Hillary On Iraq, Part II

This is the second in a series of articles concerning Iraq and Senator Hillary Clinton’s votes, actions and speeches on Iraq.

Why did Hillary vote On October 10, 2002 for S.J. Res. 45 “A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq”?

We think the answer is not that complicated:

    Hillary recalled world shaping events when Bill Clinton was President of the United States. She knew that presidents need some leeway to carry out foreign policy. Particularly acute was the memory of President Clinton’s efforts to stop the expanding conflict in the Balkans and how Congressional Republicans hounded him and attempted to derail his efforts. President Bill Clinton’s efforts, while fighting off Republican opposition here in the United States, ended with a peace accord that has up to today resolved the then very dangerous regional conflict. The Balkans had in previous generations engulfed Europe in conflicts that eventually flared into World War I.
    It also must be remembered that the Iraq resolution was written by anti-war Senator Levin, Senator Lugar and Senator Hagel. Hagel is the most credible Republican opponent of the Iraq war. These three senators wrote the resolution to give the president authority to go to war only if the inspections as well as diplomatic efforts failed.
    While in retrospect we now without doubt understand the criminal nature of the Bush Presidency, in October 2002, Hillary reasonably gave the benefit of the doubt to a government arguing that the danger from Iraq was clear and present. Recall, that admired Americans such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and C.I.A. Director George Tenet all made noises that yes, the danger was clear and present. And though we now find it hard to believe, even staunch anti-war Democrats such as Al Gore believed that Saddam Hussein was in possession of chemical and biological weapons. Al Gore said on September 23, 2002, some 18 days before the vote “… we know that he has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country.”
    Finally, after voting to restrain and hold Bush accountable, but failing to get sufficient votes, Senator Hillary Clinton, as a responsible and serious adult had to make a decision. The choice was to give the president the benefit of the doubt when he and his entire government claimed that a great danger existed, or take a gamble with other peoples lives and vote against the resolution. A United States Senator does not have the luxury to only vote yes on perfect legislation. The Iraq Resolution was not perfect and Senator Hillary Clinton had to make a final decision.

But could Hillary have made more of a fight? Could Hillary have exercised more leadership and rallied Democrats in opposition to the war?


First of all, Hillary had been in the Senate, a stodgy institution at its most modern, for less than 2 years. Without commenting on Senator Obama claims, 2 years in the senate is hardly sufficient experience to take on a leadership role of this magnitude.

But most importantly, recall that the Iraq resolution vote occurred less than 1 month before the 2002 national elections. Democrats were in danger of being extinguished leaving the government in total absolute control of George Bush. Even with the vote to approve giving George Bush the authority to confront Iraq the Democrats lost the Senate on November 5, 2002. Democrats also lost an additional 6 seats in the House of Representatives. Only in 1902, 1934 and 1998 had a party in control of the White House gained congressional seats.

A rejection of the Iraq resolution would not have prevented a savage Bush attack on Iraq and in all likelihood the Democrats would have been wiped out from government. According to CNN “The two top Democrats in Congress said Wednesday that President Bush’s popularity and the post-September 11 environment were largely responsible for the Republicans’ sweeping Election Day victories.” “It is significant when you have a president at a 65 percent rating. That is unusual,” said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri. “I think some of it is related to 9/11 and the people’s reactions — the people’s desire to be united with the president in fighting against these issues, in trying to solve these issues.”

How popular was Bush in October 2002, one year after 9/11?

The Pew Research poll published on October 10, 2002, the day of the Iraq resolution vote in the Senate, which sampled public opinion before Bush’s televised speech to the nation on October 7 gives us a glimpse of the national mood. Presumably a poll sampling public opinion after October 7 would have registered even higher numbers for Bush and his pro war policies. “When asked the question Congress is currently debating – whether the main goal of military action should be ridding Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction or ousting him – Americans come down strongly on the side of removal.”

According to the Pew poll, the mistaken idea that there was an Iraq 9/11 link “strongly resonate with a majoirity of Americans”. Americans by 66% said they believed in the Iraq 9/11 link. 65% of Americans believed that Iraq was close to having nuclear weapons, 14% of Americans believed Iraq already had nuclear weapons. When asked if Saddam “can be disarmed but left in power, or do you think he has to be removed from power,” 85% favor getting rid of the Iraqi leader.

The American public was overwhelmingly in support of the of the Iraq War. Polls measured 75% of the public supported the decision to go to war. 1/3 of Americans believed in declaring war even without UN support. Nearly 70 % believed there were Iraqis in the World Trade Center attack. Bush, we forget at our peril, was the most popular president ever. French Fries were renamed Freedom Fries. Americans wanted revenge. Even some of today’s most antiwar bloggers, who constantly attack Hillary, were table pounding proponents of the war.

Hillary spoke directly about her thoughts on the Iraq war in the speech she gave to the Senate announcing her vote. The speech belies the canard of Hillary as a “staunch” war supporter. Although you should read the entire speech, here are some Hillary speech excerpts:

“Today we are asked whether to give the President of the United States authority to use force in Iraq should diplomatic efforts fail to dismantle Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons and his nuclear program.

Therefore, on no account should dissent be discouraged or disparaged. It is central to our freedom and to our progress, for on more than one occasion, history has proven our great dissenters to be right.

Unfortunately, during the 1980’s, while he engaged in such horrific activity, he enjoyed the support of the American government, because he had oil and was seen as a counterweight to the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.

And though he repeatedly lied, delayed, and obstructed the inspections work, the inspectors found and destroyed far more weapons of mass destruction capability than were destroyed in the Gulf War, including thousands of chemical weapons, large volumes of chemical and biological stocks, a number of missiles and warheads, a major lab equipped to produce anthrax and other bio-weapons, as well as substantial nuclear facilities.

In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program.

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.

Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now, with any allies we can muster, in the belief that one more round of weapons inspections would not produce the required disarmament, and that deposing Saddam would be a positive good for the Iraqi people and would create the possibility of a secular democratic state in the Middle East, one which could perhaps move the entire region toward democratic reform.

However, this course is fraught with danger. We and our NATO allies did not depose Mr. Milosevic, who was responsible for more than a quarter of a million people being killed in the 1990s. Instead, by stopping his aggression in Bosnia and Kosovo, and keeping on the tough sanctions, we created the conditions in which his own people threw him out and led to his being in the dock being tried for war crimes as we speak.

If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia to attack Chechen rebels. India has mentioned the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Pakistan. And what if China were to perceive a threat from Taiwan?

So Mr. President, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, on the present facts is not a good option.

The United Nations is an organization that is still growing and maturing. It often lacks the cohesion to enforce its own mandates. And when Security Council members use the veto, on occasion, for reasons of narrow-minded interests, it cannot act. In Kosovo, the Russians did not approve NATO military action because of political, ethnic, and religious ties to the Serbs. The United States therefore could not obtain a Security Council resolution in favor of the action necessary to stop the dislocation and ethnic cleansing of more than a million Kosovar Albanians. However, most of the world was with us because there was a genuine emergency with thousands dead and a million driven from their homes. As soon as the American-led conflict was over, Russia joined the peacekeeping effort that is still underway.

So, Mr. President, the question is how do we do our best to both defuse the real threat that Saddam Hussein poses to his people, to the region, including Israel, to the United States, to the world, and at the same time, work to maximize our international support and strengthen the United Nations?

While there is no perfect approach to this thorny dilemma, and while people of good faith and high intelligence can reach diametrically opposed conclusions, I believe the best course is to go to the UN for a strong resolution that scraps the 1998 restrictions on inspections and calls for complete, unlimited inspections with cooperation expected and demanded from Iraq. I know that the Administration wants more, including an explicit authorization to use force, but we may not be able to secure that now, perhaps even later. But if we get a clear requirement for unfettered inspections, I believe the authority to use force to enforce that mandate is inherent in the original 1991 UN resolution, as President Clinton recognized when he launched Operation Desert Fox in 1998.

I believe international support and legitimacy are crucial. After shots are fired and bombs are dropped, not all consequences are predictable.

Once the battle is joined, however, with the outcome certain, he will have maximum incentive to use weapons of mass destruction and to give what he can’t use to terrorists who can torment us with them long after he is gone. We cannot be paralyzed by this possibility, but we would be foolish to ignore it. And according to recent reports, the CIA agrees with this analysis. A world united in sharing the risk at least would make this occurrence less likely and more bearable and would be far more likely to share with us the considerable burden of rebuilding a secure and peaceful post-Saddam Iraq.

Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.

Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation.

This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make — any vote that may lead to war should be hard — but I cast it with conviction.

And perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation. I want this President, or any future President, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war.

My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for uni-lateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose — all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world.

I urge the President to spare no effort to secure a clear, unambiguous demand by the United Nations for unlimited inspections.

So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; 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.”


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