Hillary's Triangulation

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 4:02 PM EST

Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain. Hillary Clinton has done it again, pulling a fast one even on those who are critical of her performance yesterday on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert.

As part of what amounted to a free hour-long campaign commercial, the queen of triangulation took her usual something-for-everyone approach to Obama's record on the decision to launch the Iraq war, attacking him from both sides: On the one hand, his clear, firm, and thoroughly prescient opposition to the war expressed in a speech he gave in October 2002 is brushed off as "just a speech." On the other hand, this same opposition is used to depict him as being soft on Saddam, willing to do nothing to stop a dangerous maniac.

My colleague David Corn's earlier post, with its crystal clear parsing of Obama's true record and Clinton's various attacks on it, ought to be the last word on this subject—if only the millions of viewers of "Meet the Press" could be counted on to read it.

The quintessential piece of Clintonian obfuscation, however, lies in the fact that now everyone is talking about just what she wants them to talk about: Barack Obama's record on the war. This, as opposed to Hillary Clinton's own record, as she described it yesterday—not for the first time, but in unusually direct terms. It's a description that ought to be producing astonishment and outrage, but in fact seems to be receiving relatively little coverage.

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Russert pointed out to that during the same week in 2002 when Obama made his anti-war speech, Clinton herself took the Senate floor to express "with conviction" her support for the Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq resolution, which subsequently passed by a wide margin. Russert asked Clinton which of them "had the better judgment at that time."

Between attempts to steer the focus back to her rival, Clinton repeated her remarkable assertion that her vote was "not a vote for war." The resolution authorizing military force was in fact, she said, meant to avoid the use of military force. It was meant as a "threat" to force the hand of Saddam, "who never did anything without being made to do so"—and thereby prevent any need for military action:

"If...you see the vote as I saw it as opposed as how it's been characterized, I thought it was a vote to put inspectors back in, to make it very clear that Saddam Hussein wouldn't be able to go off unchecked. If those inspectors had been permitted to do the job that they were set up to do, we would have avoided war."

When Russert questioned her interpretation, Clinton said there was no use in having a "Jesuitical argument about what exactly was meant." One would think that the text of the resolution was somehow ambiguous, instead of as clear as day. After a series of "Whereases," it reads simply:

"The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to—
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."

So why did Clinton believe that this was a tool to be used in a game of brinkmanship, and not an actual license for war? Because George W. Bush told her it was so: "I was told directly by the White House in response to my question, 'if you are given this authority, will you put the inspectors in and permit them to finish their job,' I was told that's exactly what we intended to do."

So with millions of lives at stake, Clinton took at face value the word of the President—of this President—and gave him a free hand to do whatever he wanted? Apparently so. She even voted against an amendment, introduced by Carl Levin, that said force could be used only if Iraq failed to comply with the U.N. resolution, electing instead to give the president sole power over the decision.

Brushing off Russert's questions about the National Intelligence Estimate and other documents questioning Saddam's possession of WMD—all of which she had access to, as a member of the Senate Arms Services Committee—Clinton insisted:

"It became clear in retrospect, Tim, once people started writing books and information came out of the administration, the president had no intention of letting the inspectors do their job. That's not what I was told by the Bush White House. That's not what we were told in constant briefings from high-level Bush administration officials. That's not what the president told the country in his speech in Cincinnati shortly before the vote. If you remember, he said this vote was the best chance to avoid some kind of confrontation."

It's tough to figure out whether Clinton looks worse if she is lying, or if she is telling the truth.
If you believe her, and take this Orwellian argument seriously, what it means is that Hillary Clinton was giving George W. Bush permission to play a game of chicken with the nation's foreign policy, and with the lives of the men and women in the U.S. armed forces—not to mention of millions of Iraqi civilians.

But in fact, it's impossible to believe that Clinton was ignorant of the White House's true intentions when it came to Iraq. Her suggestion that she didn't realize what they were up until "people started writing books" about it would be frightening if it weren't so preposterous. The Bush Administration obviously planned to go to war no matter what the weapons inspectors did or did not find, and no matter what Saddam did or did not do—and Hillary Clinton certainly knew it.

Consider a few of the more salient items floating around the capital city in the first six months of October, 2002, well before the October 10 vote to authorize force against the Iraqi leader:

*According to CNN on February 12, 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Budget Committee,"With respect to Iraq, it's long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States' government that regime change would be in the best interest of the region, the best interest of the Iraqi people. And we're looking at a variety of options that would bring that about."

*That same day a Bush administration official told Knight Ridder, "This is not an argument about whether to get rid of Saddam Hussein. That debate is over. This is… how you do it."

*Bush himself in a British ITV interview April 4 said, "I made up my mind that Saddam [Hussein] needs to go. That's about all I'm willing to share with you.''

*Reuters, the Guardian, the Times of London, and the Daily Telegraph all mention a BBC interview of August 15, 2002 on Radio 4's Today program with Condi Rice in which she said of Saddam: "This is an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us. There is a very powerful moral case for regime change. We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing. . .Clearly, if Saddam Hussein is left in power doing the things that he is doing now, this is a threat that will emerge, and emerge in a very big way. . .The case for regime change is very strong. This is a regime that we know has twice tried and come closer than we thought at the time to acquiring nuclear weapons. He has used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors, he has invaded his neighbors, he has killed thousands of his own people. He shoots at our planes, our airplanes, in the no-fly zones where we are trying to enforce UN security resolutions. . .History is littered with cases of inaction that led to very grave consequences for the world. We just have to look back and ask how many dictators who ended up being a tremendous global threat and killing thousands and, indeed, millions of people, should we have stopped."