by David Brooks of ALL people (Craig's note)
New York Times
Far be it from me to get in the middle of a liberal
purge, but would anybody mind
if I pointed out that the calls for Hillary Clinton
to apologize for her support of the
Iraq war are almost entirely bogus?
I mean, have the people calling for her apology
actually read the speeches she delivered
before the war? Have they read her remarks during
the war resolution debate, when she
specifically rejected a pre-emptive, unilateral
attack on Saddam? Did they read the
passages in which she called for a longer U.N.
inspections regime and declared,
"I believe international support and legitimacy
If they went back and read what Senator Clinton
was saying before the war, they'd be
surprised, as I was, by her approach. And they'd
learn something, as I did, about what
kind of president she would make.
The Iraq war debate began in earnest in September
2002. At that point Clinton was
saying in public what Colin Powell was saying
in private: emphasizing the need to work
through the U.N. and build a broad coalition
to enforce inspections.
She delivered her Senate resolution speech on
Oct. 10. It was Clintonian in character.
On the one hand, she rejected the Bush policy
of pre-emptive war. On the other hand,
she also rejected the view that the international
community "should only resort to force
if and when the United Nations Security Council
approves it." Drawing on the lessons
of Bosnia, she said sometimes the world had to
act, even if the big powers couldn't agree.
She sought a third way: more U.N. resolutions,
more inspections, more diplomacy,
with the threat of force reserved as a last resort.
She was triangulating, but the Senate
resolution offered her a binary choice. She voted
yes in order to give Powell bipartisan
leverage at the U.N.
This is how she's always explained that vote,
and I confess that until now, I've regarded
her explanation as a transparent political dodge.
Didn't everyone know this was a war
resolution? But now, having investigated her
public comments, I think diplomatic leverage
really was on her mind. I also know, from a third
person, that she was spending a lot of
time with Powell and wanted to help.
On Nov. 8, 2002, the Security Council passed a
unanimous resolution threatening
Saddam with "serious consequences" if he didn't
The next crucial period came in March 2003, as
the U.S. battled France over the second
Security Council resolution. Clinton's argument
at this point was that inspections were
working and should be given more time. "It is
preferable that we do this in a peaceful manner
through coercive inspection," she said on March
3, but went on, "At some point we have to
be willing to uphold the United Nations resolutions."
Then she added, "This is a very delicate
On March 17, Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to disarm
or face attack. Clinton tried to be critical
of the Bush policy while being deferential to
the office of the presidency. She clearly had doubts
about Bush's timing, but she kept emphasizing
that from her time in the White House, she knew
how unhelpful it was for senators to be popping
off in public on foreign policy.
At one press event in New York, she nodded when
Charles Rangel said Bush had failed at the U.N.
But when reporters asked Clinton to repeat what
Rangel had just said, she bit her tongue.
On March 17, as U.S. troops mobilized, she issued
her strongest statement in support of the effort.
Clinton's biggest breach with the liberal wing
actually opened up later, in the fall of 2003.
Most liberals went into full opposition, wanting
to see Bush disgraced. Clinton - while an early
critic of the troop levels, the postwar plans
and all the rest - tried to stay constructive.
She wanted to see America and Iraq succeed, even
if Bush was not disgraced.
When you look back at Clinton's thinking, you
don't see a classic war supporter. You see a
person who was trying to seek balance between
opposing arguments. You also see a person
who deferred to the office of the presidency.
You see a person who, as president, would be fox
to Bush's hedgehog: who would see problems in
their complexities rather than in their essentials;
who would elevate procedural concerns over philosophical
ones; who would postpone decision
points for as long as possible; and who would
make distinctions few heed.
Today, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party
believes that the world, and Hillary Clinton in
particular, owes it an apology. If she apologizes,
she'll forfeit her integrity. She will be apologizing
for being herself.