In a pre-primary mailer the Village Reform Democratic Club asks voters if they “want to continue a war that looks more like Vietnam every day.” But among the candidates the VRDC supports is Hillary Clinton, who voted for that very war in 2002. How do you square those sentiments? That’s easy: The VRDC simply concludes that Clinton “has changed her position on the Iraqi conflict because we have learned the truth about there being no weapons of mass destruction.”
Clinton “has done real yeoman’s work for her adopted state,” VRDC says. “Yet we are being asked by many people to punish her for initially voting to support the war … It’s childish and foolish to blame Hillary Clinton for the war.”
But has Hillary really changed her position on the conflict? In April 2004, when it was obvious a year into the war that no WMDs would be found, Clinton told CNN: “I don’t regret giving the president authority because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade.”
Then last November, Clinton sent a lengthy, nuanced letter to supporters detailing her position on the war:
I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end. Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately. … In October 2002, I voted for the resolution to authorize the Administration to use force in Iraq. I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by the Administration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issue of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do. … Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban.
“From the start of the war, I have been clear that I believed that the Administration did not have an adequate plan for what lay ahead,” the letter continued. “I take responsibility for my vote.”
Clinton’s actions in Washington this summer hinted at a still-evolving position. She (and most other Democrats) opposed the Kerry Amendment calling for the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Iraq by next summer, but voted for the Levin-Reed amendment urging a pull-out but setting no firm deadline. More recently, she She also voted to support a measure demanding that the administration discuss civil war in its briefings to Congress on Iraq, has called twice for Donald Rumsfeld to resign, and signed on to a Democratic letter to the president backing “a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq that should begin before the end of 2006.”
Still, whether Clinton has actually “changed her position on the Iraqi conflict,” as VRDC contends, is open to debate. Saying “I would not have voted the way I did then if I knew then what I know now,” isn’t the same as saying “I was wrong.” After all, there were folks, including several Democratic senators, who thought the war was wrong even before it was clear that the WMD premise was hollow.
Unfortunately, Clinton did not participate in a debate during the primary campaign, during which she might have clarified her views on an issue that most voters say is a top concern of theirs.
But apparently, her views are clear enough for the VRDC (An answering machine was all I got at the offices this morning). “Let’s remember, if we want someone to blame, we should blame the Republican/Bush administration,” the flyer reads. “Another truth these would be punishers forget is that Senator Clinton might be the best chance the Democrats have to regain the White House.”
“The VRDC has weighed the scales,” the flyer concludes in a hard-to-imagine metaphor, “and concluded that all of Hillary Clinton’s good work and her present position on Iraq vastly outweigh a single misstep.”