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March 29, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Iraq Lies


by Stephen Zunes

On March 17, New York Senator and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton gave a speech at George Washington University outlining her plans to de-escalate U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Though she called for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat brigades over the next several years, she continued to refuse to apologize for her 2002 vote authorizing the invasion, to acknowledge the illegality of the war, or to fully explain her false claims made at that time regarding Iraq's military capabilities and alleged ties to al-Qaeda. Nor was she able to offer an explanation as to what led to her dramatic shift from a supporter of the ongoing war and occupation as recently as a year and a half ago to her current more critical perspective.

Below are excerpts from her speech, followed by annotated comments:

"It has been five years this week since our president took us to war in Iraq."

President George W. Bush was not solely responsible for taking the United States to war. He had accomplices, such as Hillary Clinton. Bush was only able launch the invasion as a result of being provided with the authorization to do so by a Congressional resolution. Clinton was among a minority of congressional Democrats who – combined with a Republican majority – provided sufficient votes to give the go-ahead for this illegal and disastrous war.

"Bringing lasting stability to the region will take a president with the strength and determination, the knowledge and confidence...to rebuild our military readiness, to care for our veterans, and to redouble our efforts against al-Qaeda. If you give me the chance, I will be that president."

As predicted prior to the invasion, the over-extension of the U.S. armed forces, the enormous costs, and the high casualty rates resulting from the war has greatly harmed U.S. military readiness, the ability to care for veterans, and the struggle against al-Qaeda. It's hard to imagine how someone who supported the invasion can be trusted to be the kind of president who will be able to address those needs.

"Nearly 4,000 of [our troops] have, by now, made that ultimate sacrifice. Tens of thousands more have suffered wounds both visible and invisible to their bodies, their minds, and their hearts. Their families have sacrificed, too, in empty places at the dinner table, in the struggle to raise children alone, in the wrenching reversal of parents burying children... Our armed forces are stretched to near the breaking point with many of our troops on their second, third, or fourth tours of duty. ... Taking into consideration the long-term costs of replacing equipment and providing medical care for troops and survivors' benefits for their families, the war in Iraq could ultimately cost well over $1 trillion."

In scholarly journals, in newspaper columns, in congressional testimony, on this web site, and elsewhere, there were ample warnings of just such disastrous consequences resulting from a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Regardless, Clinton apparently believed at the time that seizing control of that oil-rich country was worth the sacrifice. Only since public opinion polls indicated that she had no hope of winning the Democratic presidential nomination if she continued to support the war, did she start talking about the war's negative consequences.

"I have met with our soldiers and military leaders [in Iraq]. I have met with Iraqi local, regional, and national elected and other influential officials."

During her one 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, requiring a helicopter 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 statements by Vice President Dick Cheney – that the rise in suicide bombings was evidence that the insurgency was failing.

"The American people don't have to guess whether I'm ready to lead or whether I understand the realities on the ground in Iraq or whether I'd be too dependent on advisers to help me determine the right way forward. I've been working day-in and day-out in the Senate to provide leadership to end this war."

In reality, until very recently, Clinton was one of the leading senators supporting the war. Even after the U.S. forces invaded and occupied Iraq and confirmed that – contrary to Clinton's initial justification for the U.S. conquest – Iraq did not have "weapons of mass destruction," active WMD programs, offensive delivery systems, or ties to al-Qaeda as she and other supporters of the war had claimed, she defended her vote to authorize the invasion anyway. When Representative John Murtha (D-PA) made his first call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in November 2005, she denounced his effort, calling a withdrawal of U.S. forces "a big mistake." In 2006, 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.

"Now, my Democratic opponent talks a great deal about a speech he gave in 2002. He is asking us to judge him by his words, and words can be powerful, but only if the speaker translates them into action and solutions. Senator Obama holds up his original opposition to the war on the campaign trail, but he didn't start working aggressively to end the war until he started running for president. So when he had a chance to act on his speech, he chose silence instead."

It's ironic that Clinton, in a desperate effort to cover up for her support for the war and her lies to justify it, would belittle Obama's accurate and prescient understanding that invading Iraq was wrong. Back in October 2002, Obama publicly acknowledged that "Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors" and that "even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences." He also recognized that "an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda." That same month in Washington, however, Clinton was insisting incorrectly that Iraq was such a dire threat to U.S. national security that it required her, "in the best interests of our nation," to vote to authorize the invasion.

Furthermore, Obama did a lot more than give a speech: he gave interviews, lobbied members of Congress, and made a series of other statements in which he warned of the violent sectarian and ethnic divisions which could emerge following a U.S. invasion and occupation, the risks of a long-term U.S. military commitment, and the dangerous precedent of giving a carte blanche for a pre-emptive war.

It was true that, much to the disappointment of many of his supporters, Obama did not initially take leadership in opposition to the war once he was elected to the U.S. Senate, though it is customary for freshman senators to take a back seat on foreign policy issues during the early part of their first term. Yet, by November of his first year in office, while Clinton was still backing Bush administration policy, Obama was calling for a reduction in U.S. forces. Within a year, Obama introduced legislation setting a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, well prior to Clinton supporting such legislation.

"As we bring our troops and contractors home, we cannot lose sight of our strategic interests in this region. The reality is that this war has made the terrorists stronger. Well, they may not have been in Iraq before the war, they are there now, and we cannot allow Iraq to become a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorists who seek to attack us and our friends and allies. So let me be clear - under my plan, withdrawing from Iraq will not mean retreating from fighting terrorism in Iraq. That's why I will order small, elite strike forces to engage in targeted operations against al-Qaeda in Iraq. This will protect Iraqi citizens, our allies, and our families right here at home."

Clinton did not always acknowledge the absence of terrorist operations in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation. Indeed, in order to justify her vote to authorize the invasion, she insisted that Saddam had "given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members." This came despite top strategic analysts correctly informing her that there were no apparent links between Saddam Hussein's secular nationalist regime and the radical Islamist al-Qaeda, despite doubts of such claims appearing in the National Intelligence Estimates made available to her, and despite a subsequent definitive report by the Department of Defense which noted that not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based upon the evidence available at that time. Now, as a direct consequence of the invasion and occupation she helped make possible, Clinton uses the very real presence of terrorist groups, including at least one major faction which identifies with al-Qaeda, as an excuse to continue prosecuting the war.


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  • Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus and is the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003). Posted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus.

     

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