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.



cc said...

"And, finally, Hillary's speech before voting:"

I read the speech. She insists that Iraq had ties to al-Qaida. She says Sadaam is "trying to develop nuclear weapons". She says Iraq's biological and chemical weapons are "not in doubt".

And you leave out the part that the resolution says "the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so, and the extreme magnitude of harm that would result to the United States and its citizens from such an attack, combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself."

See, people like Obama knew at the time that Iraq had no WMDs, had no capability of attacking the U.S., and was not an imminent threat.

And you forgive her?

Howard said...

I do hold it against her that she didn't read the full NIE document, which might have set off a red flag for some folks.

But I think we are committing a historical re-write if we deny that Saddam was unpredictable. I think the bottom line was that Hillary was playing it safe, as were most of the Democrats for the past 8 years. But if you are realistic about how the fervor for war is not only very common among Democracies, but a fundamental aspect, then you will appreciate how delicately any politician must dance around the issue. Name me successful politicians who kept us out of war (I'm sure there must be some, so I'm sincerely trying to start a conversation)... Actually, I can think of one: Jimmy Carter, keeping us out of war with Iran. I admire him for that, but see how he fared with the fickle masses.

Howard said...

Another thought. This was my thinking in 2002. Regardless of whether you were for or against the war, you might have asked yourself: If the US succeeds in transforming Iraq, or the Bush administration succeeds in suckering the American public that it succeeded (and the track record so far was that Bush was successful in suckering the American public pretty damn well...77% of Americans thought Saddam was responsible for 911 for Christsakes!!! REMEMBER THIS!!!). What will happen to the Democratic party?
Some people might consider Hillary and the Dems to be weak willed, or too pragmatic. I will ascribe to some of them the foresight and patience, the wisdom, actually, to keep the party viable. I don't think ANYONE could have imagined how much the Republicans would have messed up the occupation. I sure didn't.
So call me amoral if you will vis a vis war, but I am convinced Americans are suckers for a war, and if you want to do politics in America, you have realize that 51% of Americans are war mongers.

cc said...

Thank you for your reply, but I can't agree. May I suggest an article for you to read? It's more than just about "the vote" in and of itself, and it makes all the points I'm trying to make.

Some exerpted passages, if you don't mind:

"It is noteworthy, then, that Senator Clinton voted against an amendment sponsored by Senator Carl Levin that would have authorized U.S. military action against Iraq if the UN Security Council approved the use of force and instead voted for the resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing...."

"...In the months leading up to the Iraq war vote, Senator Clinton was briefed by a number of arms control specialists, former arms inspectors, strategic analysts, and others who informed her that the Bush administration’s WMD claims were not to be taken seriously and that Iraq had achieved at least qualitative disarmament.

"Despite this, in an apparent effort to discredit those questioning the administration’s hyperbolic statements about Iraq’s supposed military threat and to justify her vote to authorize the invasion, Senator Clinton insisted that Iraq’s possession of chemical and biological weapons was “not in doubt” and was “undisputed.” In reality, she knew there were serious doubts about Iraq’s purported possession of such weapons at that time and, indeed, no such weapons were ever found.

"Similarly, even after the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report prior to the war vote that Iraq no longer had a nuclear program and despite the 2001 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that confirmed there was no evidence that such work on Iraq’s nuclear program had resumed, Senator Clinton also defended her vote by claiming that, “If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will . . . keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.” In reality, Iraq had completely eliminated its nuclear program a full decade earlier.

"Although top strategic analysts also correctly informed her that there were no apparent links between Saddam Hussein’s secular nationalist regime and the radical Islamist al-Qaeda, Senator Clinton insisted that Saddam “has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.” This came despite a subsequent definitive report by the Department of Defense which noted that not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based upon the evidence available at that time...."

"...Despite this, the NIE also challenged the notion of any operational ties between the Iraqi government and Al-Qaeda and questioned some of the more categorical claims by President Bush about Iraq’s WMDs. However, Senator Clinton didn’t even bother to read it. She now claims that it wasn’t necessary for her to have actually looked at the 92-page document herself because she was briefed on the contents of the report. However, since no one on her staff was authorized to read it, it’s unclear who could have actually briefed her...."

"...Senator Clinton was also briefed by scholars of the Middle East, Middle Eastern political leaders, former State Department and intelligence officials and others who recognized that a U.S. invasion would likely result in a bloody insurgency, a rise in Islamist extremism and terrorism, increased sectarian and ethnic conflict, and related problems. Few people familiar with Iraq have been at all surprised that the U.S. invasion has become such a tragedy. Therefore, claims by Senator Clinton that she was unaware of the likely consequences of the invasion are completely false..."

"...Clearly, then, despite her much-touted “experience,” Senator Clinton has demonstrated, through her support for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, a profound ignorance of the reality of the Middle East and an arrogant assumption that peace, stability and democratic governance can be created through the application of U.S. military force..."