Public opinion polls have consistently shown that
the majority of Americans and even a larger majority of Democrats
believe that Iraq is the most important issue of the day, that it was wrong
for the United States to have invaded that country, and the United States should
completely withdraw its forces in short order. Despite this, the clear front-runner
for the Democratic Party nomination for president is Senator Hillary Clinton,
a strident backer of the invasion who only recently and opportunistically began
to criticize the war and call for a partial withdrawal of American forces.
As a result, it is important to review Senator Clinton's past and current positions
regarding the Iraq War. Indeed, despite her efforts in response to public opinion
polls to come across as an opponent of the war, Hillary Clinton has proven to
be one of the most hard-line Democratic senators in support of a military response
to the challenges posed by Iraq. She has also been less than honest in justifying
her militaristic policies, raising concerns that she might support military
Senator Clinton's militaristic stance on Iraq
predated her support for Bush's 2003 invasion. For example, in defending the
brutal four-day U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq in December 1998 known
as Operation Desert Fox she
claimed that "[T]he so-called presidential palaces ... in reality
were huge compounds well suited to hold weapons labs, stocks, and records which
Saddam Hussein was required by UN resolution to turn over. When Saddam blocked
the inspection process, the inspectors left." In reality, as became apparent
when UN inspectors returned in 2002 as well as in the aftermath of the invasion
and occupation, there were no weapons labs, stocks of weapons or missing records
in these presidential palaces. In addition, Saddam was still allowing for virtually
all inspections to go forward at the time of the 1998 U.S. attacks. The inspectors
were withdrawn for their own safety at the encouragement of President Clinton
in anticipation of the imminent U.S.-led assault.
Senator Clinton also took credit for strengthening U.S. ties with Ahmad Chalabi,
the convicted embezzler who played a major role in convincing key segments of
the administration, Congress, the CIA, and the American public that Iraq still
had proscribed weapons, weapons systems, and weapons labs. She has
expressed pride that her husband's administration changed underlying U.S.
policy toward Iraq from "containment" which had been quite
successful in defending Iraq's neighbors and protecting its Kurdish minority
to "regime change," which has resulted in tragic warfare, chaos,
dislocation, and instability.
Prior to the 2003 invasion, Clinton insisted that Iraq still had a nuclear
program, despite a detailed 1998 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA), subsequent studies that indicated that Iraq's nuclear program appeared
to have been completely dismantled a full decade earlier, and a 2002 U.S. National
Intelligence Estimate that made no mention of any reconstituted nuclear development
effort. Similarly, even though Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs
had been dismantled years earlier, she also insisted that Iraq had rebuilt its
biological and chemical weapons stockpiles. And, even though the limited shelf
life of such chemical and biological agents and the strict embargo against imports
of any additional banned materials that had been in place since 1990 made it
physically impossible for Iraq to have reconstituted such weapons, she
insisted that "It is clear...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."
In the fall of 2002, Senator Clinton sought to discredit those questioning
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and others
who were making hyperbolic statements about Iraq's supposed military prowess
by insisting that Iraq's possession of such weapons "are not in doubt"
and was "undisputed." Similarly, Clinton insisted that Secretary of
State Colin Powell's February 2005 speech at the UN was "compelling"
although UN officials and arms control experts roundly denounced its false claims
that Iraq had reconstituted these proscribed weapons, weapons programs, and
delivery systems. In addition, although top strategic analysts correctly informed
her that there were no links between Saddam Hussein's secular nationalist regime
and the radical Islamist al-Qaeda, Senator Clinton
insisted that Saddam "has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to
terrorists, including al-Qaeda members."
The Lead-Up to War
Though the 2003 National Intelligence Estimate
(NIE) on Iraq was inaccurate in a number of respects, it did challenge the notion
of any operational ties between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda and questioned
some of the more categorical claims by President Bush about Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction (WMD). However, Senator Clinton
didn't even bother to read it. She now claims that it wasn't necessary for
her to have actually read the 92-page document herself because she was briefed
on the contents of the report. However, since no one on her staff was authorized
to read the report, it's unclear who could have actually briefed her.
During the floor debate over the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq,
Clinton was the only Democratic senator to have categorically accepted the Bush
administration's claims regarding Iraq's alleged chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons programs, Iraq's alleged long-range missile capabilities,
and alleged ties to al-Qaeda. (Some Democratic senators accepted some of those
claims, but not all of them.)
In the months leading up the war, Senator Clinton chose to ignore the pleas
of the hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating in her state and across
the country against the war and similarly brushed off calls by religious leaders,
scholars, community activists, and others to oppose it. Perhaps most significant
was her refusal to consider the antiwar appeals by leaders of the Catholic Church
and virtually every mainline Protestant denomination, which noted that it did
not meet the traditional criteria in the Christian tradition for a just war.
Instead, Senator Clinton embraced the arguments of the right-wing fundamentalist
leadership who supported the war. This categorical rejection of the perspective
of the mainstream Christian community raises concerns about her theological
perspectives on issues of war and peace.
In March 2003, well after UN weapons inspectors had been allowed to return
and engage in unfettered inspections and were not finding any WMDs, Senator
Clinton made clear that the United States should invade Iraq anyway. Indeed,
she asserted that the only way to avoid war would be for Saddam Hussein to abide
by President Bush's ultimatum to resign as president and leave the country,
in the apparent belief that the United States had the right to unilaterally
make such demands of foreign leaders and to invade and occupy their countries
if they refused.
Said Senator Clinton, "The president gave Saddam Hussein one last chance
to avoid war and the world hopes that Saddam Hussein will finally hear this
ultimatum, understand the severity of those words, and act accordingly."
When President Bush launched the invasion soon thereafter and spontaneous protests
broke out across the country, Senator Clinton voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored
resolution that "commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the
President . . . in the conflict against Iraq."
Aftermath of Invasion
Even after the U.S. forces invaded and occupied
Iraq and confirmed that contrary to Senator Clinton's initial justification
for the war Iraq did not have WMDs, WMD programs, offensive delivery
systems, or ties to al-Qaeda, she defended her vote to authorize the invasion
anyway. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that December,
declared, "I was one who supported giving President Bush the authority,
if necessary, to use force against Saddam Hussein. I believe that that was the
right vote" and was one that "I stand by."
In the face of growing doubts about American forces involved in a deepening
counter-insurgency war, she urged "patience" and expressed her concern
about the lack of will "to stay the course" among some Americans.
"Failure is not an option" in Iraq, she insisted. "We have
no option but to stay involved and committed." Indeed, long before President
Bush announced his "surge," Senator Clinton called for the United
States to send more troops.
During a trip to Iraq in February 2005, she insisted that the U.S. occupation
was "functioning quite well," although the security situation had
deteriorated so badly that the four-lane divided highway on flat open terrain
connecting the airport with the capital could not be secured at the time of
her arrival and a helicopter had to transport her to the Green Zone. Though
55 Iraqis and one American soldier were killed during her brief visit, she
insisted in a manner remarkably similar to Vice President Cheney
that the rise in suicide bombings was evidence that the insurgency was
On NBC's "Meet the Press" that same month, she argued that it "would
be a mistake" to immediately withdraw U.S. troops or even simply set a
timetable for withdrawal,
claiming that "We don't want to send a signal to insurgents, to the
terrorists, that we are going to be out of here at some, you know, date certain."
Less than two years ago, she declared, "I reject a rigid timetable that
the terrorists can exploit." And, just last year, on an appearance on ABC's
described how "I've taken a lot of heat from my friends who have said,
'Please, just, you know, throw in the towel and say let's get out by a date
certain.' I don't think that's responsible." When Representative John Murtha
made his first call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in November
denounced his effort, calling a withdrawal of U.S. forces "a big mistake."
As recently as last year, when Senator John Kerry sponsored an amendment that
would have required the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in order to advance
a political solution to the growing sectarian strife, she voted against it.
Senator Clinton has never apologized for her vote
to authorize the invasion. She insists that her eagerness for the United States
to invade Iraq had nothing to do with its vast petroleum reserves. Like President
Bush, she claims that she did not lie about her false accusations about Iraq's
weapons programs. She says she was misled by faulty intelligence, though she
has refused to make public this intelligence that she claims demonstrated that
Iraq had somehow reconstituted its WMD.
Senator Clinton has also claimed that Bush at the time of the resolution
authorizing the invasion had misled her regarding his intention to pursue
diplomacy instead of rushing into war. But there was nothing in the war resolution
that required him to pursue any negotiations. She has
tried to emphasize that she voted in favor of an unsuccessful amendment
by Senator Byrd "which would have limited the original authorization to
one year." However,
this resolution actually meant very little, since it gave President Bush
the authority to extend the war authorization "for a period or periods
of 12 months each" if he determined that it was "necessary for ongoing
or impending military operations against Iraq."
Despite the fact that Iraq had several weeks prior to the October 2002 vote
already agreed unconditionally to allow UN inspectors to return, she categorically
insisted that her vote "was a necessary step in order to maximize the
outcome that did occur in the Security Council with the unanimous vote to send
She has also subsequently claimed that her vote "was clearly intended
to demonstrate support for going to the United Nations to put inspectors into
Iraq" and was "not a vote for preemptive war." The record shows,
however, that Senator Clinton voted against an amendment by Senator Carl Levin
that would have allowed for U.S. military action to disarm Iraq of any weapons
of mass destruction and weapons systems pursuant to any future UN Security Council
resolution authorizing such military actions, which would presumably have taken
place had Iraq not allowed the inspectors back in as promised. In other words,
she not only was willing to ignore U.S. obligations under the UN Charter that
forbids such unilateral military actions by its member states, she tacitly acknowledged
that she was unconcerned about supporting UN efforts to bring inspectors back
into the country. Indeed, in her floor speech, she warned that this vote "says
clearly to Saddam Hussein this is your last chance disarm or be
disarmed" and the resolution that she did support clearly authorizes President
Bush to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing, regardless
of whether inspectors were allowed to return to Iraq and regardless of whether
the Bush administration received UN support.
Senator Clinton has never criticized the Bush administration for its flagrant
violation of the UN Charter or its responsibility for the deaths of the tens
of thousands of Iraqi civilians. She has limited her criticism to the way the
administration handled the invasion, implying that, as president, she would
do invasions better. Indeed, she
insisted that while not regretting her vote to authorize the invasion,
she did regret "the way the president used the authority."
Senator Clinton has criticized the administration for not acting to gain more
international support for the invasion, ignoring the fact that they actually
had tried very hard to do so but failed. The Bush administration was unable
to get authorization for the use of force from the UN or, with the exception
of Great Britain, to get any substantial troop support from other countries
not because they didn't try, but because the vast majority of the international
community recognized that an invasion of Iraq was illegal and unnecessary.
A careful look at her current policy toward Iraq
reveals that Senator Clinton is not as antiwar as her supporters depict her.
She would withdraw some troops, just as President Bush has been promising to
do eventually, but insists that the United States should maintain its "military
as well as political mission" in Iraq for the indefinite future for such
purposes as countering Iranian influence, protecting the Kurdish minority, preventing
a failed state, and supporting the Iraqi military. On ABC's "This
Week" in September, she
insisted that "withdrawing is dangerous. It has to be done responsibly,
prudently, carefully, but we have said that there will be a likely continuing
mission against al-Qaeda in Iraq. We have to protect our civilian employees,
our embassy that will be there."
If Senator Clinton were really concerned about the threat that al-Qaeda currently
poses in Iraq, however, she would never have voted to authorize the invasion,
which led to the predictable rise of al-Qaeda and other militant groups in that
country. Similarly, there would not be the huge embassy complex nor would there
be tens of thousands of civilian employees she insists that U.S. troops are
necessary to defend if the United States had not invaded Iraq in the first place.
In addition, only because the United States overthrew the stridently secular
anti-Iranian regime of Saddam Hussein has Iran gained such influence. And since
the risks of a collapse of Iraq's internal security was one of the main arguments
presented to her prior to her vote, Clinton should not have voted to authorize
the invasion if a failed state was really a concern of hers.
Since most estimates of the numbers of troops needed to carry out these tasks
range between 40,000 and 75,000, the best that can be hoped for under a Hillary
Clinton presidency is that she would withdraw only about one-half to two-thirds
of American combat forces within a year or so of her assuming office. Indeed,
she has explicitly refused to promise, if elected president, to withdraw troops
by the end of her term in 2013. As Senator Clinton describes, it, "What
we can do is to almost take a line sort of north of, between Baghdad and Kirkuk,
and basically put our troops into that region the ones that are going
to remain for our anti-terrorism mission; for our northern support mission;
for our ability to respond to the Iranians; and to continue to provide support,
if called for, for the Iraqis." This hardly constitutes a withdrawal.
Senator Clinton tries to downplay the risk of keeping U.S. forces bogged down
indefinitely by emphasizing that she would put greater emphasis on training
the Iraqi armed forces. But much of the Iraqi armed forces are more loyal to
their respective sectarian militias than they are to protecting Iraq as a whole.
Nor has she expressed much concern that the Iraqi armed forces and police have
engaged in gross and systematic human rights abuses. As with her backing
of unconditional military assistance and security training to scores of other
allied governments that engage in a pattern of gross and systematic human rights
violations, she appears unconcerned not only with the immorality of such a policy
but the long-term strategic risks from the blowback that would result from the
United States becoming identified with repressive regimes.
Little Difference from Bush
As her record indicates, Senator Clinton's
position on Iraq differs very little from that of President Bush. For her to
receive the nomination for president would in effect be an endorsement by the
Democratic Party of the Iraq war.
In 2004, the Democrats selected a nominee who also voted to authorize the invasion
of Iraq, falsely claimed that Iraq still had WMDs, and at that time
insisted on maintaining U.S. troops in that country. As a result, Senator John
Kerry failed to mobilize the party's antiwar base and went down to defeat. What
timid concerns Kerry did raise about President Bush's handling of the Iraq war
during the campaign were used by the Bush campaign to focus attention away from
the war itself and highlight the Democratic nominee's changing positions. Had
the Democrats instead nominated someone who had opposed the war from the beginning,
the debate that fall would have been not about Senator Kerry's supposed "flip-flopping"
but the tragic decision to illegally invade a country on the far side of the
world that was no threat to us and the squandering of American lives and tax
dollars that have resulted.
If the Democrats select another war supporter as their nominee in 2008, the
result may well be the same as 2004. Large numbers of people will refuse to
vote for the Democratic nominee as part of a principled stance against voting
for someone who authorized and subsequently supported the Iraq war. And Republicans
will highlight the Democratic nominee's shifting positions on Iraq as
evidence that their opponent is simply an opportunistic politician rather than
the kind of decisive leader the country needs.