Hillary's "Lie"

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A few weeks ago, I almost fell out of my chair when I heard Hilary Clinton tell Keith Olbermann that she had opposed preemptive war with Iraq at the time. Not only did she say it with a straight face, she breezed through the comment with the same light, dismissive tone she always uses when she's talking about the debacle she co-created.

Via TPM's "Election Central," a story that gives a little more context to Hillary's apparent lie. In her interview with New Hampshire Union Leader, Hilary explains:

“I have taken responsibility for that vote. It was based on the best assessment that I could make at the time, and it was clearly intended to demonstrate support for going to the United Nations to put inspectors into Iraq.

“When I set forth my reasons for giving the President that authority, I said that it was not a vote for pre-emptive war,” the former first lady said.

A Clinton campaign spokesman later noted that on the Senate floor on Oct. 10, 2002, Clinton stated that her vote for the resolution “is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption, 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 the throughout the world.”

She said the Bush administration forced an end to the final round of weapons inspections and invaded prematurely. The administration is responsible for the status of the war, she said, and for being “grossly misinformed” or for having “twisted the intelligence to satisfy a pre-conceived version of the facts. [emphases mine]

I was mistaken. Hillary was not lying to Olbermann. Everything she's said was factually accurate, but it makes her neither a good Senator, nor a good Presidential candidate. Nor has she demonstrated remotely that she has taken "responsibility."

In his self-described "polemic," "Worse than Watergate," John Dean explains in detail how the authorization granted by Congress to wage war in Iraq, was no "blank check." Rather the President subverted the will of Congress by dispensing with key conditions of that authorization.

The heart of Dean’s argument is that the congressional authorization — far from being the "blank check" that war critics such as former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean have claimed — actually had some stringent and important conditions attached to it, and that Bush simply cast them aside.

According to John Dean, the resolution required Bush to certify that diplomacy had failed, and that there was no longer any way other than war to resolve the "continuing threat" posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Bush also had to certify that war against Iraq was consistent with the ongoing struggle against terrorism, specifically "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." Needless to say, it was Bush who walked away from the diplomatic efforts that the UN was still engaged in over Iraq’s alleged WMD. As for ties between Iraq and the terrorists of 9/11, there weren’t any, despite Bush and Cheney’s numerous insinuations to the contrary.

So how did Bush get around these conditions? The tack he took was so cynical that Dean seems scarcely able to believe it. Included in the original authorization were a few "whereas" clauses specifying that Iraq had WMD and ties to international terrorism; the language had been inserted at the suggestion of the White House. Then, when the time came for Bush to certify that the conditions for war had been met, he simply regurgitated that same language. "Bush, like a dog chasing his tail who gets ahold of it, relied on information the White House provided Congress for its draft resolution; then he turned around and claimed that this information (his information) came from Congress," Dean writes incredulously. [emphases mine]

So the so called "blank check" actually required good faith diplomatic efforts and proof of the key arguments the White House was using to justify war. And the White House's response was to play what Dean describes as an "absurd game" with Congress.

Dean concludes that this is one of many egregious offenses, meriting impeachment. All that was missing was the political will to apply the law. Even with the Democrats back in control of Congress, that political will is still MIA. To Hillary, this subversion of the Constitutional process merits a tut-tut-tutting that sounds more like a mother scolding her teenager for failing to clean up his room, than an epically undermined Senator calling a criminal President to account.

As of this writing, we have lost 3,123 troops, US, since the inception of this nightmare. The thousands of dead Iraqis will never be properly accounted for. And we appear to be careening towards yet another unjustified, illegal, military action. We need Senators and Presidential candidates who understand the seriousness of the stakes. Not politicians mouthing weaselly justifications of a vote that, fairly or not, has landed this nation in the greatest military blunder in our nation's history.

Hillary joked recently that she's had experience dealing with "evil" and "bad" men. She has. From the vast right wing conspirators to an entire administration of audacious criminals. The punchline is that her track record on confronting that evil isn't good.


Dorrie said...

I'm glad you clarified the record. So what would you have had Sen. Clinton do? What would you have done had you been in her place?

Curmudgette said...

What would I have done if a sitting President was flagrantly breaking the law? I don't what all the procedural and legal tools are that Congress has at its disposal, but tactics this illegal must at the very least be deserving of censure. Personally I think he should be impeached and removed from office. He didn't just lie us into war, which is impeachable on its face. He violated the Constitution. Only Congress can declare war. They didn't. And he took us to war anyway. I still think the authorization they gave him was an abdication of their responsibilities -- they conferred onto the President the right to declare war at a time of his choosing. But at least they set some conditions. When those conditions weren't met, they did nothing!

Dorrie said...

I understand all that, but Politics is the Art of the Possible -- and since what you're asking of Sen. Clinton isn't possible for her to accomplish by herself, why do you use that impossibility to disqualify her from being president? I understand the frustration, but it's not logical.

Just like in real life, a lot of times you'd like to stand on principle but it might cost you everything you'd worked for, and all you'd have afterwards would be the satisfaction of having stood on principle.

In the atmosphere in which the vote was taken, the president held all the high cards. Everyone knew going to war was but one OPTION he was being given and that Sen. Clinton never "voted for the war." That's a disingenuous claim. Everybody knew it then, and they know it now. And as sickening as the reality is, it's not possible to impeach Bush now. (Don't think people aren't watching for an opening, though!)

Curmudgette said...

The President had all the "high" cards, because Congress handed them over. In spite of the unprecedented groundswell of opposition from the public. This was the only war that saw massive protests before it ever began. Senator Feinstein reported a record number of calls to her office opposing this war, and she voted for it anyway. She abdicated her responsibility.

No, Clinton could not have fended this off by herself, but she could have joined Boxer and other Senators who had some spine.

All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men (and women) to do nothing. And nothing is what she's doing. Still. Knowing all that she knows she doesn't appear to grasp the seriousness of our situation. If Hillary has principles -- which I'm no longer sure of -- she never stands on them. If all you know is political realities in Congress, you are not doing your job. Congress is a law making body. And they refuse to even uphold the laws that already exist and bring a President the world knows is a liar and a criminal to justice. If anything will cost Hillary everything it's that. Her record. The Senate's record. She's getting pounded for being useless as a check on the excesses of this White House. And she should.

DavidByron said...

There's another issue with the war authorisation which doesn't sit well with Americans it seems. Namely that since the US is a signatory to the UN charter, any war of aggression is against US law. Therefore a resolution like this one that basically said the president can go to war if a few things are cleared out the way first... one of the things implicit in that would be that the war would have to be legal. So technically congress didn't give the president authority to start any war.

I suspect this was a point that Glenn Greenwald banned me from his blog for making. His own view on the wiretapping excuse by the administration mirrors the argument above. Basically if congress makes a law it is assumed to be compatible with existing law and is interpreted that way.

But Greenwald did a 180 when it came to the UN charter. Unlike most Americans he's educated enough to know that a treaty has the status of law in the US and just because it's "international law" doesn't mean you can blow it off. He did however just blow it off.

He argued that congress had the right to overturn the treaty which was absurd for 2 reasons: (1) they had the right but they didn't do it - nobody *implicitly* overturns a treaty like the UN charter and (2) if the UN charter was overturned what the heck is Bolton doing?

Even Congress doesn't have the right to tell a president he can break the law. They can *change* the law, but not break it or tell someone else to. Since it's clear the US is and always has been in the UN, the treaty obligations clearly applied at the time Bush invaded Iraq -- regardless of any congressional authorisation.

Hilary could argue - correctly - that the authorisation didn't grant Bush the power to attack anyone, but only respond to an attack per the UN charter wording.

But clearly she doesn't want to do that and look like a wimp.