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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