the unfortunate violations that occurred in the treatment of prisoners and others, was deeply distressing and reflected poorly on our values as Americans. Also, though, the economic crisis on top of that was a terrible occurrence. It left so many people in such terrible economic circumstances. But in addition, it really shook the confidence in the American economy here at home, first and foremost, and around the world.
GROSS: Did you ever ask yourself when you were secretary of state how the world might have looked different if not for the war in Iraq?
CLINTON: I did. I think you have to go before that, though, and say, how would the world have looked different if the kind of tax cut decisions by President Bush had not been made or not been made in a way that they were, because we ended the Clinton administration with a surplus - a balanced budget. We were so well-positioned to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of the economy, but more importantly, to start planning the kind of investments we needed for the future.
Along came 9/11 - you know, a historically terrible event in the minds of all of us and particularly for me as a senator from New York - with a lot of human costs and economic costs and also a shock to how we saw ourselves and what the world was throwing at us at the time. And again, the response to 9/11 - appropriately going after those who attacked us in Al-Qaida who were based in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas - had the full support.
NATO passed a strong resolution, you know, that basically invoked what's called Article Five because an attack on one is an attack on all. The world was with us. And unfortunately, the diversion and the decision that was made about Iraq - which I write in the book was certainly a mistake for me to support - undermined a lot of that solidarity that we had. And what was equally damaging, if one looks backward now, is that the Bush administration wouldn't pay for the war on terror, wouldn't pay for Iraq, wouldn't pay for Afghanistan. And we ended up in a very difficult economic situation. And we also ended up with much of the rest of the world, who were willing to support us in Afghanistan and, up to a point, willing to support the so-called war on terror, but turned their backs largely on the invasion of Iraq.
GROSS: In your book, "Hard Choices," you write that your vote to authorize military action in Iraq was, quote, "a mistake." You say, I got it wrong, plain and simple. You hadn't publicly used the word "mistake" before. Why didn't you use that word during the 2008 campaign, and did something change between then and now in how you saw the war or how you saw your vote authorizing the use of force?
CLINTON: You know, Terry, as I write in the book, I made the best decision that I could at the time. And as we went through the years and I saw the way that the president and his team used my vote and the other votes to authorize action, I became increasingly distressed.
I did not believe that it was in the best interest of our country, and it was not something that I, any longer, wanted to be associated with. Yet at the same time, I was very clear that I felt a responsibility for having voted the way that I did, which led to sending hundreds of thousands of our young men and women into Iraq. And I didn't feel comfortable saying anything that could be interpreted as somehow turning my back on them.
And I wanted to make clear in this book - especially in the context of my thinking about what I would recommend to President Obama concerning additional troops in Afghanistan - that I did get it wrong in Iraq, and it was a mistake. And in many ways, that mistake, as costly as it was, it gave me a much clearer view and certainly increased my skepticism and my humility about these difficult decisions that President Obama had to make when he took office.
1. "The way it was conducted, the unfortunate violations that occurred in the treatment of prisoners and others, was deeply distressing and reflected poorly on our values as Americans."
That sentence reflects an American view of war that dates back to the Vietnam War. It goes something like this: the war wasn't wrong, we just fucked up and did it all wrong (in her words, "the way it was conducted"). It continues to promote and believe in a view that the wars America pursues are wars that just didn't go right and that all this messy stuff--torture, massacres, civilian deaths (in war speak, "collateral damage")--was just a mistake, and avoidable. It views the American war machine as superior--and anything less than achieving victory was just how the war was "conducted", not the fundamental thinking behind the war as a strategic and moral blunder. (For one of the best treatments of Vietnam, which I think is a template for understanding Iraq, I recommend my friend Bill Gibson's book, "The Perfect War")
It also allows her to quickly change the reason she voted for the war once it became clear that the whole "Weapons of mass destruction" was a crock. Instead, it was to bring "democracy" to Iraq--another delusional idea that is at the crux of American "specialness": we go to war for "good things" to bring democracy (Oil? Economic reasons? Feh...not us).
2. Her actual decision to vote for the war? "You know, Terry, as I write in the book, I made the best decision that I could at the time. And as we went through the years and I saw the way that the president and his team used my vote and the other votes to authorize action, I became increasingly distressed."
If that was the "best decision" she could make, every voter in the country should be worried about how she goes about making these kinds of weight decisions. It wasn't as if the evidence was lacking that the "proof" for the war was phony. Sen. Bob Graham has publicly stated that he told Clinton and other senators to read the Iraq intelligence reports that were available in a secure room.
One question Terry Gross should have asked: did you read that report? Because Hillary Clinton apparently did not bother.
"Increasingly distressed"? Really. And who did she express that to? What did she do? If it distressed her, why didn't she command a public podium, a national audience which she can draw just by clearing her throat, and express how distressed she was? See below.
3. "Yet at the same time, I was very clear that I felt a responsibility for having voted the way that I did, which led to sending hundreds of thousands of our young men and women into Iraq. And I didn't feel comfortable saying anything that could be interpreted as somehow turning my back on them."
I did it for the troops? That is breathtaking. So, you mean, it would have undermined the troops to say, at the time of the war, "the war is a disaster, I was wrong to vote, for my own political calculations, for this war, let's end this and bring you home now".
Recall that a broad group of Democrats including Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Jim McGovern were pushing an immediate 6-month withdrawal from Iraq in 2006. Had that bill passed, the pressure, throughout the country, would have escalated to end the war.
Hillary Clinton refused to support that bill. Her support, as a leading political force, could have shifted the debate.
How many Americans and Iraqis died in the ensuing time period?
For the sake of the troops? Have you no decency? The gall.
4. Blaming the Bush Administration--as she has done--is quite clever. In particular, she blames those criminals for waging a war without paying for it. Fine. Is there a single piece of Clinton legislation, or speech for that matter, prior to her becoming Secretary of State (i.e., when served as Senator), where she demands that the war end unless it is paid for?
5. Her combining the economic crisis and the Iraq war is, at best, clumsy and, at worst, bizarre. She is right that her vote for the war has had, and will have, huge economic implications for the country, THREE TRILLION DOLLARS, by the estimate of Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
And it is true that her vote for the war--and the vote by others--means we will have less money for schools, roads, seniors' lunches, and on and on.
But, that has little to do with the financial crisis–ignited by her funders and friends on Wall Street, by the way, in part thanks to the elimination of the Glass Seagall Act by her husband and his sidekick, Robert Rubin.
Look, Hillary Clinton is in a bind. If you are as brilliant and talented as you and your circle wants everyone to believe, then, the excuse you didn’t really understand and, gee, it was a mistake doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. At that point, people are left to believe it was done for purely political purposes. And it’s worth observing here that one Senator who was in a tough race took the moral course: Paul Wellstone, who was the only Senator up for re-election in 2002 when the vote was cast who voted “no” despite representing a state where he always faced a relatively close race.
Truth is, immorality often does come back to bite you. I would argue, and acknowledge it’s arguable, that Hillary Clinton lost the race in 2008 mainly because of her vote for the war; we tend to forget that Barack Obama was not a sure bet prior to the Iowa caucuses; indeed, his team would later say losing Iowa night have meant the end for his campaign. But, Democratic Iowa activists and voters are far more progressive, and, more important, strongly against the Iraq War–and those were people Hillary Clinton lost long before the caucuses because of her vote for the Iraq war.
In truth, I would have respected a true coming to terms with her vote if it had actually been honest, saying she had chosen poorly, voting for a war to advance her political career and that in the interim she had learned the mistake of trying to unleash wars and that she believes in a world where American superiority and the pursuit of being number one should be a thing of the past.
But, she continues to believe, apparently, in the same kind of foreign policy that is simply a disaster–economically, because of the cost the country and, diplomatically, because of the great danger it poses in the future. And that should scare the bejeezus out of every one of those people who are dutifully lining up for her campaign. Hopefully, the voters will get it.
Ultimately, one sentence in her response to the gay marriage discussion in that interview is far more accurate way to understand what happened, though she meant in the response to defend herself against critics: “I used to be opposed and now I’m in favor and I did it for political reasons”.
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12:26 PM PT: Gotta run for a bit. Will try to answer later if any questions