Hillary Clinton's War Vote

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The return of the war vote: what does Hillary Clinton’s 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq War say about her 2008 campaign, the future of the war, and the political calculus of never saying “I’m sorry”?

(More to follow.)

Update, 6/6 2:10 pm

What do you think? [mcotner / Flickr]

Here’s the short course: On October 11th 2002, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize President Bush to use military force against Iraq. She later called that vote “probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make.”

The previous day, she had voted against the Levin amendment, which would have required UN approval for the use of force against Iraq; and, failing that, another Congressional vote authorizing the President to use American military force.

That same day, she had also voted for a Byrd amendment that would have set a time limit on the use of US forces in Iraq — but that also included procedures for extending the date.

Clinton’s other notable Senate action on that day was drawing a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, saying Saddam had given “aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members.”

As the Iraq war has grown unpopular, Clinton’s public position on it has also changed. She now vocally champions troop withdrawal. She blames George W. Bush “who misled this country and this Congress.” She says, about her own 2002 vote, “Knowing what we know now, I would never have voted for it.” Unlike John Edwards, though, what she hasn’t done is apologize for it.

So the big questions: Did she vote yes, in 2002, for political reasons or because she genuinely believed that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the US — or both? Why on earth did she vote against the Levin amendment if she hoped President Bush would pursue all possible diplomatic options? Why did she use the Bush administration’s rhetorical device of linking Saddam with al-Qaeda? What’s behind her decision not to apologize? And how is all of this playing out in the 2008 presidential campaign?

Jeff Gerth

Former investigative reporter, The New York Times

Co-author, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton

Lincoln Chafee

Republican Senator from RI, 1999-2006

Visiting Fellow, The Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

Author, The Senate’s Forgotten Iraq Choice, The New York Times, March 1, 2007

Peter Beinart

Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Editor-at-large, The New Republic

Jonathan Tasini

2006 candidate in NY Democratic primaries for the Senate

Blogger, Working Life

Executive Director, Labor Research Association

Lead plaintiff, Tasini vs. New York Times

Extra Credit Reading

Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., Hillary’s War, The New York Times, May 29, 2007: “The Saddam-Al Qaeda link, so aggressively pushed by the Bush administration, was later debunked as false. So how could Clinton, named in 2006 by The Washingtonian magazine as the “brainiest” senator, have gotten such a critical point wrong? Referring to the larger question of her support for the authorization, Clinton said in February of this year, “My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time.”

Lincoln Chafee, The Senate’s Forgotten Iraq Choice, The New York Times, March 1, 2007: “The Senate had the opportunity to support a more deliberate, multilateral approach, one that still would have empowered the United States to respond to any imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. We must not sidestep the fact that a sensible alternative did exist, but it was rejected. Candidates — Democrat and Republican — should be called to account for their vote on the Levin amendment.”

Dwight Stephens, So, remind me again. Why the rush in 2003 into Iraq?, Dwight Stephens, March 4, 2007: “What, if anything, have the candidates learned? Why didn’t anyone consider what the history of the region had to teach us in informing our calculations about the aftermath of toppling Saddham Hussein? What do the candidates’ votes say about their approaches to terrorism and foreign policy? What do their votes say about what type of “leader of the free world” they will be?”

jay, Senator Clinton’s Political Epitaph, Diatribes of Jay, June 1, 2007: “The entire NIE was only 90 pages long. Yet like a derelict student, Clinton did not do her homework. When asked recently at political rally whether she had read it, she reportedly said only that she had been briefed on it.”

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of Clinton’s interaction with Code Pink in March of 2003. YouTube won’t let us embed it for some reason (conspiracy?). You should feel free to skip the singing and go straight to the part when Hillary comes in (at 1:36), if you so choose. Sparks start to fly at about 14:13.

Ana Quindlen, The Brand New and Same Old, Newsweek, May 28, 2007: “And every time Clinton is described as calculating or ambitious, you realize that such words are never used for male politicians because for them both traits are assumed—and accepted.”

Levin Amendment Roll Call.

barthjg, in a comment to Open Source, June 6, 2007: “Hillary, like almost everyone else, got snookered on iraq. She is a moderate, not a liberal, and someone at the center of power. Each person running for the White House studies the same calculus she does: weighing personal ambition with public perception against the weight of their individual passions, experience and common sense. Is she calculating? Yes. are they all calculating? Yes. I won’t pillory Hillary.”

Marc McElroy, in a comment to Open Source, June 5, 2007: “It’s hard for anyone to admit a mistake. I think American politics has sunken to the point where everyone bases what they say on justifying something. For Clinton in this case it’s a past action, but for her and others it’s a belief, choice, action, whatever it may be, it’s all justification.”

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  • hurley

    Like most politicians in our day, Hillary Clinton is a grasping, power-mad hypocrite, remorselessly trying to true (thank you Wm. James) reality to her warped sense of political entitlement, no matter the thousands upon thousands of lives lost in the process. Her refusal to admit her error admits of two conclusions: she doesn’t regret it, or she finds it politically expedient to stand by it. Either one a disgrace. Monster.

  • The inability own up to a mistake, feels a lot like more of what we already have in the White House.

    But, I’m just as concerned about Clinton’s current views on the situation. Arianna Huffington got at some of what bothers me, here:


    It seems to me that we need someone who is willing to step up and talk us down from our need to be ‘dominant’. We need to be led away from our consumerism and particularly our wanton use of petroleum. I don’t see her walking that walk. She’s far too enmeshed in the traditional realpolitik for me.

  • hurley
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  • It’s hard for anyone to admit a mistake. I think American politics has sunken to the point where everyone bases what they say on justifying something. For Clinton in this case it’s a past action, but for her and others it’s a belief, choice, action, whatever it may be, it’s all justification. Every word that comes out of a senator’s month these days is some sort of justification. Everyone is on the defensive, all the time.

    The justification and the lie are close cousins, and they often travel together. sometimes, it’s just lying to yourself outloud.

  • plnelson

    NPR reported today that one US Army officer videotaped Iraqi police laying a roadside bomb.

    NPR also repoprted another incident in which a roadside bomb was set in full view of an Iraqi police checkpoint. After the bomb went off while a US convoy was passing, US soldiers from the convoy went to the checkpoint, took several Iraqi police prisoner, tied them up, put pags over their heads and beat them severely.

    Hillary could atone for her past lapses by sponsoring legislation demanding that we withdraw from Iraq NOW, IMMEDIATELY, not in September, not by early 2008, not by the election, not in a “phased withdrawal”, but as fast as we can go, starting this minute.

    They Iraqi’s are beastly and the longer we stay there the more beastly they are making us. There is nothing to be gained by staying one day longer.

  • That war vote was a travesty. I have not forgiven my own Senator Maria Cantwell or Hillary Clinton who both did what they thought was the popular thing at the time and gave away not only their right but also their duty as Senators to maintain the war powers. I had my ear glued to the radio through the whole thing even though I had to go to work. There was NO excuse for what they did. Congress could still have declared war if need be. They didn’t have to turn the congressional power to declare war over to that lying, smirking, megalomaniac creep we call our president. When Hillary says, “If I only knew then what I know now” I sneer. She knew. She isn’t stupid. I was listening when she caved in. It was revolting.

    If we end up with Hillary Clinton vs. any republican I will vote for her but I won’t actively campaign for her, or wear a button with her name on it specifically because she sold us out. Even with Bush as president, it didn’t have to be this bad.

  • One of the most disturbing portions of the recent democratic candidate debate was that moment where the moderator asks everyone who supports firing a missile to kill BIn Laden and whomever else gets caught up in the explosion. Suddenly you see almost all candidates… who are supposed to be the non trigger happy-democrats .. raising their hands! (except Kucinich thankfully)

    For some it may have seemed completely normal, for me it is a sad reality of today’s neo-liberal politician.

  • plnelson

    If we end up with Hillary Clinton vs. any republican I will vote for her but I won’t actively campaign for her,

    Due to our Electoral College system unless you live in a state where the vote will be very close your vote has no effect on the outcome anyway. I live in Massachusetts which will vote for the Democrat so I won’t have to cross that bridge.

    And speaking of crossing the Rubicon, what is the rest of the world to make of our imperial presidents? Bush I, Clinton I, Bush II, Clinton II . . .

    In a “democracy” of 300 million people the best person for the job just happens to be a close relative of a previous Prez? What a COINCIDENCE! Who woulda thunk it?

  • Martin Brock

    The U.S. has been ready for a female President for a while, but I doubt that voters are ready for Hillary Clinton. Her poll numbers are pure name recognition at this point. She’s never held elective office, and aside from the national health care initiative she led in the first Clinton administration and the “me too” war vote, I have no idea where she stands on anything. She’ll only be the President, so who cares? It’s a fair question, but after the Bush administration, I’m firmly convinced that a President can do a lot of harm, even if s/he can’t do a lot of good.

    If Clinton sticks to her current line, that she was hoodwinked by shoddy intelligence from the Bushniks and wouldn’t vote for the war again, this vote alone doesn’t disqualify her. On the other hand, this line definitely doesn’t qualify her.

    I won’t vote for any candidate without a firm commitment to withdraw from Iraq without leaving a large military presence or a disproportionate diplomatic presence.

    I won’t vote for any candidate without a firm commitment not to attack an Iranian nuclear facility without iron-clad evidence, acknowledged by the IAEA and other international inspection agencies, that Iran is actively producing weapons grade uranium and is less than a year away from producing enough for a bomb. “We told you to stop all enrichment and you didn’t” is not good enough.

    I also want firm statements on Social Security reform and tax reform, preferably a parental pension and a progressive consumption tax, along the lines of proposals from the New America Foundation. I want a firm commitment to shift resources from the security-industrial complex toward sustainable energy and other priorities. “More cash for all” is not good enough.

    Otherwise, I’m not supporting anyone, and I’m staying home, or I’m supporting a protest candidate like Ron Paul. I won’t waste my time boosting the prospects of another political celebrity preparing the way for rich speaking fees and book deals with vague rhetoric and corporatist brown nosing.

  • Martin Brock,

    As bad as the Dems are, the GOP has nuking Iran ONTHE TABLE. IMHO even Hillary Clinton would be better than starting a nuclear war.

  • Martin Brock

    As far as I know, Hillary is as bent on bombing Iran as anyone in the GOP. Regardless, I won’t be frightened into supporting another corporatist shill. If Hillary wants my vote, I’ve been very clear about how she can earn it; otherwise, I’ll be shopping elsewhere.

  • i start with the assumption that any of the leading democrats would be a better choice than any republican now running or thinking about running. that party’s lack of leadership has reinforced the messes we are in. to a person they have acted without regard to any independent leadership when the facts on the ground –Iraq, Iran, global warming, DOJ, you name it — point to a reality difft than the White House spin. Bottom line: not one republican has the moral authority to claim the presidency. hillary, like almost everyone else, got snookered on iraq. she is a moderate, not a liberal, and someone at the center of power. each person runnng for the white house studies the same calculus she does: weighing personal ambition with public perception against the weight of their individual passions, experience and common sense. is she calculating? yes. are they all calculating? yes. i won’t pillory hillary. do i agree with her approach to issues, pushing for a middle course at what seems like all costs? no. does that make her unprincipled? no. i don;t think the vote on iraq authorization is the sole prism to judge someone’s capacity for presidental leadership. she has boxed herself into a corner on iraq. her inability to move beyond the middle — to admit a mistake, a grave mistake — IS an issue. there are many ways for her to honestly explain a change in perspective. her inability to do so, this twisting in the wind, this carpace of pride, is one reason i could not support her. iraq just happens to be her testing point.

  • bft

    Roll call. Role model.

  • Samgr

    Thanks bft. You are my roll model.

  • W.M. Palmer

    Disappointing that you are putting Mr. Beinart,

    who came off v. poorly, both as a rhetorician and in terms of his actual expertise, on Bill Moyer’s show about the decisions leading up to the war,

    into a lineup with Gerth, Chafee, et al . . . ..

  • Dacker

    Sen Clinton is a smart woman. She, and the other representatives, clearly knew that they were authorizing the war that followed. Many citizens, including me, let her know our opposition to the bill. She agonized, and then voted the easy, and wrong, way. NOTHING

  • Dacker

    Sen Clinton is a smart woman. She, and the other representatives, clearly knew that they were authorizing the war that followed. Many citizens, including me, let her know our opposition to the bill. She agonized, and then voted the easy, and wrong, way. Unless she apologizes for that vote, nothing she says about it is relevant.

    Now, why is Kucinich, one of the few who had (and has) the guts to go against the current, invariably dismissed as a fringe candidate?

  • Where did/does HRC get most of her campaign funding from and how important has that been to her support for Bush policy and the war?

    Does HRC support the law to privatize Iraqi oil, which some suggest will require a long-term–Korean style–US military presence to protect production and transportation facilities and personnel? If the answer is yes, is not her talk of ending the war just more empty rhetoric?

  • enhabit

    this goes beyond making a mistake or “owning up to a mistake” ..this is about an absence of judgement and integrity.

    after that health care fiasco, hillary has become politicaly cautious to a fault.

    intestinal fortitude will be a NECESSARY asset in the next presidency..as well as experience.

    who’s got it?

  • michatoy

    It shows how power and political calculation can make hamburger from porterhouse. In the context of the post-911 times and the heavy pressure of the administration bent on the Iraqi adventure it is understandable that she voted the way she did on the authorization bill. It does not, however, explain her vote against Sen. Levin’s diplomacy amendment and that’s where the political calculation entered in. She went with the majority because she felt it was the safest course. To me, that disqualifies her for the kind of president I’m looking for.

  • janeer

    I imagine I was not alone in emailing my senators (in two states), house and senate chair, etc, and the president/vp–futile on all counts–not to vote for the Patriot Act, or we would be in Iraq first, unable to get out, then Iran, then who knows where. Anyone who has taken Psych 101 could see what was going on. A vote for this Patriot Act, a, and this war, b, were votes for themselves: self-preserving, cowardly, knee-jerk fear of Republican criticism. Mrs. Clinton is too ambitious, too political and calculating, too old-time politician to lead, if a leader is indeed what we are seeking. As a lifelong Democrat of her exact age, I am sorry to say it: she will do anything, sacrifice any standard, she thinks will advance her own position. That’s not what we need.

  • katemcshane

    For me, Hillary is a narcissist, and narcissists lie. I don’t see any integrity. She gives me the creeps. I agree with Jonathan Tasini about what she did at the UN. But that’s just one disgusting example of many.

  • Martin,

    OK good point. I may still be feeling tremors because I voted for Nadar in 2000. Not that what happened was his or my fault…

  • John R. Ford

    How about Greg Palast’s insights into hillary and bills influence on helping walmart and china run over our domestic retail and production systems?

  • John R. Ford

    uh sorry



    [quote]Then, in 2000, in a deposition by the Justice Department, the President changed his tune. Investigators confronted the President with this: on June 20, 1994, Hubbell met with Hillary. Two days later, James Riady, the Asian billionaire Entergy partner, met with Hubbell for breakfast. Just a few hours later, Riady returned to the White House, then met again with Hubbell, then made two more treks to the White House. Two days later, a videotape shows the beginning of another meeting in the Oval Office between Clinton and Riady — but oddly, before they talk, the tape goes blank. Two days after that, Hubbell gets his $100,000 through a Riady bank.

    Lying to journalists is a venal sin, but lying to the Feds is perjury. In his deposition, the President’s denial transformed into amnesia. He couldn’t remember if Riady mentioned the payment. Then, the President slyly opened the door to the truth. “I wouldn’t be surprised if James told me,” Clinton said. Neither would I.

    What did Riady get? The Flotus herself, says Nolanda Hill, forced Brown to accept the appointment of Riady’s bag man, John Huang, as a Commerce Department deputy. According to records of calls the Guardian obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, Huang’s first order of business was to wheedle his way into confidential CIA briefings on Indonesia and China, then call Riady and his Entergy partners.

    The same day Riady met the President, documents show he called on a Clinton crony at the top of the department’s Export-Import Bank. “We just came over from the Oval Office,” is a nice way to provide assurance of the ‘political connection’ required for help. These and other Riady team meetings at Commerce are marked ’social’. Yet, shortly thereafter, the department agreed to promote and fund the Riady-Entergy China venture.

    Influence is not a victimless crime. Riady and his minions’ visits to the White House (94 times!) included successful requests for the President to meet Indonesian dictator Suharto and to kill negative reports on East Timor and working conditions in Indonesia. Timorese and Indonesians paid for these policy flips with blood.


  • Code Pink is Fabulous! (the singing is better at the end after HRC’s abrupt departure)

  • Me2-BFD

    The bottom line is that I can’t think of anyone who could have f***ed everything up as much as W. has; Democrat or Republican. Ms. Clinton IS playing to both sides, in order to increase her chances. But, she smart enough to be a decent President and knows that she can’t just throw lightning bolts, like W. has. I was disappointed with her husband’s move toward the middle, but I’d trade three (hell, thirteen) todays for one day when Bill Clinton was President; and I don’t see things being a lot different (from Bill Clinton’s Presidency) if Hillary Clinton is elected.

  • shawnfassett

    What a waste of a show…how about the candidates who haven’t owned up to their waste of support for the Presidency? I’m not a big supporter of Sen. Clinton, but this was just a show to bash her, wasn’t it? Pathetic and tired…AND Peter Beinart? With guests like this you reinforce the false meme that EVERYBODY believed this or that when that was NEVER the case. He should have to apologize to everybody he skewered with his writing in support of this President’s war and not be allowed to just say that he doesn’t have enough world experience or he gets a pass because he didn’t live through Vietnam. I didn’t live through Vietnam but figured it wasn’t something that needed reliving.

  • Potter

    plnelson-glad you have come around and hate to be on your case but didn’t you say you voted for Bush twice? I don’t recall that Clinton was “imperial” either, certainly not the way Bush is. Clinton did not strut around full of his power with cotton in his ears. Quite the contrary.

    It’s pretty scary the choices that are lining up on either side and what the voter will have to face. At the moment John Edwards looks best. Would democrats put Clinton up? I don’t think she has a chance. But I would vote for Hillary Clinton (reluctantly) to prevent any of the Republicans running at the moment, each a more frightening choice.

    I want a president who….

  • Martin Brock

    I’m not buying the Two Party State’s assumption that I’ll always choose one of their two candidates for fear of the other one. If the lesser evil is still unpalatable, neither is a perfectly reasonable, patriotic and civically responsible and choice. Unless Democrats nominate Hitler, I expect their candidate will defeat any of leading Republicans. Bushniks have utterly wrecked any prospect of a long-term, Republican governing coalition, akin to the Democratic coaltion that ruled for decades in the mid-twentieth century. The Reagan era created a real prospect of this sea change, but I now expect cows to fly first.

    Big Government Conservatism is a non-starter from the word go. People don’t want Big Government at all, but if they must have it, they prefer the traditionally Democratic variety. We can only hope that Democrats will at least steer the massive ship of state away from violent entanglement with the least stable regimes on Earth. It’s not like we actually need to worry about middle eastern oil. Unless the whole place goes up in smoke, they’ll sell it to us, and U.S. imperialism does more to fan the flames than anything else. If we must throw a trillion dollars at something, throw it at biofuels R&D.

  • plnelson

    plnelson-glad you have come around and hate to be on your case but didn’t you say you voted for Bush twice?


    I see that you’re still not one to let facts or data infuence your postings.

    I’ve never voted for any Bush. Check out my blog (http://www.peterography.com) if you want to see my views about GWB.

    For the record I almost never vote in Presidential elections because I live in Massachusetts where your vote has no influence on the outcome, although I once cast a symbolic vote for Nader and another time a symbolic vote for the LP candidate just to strike a political balance. Furthermore my Congressman routinely runs unopposed so I have no role to play there, either. The People’s Republic of Massachusetts is a one-party state anyway – except that we don’t even have the freedom to vote “nyet” in Congressional elections.

  • plnelson

    I’m not buying the Two Party State’s assumption that I’ll always choose one of their two candidates for fear of the other one.

    I agree.

    I’m not one for conspiracy theories but when you look at the whole process by which we select our national leaders and see the crop of idiots, yahoos, egomaniacs, morally and ethically-challenged or mentally unbalanced people who have sought office and received millions of dollars from donors for doing so it’s hard to imagine what natural, non-conspiratorial system could result in things being this bad.

    But the truth is that this is what the American people seem to prefer! As Cindy Sheehan said, (her son…) “Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives”

    Does she have a problem with that?

    This is the same US public where only 1 person in a THOUSAND can name all five rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, but a quarter of them can name all five Simpson’s characters! It’s the same US public that couldn’t find Baghdad on a map before the war but they were glued to their TV sets to watch us bomb the city during the invasion. This is the same US public that can’t even balance their own checkbooks and are up to their ears in credit-card debt and buy half-million-dollar houses with 5% down on an IT-worker’s salary, and we expect them to be concerned about balancing the federal budget?!

    Is Hillary Clinton really the most skilled and qualified person in this country of 300 million people to lead us for 4 or 8 years? Wrong question. This is America. “Skills” are something for Chinese and Indian engineers to worry about. If we need skills we can import them. “Qualifications” don’t matter when you’re politically well-connected by family or financial donors. The American public may not know art but they know what they like, and what they like is a slick reality TV show. Who get voted off the island or into the White House is all the same to them as long as it’s entertaining.

  • knitwit

    WHY, WHY, WHY does everyone feel free to call her Hillary when in the same breath they refer to Obama, Edwards, Bush, Cheney and so on. This is a small but insidious sexist holdover. I noticed that Chris L. pretty consistently used Hillary Clinton. She can be just Clinton, you know, her husband can be Bill maybe!

  • enhabit

    because calling her “clinton” is confusing.

  • bft

    For a while there, a few years back, the media seemed to be making a point of calling her “Hillary Rodham Clinton”. Why was that?

  • Martin Brock

    I’ve called her “Hillary Clinton”, “Clinton” and “Hillary”. I also call Bush “Dubya”, and so do lots of people. People called Bill Clinton “Slick Willy”. There’s nothing sexist about it. Most politicians don’t deserve respect, and Hillary is not particularly exceptional. She’s as much a weasel as Bill as far as I can tell.

  • rc21

    A pretty smart weasel at that.

  • plnelson

    This is a bit tangential, but FWIW I recently added a downloadable antiwar poster (in your choice of sizes!) based on the famous poster for “The Endless Summer”, called “The Endless War” to one of my websites. See: http://peterography.com/theposter.htm

  • stinkyralph

    Barbara Lee needs to learn how to shop for food. Taco Bell? Crackers?

    When we were suffering through grad school in New Mexico we ate a lot of canned beans, rice and tortillas, and eggs. And froze leftovers.

    Not enough fresh veggies for sure, but better than the garbage she ate.

    Education about food would be a good start.

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  • Good read, thanks. Always looking out for weird and wonderful stuff to read 🙂