"She's an unapologetic hawk!"
"She's just another Dick Cheney when it comes to foreign policy!"
These are the charges I've heard over and over again for years...and as a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter who was against the Iraq War from the beginning, it never ceases to bug the hell out of me. My normal reply, which often starts with an audible sigh followed by "Well, actually..." usually does nothing to change these opinions.
But as tiring as it may be, I will keep defending her on this issue because the record and her statements over the past 14 years clearly undermine the misconception that Hillary was "for the war". So brace yourselves, because here is again...the actual truth of the matter:
Hillary Clinton never voted to go to war in Iraq, nor did she support the Bush/Cheney decision to kick out the UN weapons inspectors and invade.
Since some may find that statement to be controversial, let's be crystal clear: Clinton could not have voted to go to war because the United States Congress hasn't officially declared war on any country since 1942. Her vote was on the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002", which many other "war as last resort" Democrats like John Kerry, Harry Reid and Tom Harkin also voted for.
Clinton herself has explained the reasoning several times, including during the very speech she gave when casting that vote. Here are a few excerpts from her October 2002 speech in Congress:
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.
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.
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.
Does this sound like someone who was standing behind the Oval Office desk with pom-poms cheering on President Bush (or let's be honest, President Cheney) as the decision was being made to kick out the UN weapons inspectors and invade Iraq? No, of course not.
Since that vote, she has further clarified the reasoning behind her decision. On Meet the Press in September 2007, she said:
"I cast a sincere vote based on my assessment at the time, and I take responsibility for that vote. I also said on the floor that day that this was not a vote for pre-emptive war. ... Now, obviously, if I had known then what I know now about what the president would do with the authority that was given him, I would not have voted the way that I did."As you can see, not only did she ace the answer which tripped up Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in their recent campaigns, but she did it nine years ago.
On a follow-up appearance on that show in January 2008, she went further by saying that the Bush White House actually lied to her:
Moderator Tim Russert pointed out that the title of the resolution was the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002."
Clinton responded saying, "We can have this Jesuitical argument about what exactly was meant. But when Chuck Hagel, who helped to draft the resolution said, 'It was not a vote for war,' What 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 if Hillary didn't want to go to war, why did she vote for a resolution with that title? The answer, despite being possibly counter-intuitive at first blush, is that she didn't want to go to war. That same month, during a debate with Barack Obama in California, Clinton explained:
I did an enormous amount of investigation and due diligence to try to determine what if any threat could flow from the history of Saddam Hussein being both an owner of and a seeker of weapons of mass destruction.
The idea of putting inspectors back in -- that was a credible idea. I believe in coercive diplomacy. I think that you try to figure out how to move bad actors in a direction that you prefer in order to avoid more dire consequences.
And if you took it on the face of it and if you took it on the basis of what we hoped would happen with the inspectors going in, that in and of itself was a policy that we've used before. We have used the threat of force to try to make somebody change their behavior.
I think what no one could have fully appreciated is how obsessed this president was with this particular mission. And unfortunately, I and others who warned at the time, who said, let the inspectors finish their work, you know, do not wage a preemptive war, use diplomacy, were just talking to a brick wall.
But you know, it's clear that if I had been president, we would have never diverted our attention from Afghanistan.
As recently as July 2014 during a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, Hillary again made the reasoning for her Iraq vote very clear:
ZAKARIA: You've said that you felt that your vote on Iraq was a mistake. What did you learn from that mistake? You know, when you look back at that whole episode.
ZAKARIA: What do you look at and say, gosh, you know, this -- going into the future, here's what I want to have learned.
CLINTON: Well, I've learned to be far more skeptical of what I'm told by presidents, no matter who the presidents are, and also to be much more cautious always in any action or vote that could lead to the use of American military power and most particularly what we call boots on the ground. With respect to that vote, I've thought a lot about it obviously over the years. I had worked closely with President Bush after the attack on 9/11. I supported his efforts to go after bin Laden and al Qaeda and, by extension, the Taliban, which were sheltering them in Afghanistan. And I, frankly, gave him too much of the benefit of the doubt. My view at the time -- and this is still true today -- is that the threat of force can often create conditions to resolve matters, and sometimes what we call coercive diplomacy is necessary. And I thought that that's what the president would do. It turned out not to be the case. And then following the invasion, the decisions that were made, everything from disbanding the military and disbanding, you know, the political structure turned out to be very ill-advised and we ended up with a dangerous situation."Indeed, "coercive diplomacy" is not at odds with the idea of "smart power" and can be very effective in reaching peaceful solutions with some potentially dangerous countries. However, it only works if you use the threat of military action to get what you want without actually resorting to force. This is precisely what Hillary wanted and thought she was getting in 2003 when it came to dealing with the Saddam Hussein regime.
Unfortunately...very unfortunately...at that time we had an absolutely disastrous administration that went back on their word to a United States Senator and kicked out the UN weapons inspectors before starting a preemptive war of choice. It remains an unforgivable decision that we are still paying for to this day, and it's clear that they would have done it whether Hillary voted for that resolution or not.
Hillary Clinton certainly made a mistake, but it wasn't voting to go to war. Her mistake was believing that George W. Bush didn't want to go to war.