Monday, January 28, 2008

Why I Excuse Hillary From Her 2002 Vote On Iraq

Update: Part 2

First, let me state that in terms of foreign policy, I was a Biden supporter. Given that he is now out of the primary, I want to explain why I don't hold Hillary's 2002 vote against her. I draw from John Dean's exposition on what went down with the Autorization bill in 2002. First, here are two summaries of his observation in Worse Than Watergate:

(from )

Iraq War: What did Congress really authorize?

In responding to some comments in a previous post about Kerry and the 2002 war resolution, I recalled that John Dean in his Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (2004) makes an argument that we don't hear much, even from antiwar bloggers. (I'm not at all surprised we don't hear it from the mainstream press.)

Leaving aside the more-or-less interesting politics of why it's not likely to be part of the election debate this year, Dean argues that Bush actually violated the war resolution in the way he went to war in Iraq.

The war resolution (Public Law 107-243, 10/16/02, Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002) included some specific conditions. It didn't just give Bush an open-ended choice to go to war at his own discretion. As Dean summarizes it:

To avoid having to return to Congress for more debate on Iraq, Bush had pushed for and received authority to launch a war without further advance notice to Congress. Never before had Congress so trusted a president with this authority. But in granting this unprecedented authorization, Congress insisted that certain conditions be established as existing and that the president submit a formal determination, assuring the Congress that, in fact, these conditions were present. Specifically (and here I am summarizing technical wording; the actual language [is in section 3(b) (1) and (2) of PL 107-243]), Congress wanted a formal determination submitted to it either before using force or within forty-eight hours of having done so, stating that the president had found that (1) further diplomatic means alone would not resolve the "continuing threat" (meaning WMD) and (2) the military action was part of the overall response to terrorism, including dealing wtih those involved in "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." In short, Congress insisted that there be evidence of two points that were the centerpirce of Bush's argument for the war.

We now know, of course, that there were no nuclear weapons program and no WMDs in Iraq. And that the claimed connections of Saddam to al-Qaeda were bogus, and the notion that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks even more so. And,of course, UN weapons inspections were under way in Iraq in 2003, but they were halted by Bush's decision to go to war anyway.

It may seem to be no more than an historical footnote at this point, though these things can come back to bite the unsuspecting in surprising ways.

Dean takes a close look at the documentation Bush submitted to Congress to comply with their requirements for going to war. And he finds it badly deficient:

Bush, in essence, gave Congress only one purported fact to meet the requirement of making a congressional determination. He cited the information offered by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations. [Powell has since publicly acknowledged that his presentation contained inaccurate information, which damaged his international reputation badly.] Bush merely reminded Congress that Powell's report "revealed a terrorist training area in northeastern Iraq with ties to Iraqi intelligence and activities of [al Qaeda] affiliates in Baghdad." Bush added that "public reports indicate that Iraq is currently harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close [al Qaeda] associate," and that in the past Iraq had "provided training in document forgery and explosives to [al Qaeda]." He offered no governmental confirmation of this "public report."

... If there is a precedent for Bush's slick trick to involve America in a bloody commitment, where the Congress requires as a condition for action that the president make a determination, and the president in turn relies on a whereas clause (which he provided to Congress as suggested introductory language) and a dubious public report (which fails to address the substance of the conditions for war set by Congress), I am not aware of it and could not find anything even close.

But the Bush administration has been precedent-setting in more ways than one.

Here is Dean summarizing to Amy Goodman:
(from: )

When [Bush] went to Congress in October of 2002 to get a resolution to go to war in Iraq, he wanted something that the Congress had never given before, which was a delegation of a power that he wouldn’t have to go back to Congress to get war powers when he actually went to war. The Congress had never granted such a power. So, the Congress said, all right. We’ll take the two—we’ll do this with conditions. The two conditions are—really the premise that he had been arguing for war. So, when they granted the resolution, they said, we want a formal Presidential declaration from you that, one, there is no diplomatic way to resolve the problems of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the first condition. The second condition was that going to war in Iraq would be consistent with the war on terrorism, which was his second point, that there was an Al Qaeda connection with Saddam Hussein, was the implicit rationale. Bush, in a secret deal with the House of Representatives, agreed to that. The resolution was written, passed and signed by the President. No one really paid any attention to this resolution, and the President in March of 2003 goes to war. 48 hours after, under the resolution, he had to report that he had done that, and he had to submit his formal declaration. His declaration is one of the most—I can’t really find the right word for it, Amy. It’s just—I use all of the modifiers I can think of in the book. It’s a fraud. It is a deliberate, misleading resolution the President himself asked for. It’s a violation of trust to the Congress who granted him very unusual powers. It’s a violation of the trust of the American people. His declaration is phony. His determination, excuse me, is phony. It’s actually bizarre.

Now some nice context, namely an excerpt from the Senate floor debate. Here is discussion on the Byrd ammendment to the bill which further clarified the limitations of the authorization:
Byrd Ammendment to Iraq War Resolution Bill

Also, the actual wording in question from the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002:



(b) PRESIDENTIAL DETERMINATION.—In connection with the

exercise of the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force

the President shall, prior to such exercise or as soon thereafter

as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising

such authority, make available to the Speaker of the House of

Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his

determination that—

(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic

or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately

protect the national security of the United States against the

continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead

to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council

resolutions regarding Iraq; and

(2) acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent

with the United States and other countries continuing to take

the necessary actions against international terrorist and terrorist

organizations, including those nations, organizations, or

persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist

attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

(src: )

And, finally, Hillary's speech before voting:
Hillary Clinton's Statement on the Iraqi War Resolution.

My only complaint is that she did not read the full intelligence report and relied on briefings. See: NY Times on Hillary's Vote

As she had always done, Clinton prepared for her decision on the war vote by doing her homework, or what she has called her ''due diligence.'' This included, she said, attending classified briefings on Capitol Hill concerning intelligence on Iraq. Indeed, Clinton was far more prescient than many of her Senate colleagues about the potential difficulty of rebuilding the country. In a number of private meetings with top Bush officials, according to people in the room, Clinton asked pointed and skeptical questions about how the administration planned to deal with the inevitable challenges of governing Iraq after the invasion.

But it's not clear that she was equally diligent when it came to the justifications for the war itself. So far, she has not discussed publicly whether she ever read the complete classified version of the National Intelligence Estimate, the most comprehensive judgment of the intelligence community about Iraq's W.M.D., which was made available to all 100 senators. The 90-page report was delivered to Congress on Oct. 1, 2002, just 10 days before the Senate vote. An abridged summary was made public by the Bush administration, but it painted a less subtle picture of Iraq's weapons program than the full classified report. To get a complete picture would require reading the entire document, which, according to a version of the report made public in 2004, contained numerous caveats and dissents on Iraq's weapons and capacities.

According to Senate aides, because Clinton was not yet on the Armed Services Committee, she did not have anyone working for her with the security clearances needed to read the entire N.I.E. and the other highly classified reports that pertained to Iraq.

She could have done the reading herself. Senators were able to access the N.I.E. at two secure locations in the Capitol complex. Nonetheless, only six senators personally read the report, according to a 2005 television interview with Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia and then the vice chairman of the intelligence panel. Earlier this year, on the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, Clinton was confronted by a woman who had traveled from New York to ask her if she had read the intelligence report. According to Eloise Harper of ABC News, Clinton responded that she had been briefed on it.

''Did you read it?'' the woman screamed.

Clinton replied that she had been briefed, though she did not say by whom.

The question of whether Clinton took the time to read the N.I.E. report is critically important. Indeed, one of Clinton's Democratic colleagues, Bob Graham, the Florida senator who was then the chairman of the intelligence committee, said he voted against the resolution on the war, in part, because he had read the complete N.I.E. report. Graham said he found that it did not persuade him that Iraq possessed W.M.D. As a result, he listened to Bush's claims more skeptically. ''I was able to apply caveat emptor,'' Graham, who has since left the Senate, observed in 2005. He added regretfully, ''Most of my colleagues could not.''

Nonetheless, I excuse her. She is not Biden. She had to deal with realpolitik, and I don't hold that against her. If you lived through 2002, and are honest with yourself, you know full well what the political situation was.


Monday, January 21, 2008


I've been lazy the past couple months and just posting noteworthy links to my links (tagged economics and politics).