Monday, February 23, 2015

Flashback: That Famous 2002 Antiwar Speech

Note: This piece was originally posted by me at in April 2008 and is presented here with slight revisions. At the time, there was quite a bit of discussion comparing a couple of important events from 2002: Barack Obama's antiwar speech and Hillary Clinton's vote for the AUMF against Iraq.

We've heard quite a bit about a famous 2002 antiwar speech delivered by a certain Democratic candidate for president in 2008...and indeed the events of that day have reverberated since. However, this speech has largely been unseen or unread by both supporters and detractors alike, so let's take a closer look.

We remember those dark post-9/11 days. It was time when many conscientious Americans were being told that they should simply shut up and support George W Bush's run-up to another Iraq war, no matter the consequences. This compelling orator disagreed and said so near the beginning of the speech:
...on no account should dissent be discouraged or disparaged. It is central to our freedom and to our progress, for on more than one occasion, history has proven our great dissenters to be right.
The speech also did not shy away from the role that the U.S. played in supporting a terrible dictator, Saddam Hussein, when it suited our interests:
Unfortunately, during the 1980's, while he engaged in such horrific activity, he enjoyed the support of the American government, because he had oil and was seen as a counterweight to the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.
And also made clear that despite the disinformation campaign being pushed by the Bush/Cheney brigade:
...there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.
It should be pointed out, however, that the senator did not believe that Iraq was something we simply shouldn't worry about:
The question is how do we do our best to both defuse the real threat that Saddam Hussein poses to his people, to the region, including Israel, to the United States, to the world, and at the same time, work to maximize our international support and strengthen the United Nations?
But when it came to the idea of a unilateral attack on Iraq:
If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us.
...this course is fraught with danger.
...a unilateral attack...on the present facts is not a good option.
The New York senator also added:
I believe international support and legitimacy are crucial.
Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation.
Near the conclusion of her speech, Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of the awesome responsibility of being in such a position:
This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make -- any vote that may lead to war should be hard -- but I cast it with conviction.


My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of preemption, or for unilateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose -- all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world. 
So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him - use these powers wisely and as a last resort.
Senator Clinton had witnessed the incredible devastation of terrorism and wanted to do everything in her power to protect her constituents and the United States. And yet, she also knew that diplomacy was absolutely paramount and that war should only be considered after all other options had been depleted. That much is also explicit in the speech and cannot be denied.

That she voted the way she did, only to be lied to by the Bush administration (who had no intention of letting the inspectors do their job and planned to invade Iraq no matter what), was an acknowledged mistake. But the blame for this tragedy lays squarely at the feet of the worst president in American history...not the Senator who spoke out so eloquently that war should always be "a last resort".

To read the entirety of Hillary Clinton's October 2002 Senate floor speech regarding the authorization to use force in Iraq, click here.

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