Friday, December 02, 2005

Senator Clinton, answer the question

I can foresee the following situation, perhaps on Meet the Press or a gathering of prospective Democratic candidates:

Senator Clinton, you voted to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq; in October 2002 you said that "Saddam Hussein has wroked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program" and you also said that he gave "aid, comfort and sanctuary" to members of Al-Qaeda. Do you still stand by these assessments and your decision?

HRC's e-mail earlier this week says:


"I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the president and his administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war," the New York senator said in a lengthy letter to thousands of people who have written her about the war.

At the same time, she said the United States must "finish what it started" in Iraq.

But is this sufficient?

I want to thank the various commentators to the previous post dealing with the Podhoretz editorial, and first let me say I agree that in terms of POLICY, how we got into Iraq and the blame game associated with it does nothing to address the failures or how we get out successfully or the responsibility of the executive branch. But there is also a political dimension as well, and how leading Democrats deal with the above hypothetical question is also going to be important in determining the 2008 nominee. The Iraq issue will not have been "defused" by then and I think it will still be relevant.

HRC could take the Lieberman line, I thought the intelligence was valid, Saddam Hussein was a threat who needed to be dealt with, and I challenge the competence of the Bush Administration in carrying out what was essentially a correct policy.

She could say, I was misled, and I realize now that there are significant problems with U.S. intelligence capabilities as well as recognizing that we in the Congress failed to conduct proper oversight.

I wonder to what extent this may be the real reason--Democrats who opposed Gulf War I in 1990-91 talked about a long hard struggle, a quagmire, loss of life and largely voted against Bush I--and then it was a short quick victorious little war with little American loss of life, largely paid for by other states. How many calculated that a vote for giving Bush authority to go to war would burnish their national-security credentials and then after a second quick war Bush II would implode on domestic issues like his father paving the way for a Democrat to return to the White House in 2004?

I also think that it is significant that as Bush's ratings have fallen it has not been the mainstream Democrats who have benefited. Two Republican Senators--the maverick McCain and the moderate Hagel--have emerged as the key thinkers on the Iraq issue, and the two Democrats who have most benefited are, by Democratic standards, out of the mainstream--Senator Feingold [not the late Wellstone as initially posted] and Congressman Murtha. I haven't heard anyone saying, "If only Kerry had been elected" nor do I see a major bump for HRC, Kerry, Biden or Edwards.

If I were a DNC strategist, I'd be working very hard to get a pledge from any Democrat who served in the Senate from 2000 to 2004 to voluntarily NOT run for the presidential nomination in 2008, in favor of someone who did not have access to the intelligence reports or had a tortured voting record on the Iraq issue.

Comments:
It frustrates me greatly to read in this blog and others like Clemons' Washington Note comments from people on the left side of the spectrum who want to exonerate the Democratic party from responsibility for the current situation and blame everything on some PNAC-Rumsfeld-Cheney cabal.

A lot of Democrats played roles in setting up the whole notion of regime change in Iraq as well as building up the Iraqi threat. People say the AEI was the intellectual center for this but let's not forget the role of Brookings, too.

When leading Democrats opposed the administration they tended to do so on procedural policy grounds--they wanted to be more multilateral, say, not on ideolological ones. The alliance between centrist Democrats and neo-cons forged in the Kosovo war in 1999 stayed pretty intact until Iraq started to go sour.
 
As with my comment on the last post on this subject, I disagree with your assessment that the Democrats are boxed in on Iraq, and not surprisingly with conservativerealist's post above as well--but being someone who is leaning to Warner as the standard-bearer in 2008, I think that having an outside the Beltway Democrat who was a successful state executive is a better way to go than someone from the Senate.
 
Max Boot made some of the same points that Podhoretz made; his LA Times op-ed on November 30:

Just a few years ago, it seemed as if the Democrats had finally kicked the post-Vietnam, peace-at-any-price syndrome. Before the invasion of Iraq, leading Democrats sounded hawkish in demanding action to deal with what Kerry called the “particularly grievous threat” posed by Saddam Hussein. But it seems that they only wanted to do something if the cost would be minuscule. Now that the war has turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated, the Democrats want to run up the white flag.

They are offering two excuses for their loss of will. First, they claim they were “misled into war” by a duplicitous administration. But it wasn’t George W. Bush who said, “I have no doubt today that, left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons [of mass destruction] again.” It was Bill Clinton on Dec. 16, 1998. As this example indicates, the warnings issued by Bush were virtually identical to those of his Democratic predecessor.

The Democrats’ other excuse is that they never imagined that Bush would bollix up post-invasion planning as badly as he did. It’s true that the president blundered, but it’s not as if things usually go smoothly in the chaos of conflict. In any case, it’s doubtful that the war would have been a cakewalk even if we had been better prepared. The Baathists and their jihadist allies were planning a ruthless terrorist campaign even before U.S. troops entered Iraq. Their calculation was that if they killed enough American soldiers, the American public would demand a pullout.
 
I think you meant Sen. Feingold, not Wellstone, but you're right -- someone too far to the left in general to be elected President.

I also strongly agree with your point about the advantage accruing to Democrats not nominating someone who has to defend their September 2002 vote -- which is part of the reason I find Wesley Clark and Mark Warner of interest.

I know I'm an outlier at this point, but I'll repeat a prediction I've made several times over the last couple of months: Hillary Clinton will not be the 2008 nominee. Most non-political-junkie Democrats haven't really focused on her position on Iraq yet, and there's plenty of material to work with in terms of attacking her on it during the 2007 pre-primary season. I can think of several instances in 2005 where I've seen videotaped speeches or Senate hearings where she's not only defended her 2002 vote, but waxed eloquent about how what we're doing in Iraq is going to spread democracy across the region, etc. This late in the game, that sounds pretty ridiculous, and she's going to be called on it by her opponents.

As for the difference between the 1990-91 Gulf War I debate and the September 2002 vote, that should have been pretty clear -- all of the issues that Bush Sr. had avoided by deciding not to "go to Baghdad" would reappear. That this wasn't obvious to most Democrats is what I find most troubling about the whole thing. Believing the nuclear/WMD case is understandable, but I think a large part of the reason Democrats on the Hill didn't ask more questions and "kick the tires" a bit more was that the neoconservative narrative about democracy and "transforming the region" was something they really wanted to believe in -- as opposed to weighing the "likelihood of WMD threat" against a realistic appraisal of the costs to be incurred by taking full control of Iraq and having to put it back together.

When I go back and read the three pages or so in "A World Transformed" where Bush Sr. and Scowcroft defended their decision not to "finish the job" in 1991, writing circa 1998 when that decision wasn't popular, they look more and more prescient. The problems we were going to run into trying to put Iraq back together should have been obvious -- and they were to many of us.
 
What a slip--I'll correct to Feingold, not Wellstone!
 
i say again in response to Conservative Realist
"They are offering two excuses .... Bill Clinton on Dec. 16, 1998....the warnings issued by Bush were virtually identical to those of his Democratic predecessor."
the key difference which carries over to dems and is exploitable politically who supported the resolution is that WJC was smart (he contained) and GWB was dumb (he opened pandora's box)
also, GWB & Co.'s massive incompetence
that being said, i do not generally support HRC or any other senate dem for 2008; they have too much baggage, and not just on the war; mr. priddy is close to the mark on HRC; that she will stay one of my senators)
a purple state governor (a'la Warner; shade of WJC) would probably be best (my personal fav but not likely yet viable is Montana's Schweitzer [sic] - a state more purple than you may think)
 
Hilary believes that "the left" of the Democratic party and in particular the women of the party have no where else to go so that she is free to try and woo "centrist" voters to add to her base, so that she wants to burnish her war credentials.
 
There may be two ways to look at this. First of all many Democrats, including President Clinton, were clearly sold on the neocon agenda at some level. This included exaggerating the Saddam threat way beyond proportion with respect to other more serious threats that we have not adequately addressed. There is a bigger national debate that needs to occur, and those Democrats did not exactly show the level of leadership in this regard (and I think they still have not). I don't see how those Democrats can wiggle out of this conundrum.

On the other hand, the decision to throw all friendly advice out of the window and cross that line of actually invading a country with all the well discussed potential consequences can not be laid at the feet of Democrats. They were not in power, and now it seems at least many of them didn't have the details of the Niger forgery, the Joe Wilson doubts, and other data at their fingertips. I think the Clintons, Kerrys and Bidens can reasonably argue that they would not have, if they were in the decision making position, pulled the Iraq trigger.
 
It's time for those who style themselves as progressives to finally admit that the Democrats are progressives only in comparison to the Republicans. Trading neocon for neocon-lite is not an improvement. All the Deaniacs who hoped for some sort of conversion experience for the Democratic Party into an antiwar, antimilitarist, progressive party of action better face up to reality. And those who continue to sing Rodham Clinton's praises as some sort of progressive as she solidly defends her war record (after all, can't afford to alienate New York special interests) better prepare to be disappointed.
 
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