Friday, February 01, 2008

Bill Clinton’s Fairy Tale about Barack Obama

After watching former President Clinton’s rant, it might be worthwhile to examine more closely his latter comments regarding Senator Obama’s claims.

"That is the central argument for his campaign. You – “It doesn’t matter that I started running for President less than a year after I got to the senate from the Illinois state senate. I am a great speaker and a charismatic figure, and I am the only one who had the judgment to oppose this war from the beginning – always, always, always."

It is, of course, very easy, and quite unfair, for Mr. Clinton to decide what constitutes the “central argument” for someone else’s campaign. But his anger as well as his derision of Senator Obama’s lack of experience (Mr. Clinton’’s wife was elected to the Senate 4 years before he was) does indicate that Mr. Obama’s purported claim regarding his superior judgment has struck a nerve.

“First it is factually not true that everybody that supported that resolution supported Bush attacking Iraq before the UN inspectors were through. Chuck Hagel was one of the co-authors of that resolution. The only Republican Senator that always opposed the war. Every day from the get-go. He authored the resolution to say that Bush could go to war only if they didn't co-operate with the inspectors and he was assured personally by Condi Rice as many of the other Senators were. So, first the case is wrong that way."

This is an absurd mischaracterization of the clear meaning of the 2002 Resolution to Authorize the Use of Military Force Against Iraq. The resolution may have made some preambulary references decrying the absence of weapons inspectors in Iraq since 1998, but the operative paragraphs, - the ones which actually authorized the use of force - did not make it contingent on Iraqi non-cooperation with the weapons inspectors.

In fact, a careful reading of the resolution shows that it was so broadly crafted as to allow the President to launch military action if he merely determined that peaceful means “will not adequately protect the national security of the United States” against what the resolution, itself, calls “the continuing threat posed by Iraq”.

Regardless of anything that Condoleezza Rice purportedly said to Chuck Hagel, the resolution on which Mrs. Clinton voted “yes” was clearly what its short title said - an “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq”. It was not authored “to say that Bush could go to war only if they didn't co-operate with the inspectors,” as Mr. Clinton alleges.

Furthermore, for Mr. Clinton to claim that “it is factually not true that everybody that supported that resolution supported Bush attacking Iraq before the UN inspectors were through” is silly. According to the Constitution, Congress has the sole authority to go to war, and if members of Congress really don’t support the launching of a war, they shouldn’t vote to authorize it. The vote cast by a legislator is what is critical, not some statements made after the fact.

If Mrs. Clinton and the other members of congress had only intended to threaten military action, and to only use force if the Iraqi regime failed to comply with specific demands (allowing weapons inspections, or whatever), then they could have written those demands into the resolution – but they didn’t.

Incidentally, Mr. Clinton’s claim that Chuck Hagel was “the only Republican Senator that always opposed the war” is also factually incorrect. Senator Lincoln Chaffee, of Rhode Island, opposed the war, and was so opposed that he actually exercised his responsibility and voted “no” to the war authorization bill, while Senators Hagel and Clinton voted “yes”.

(In 2006, Mr Chaffee was rewarded for his courage by being voted out of office.)

Mr Clinton’s second claim is also interesting:

"Second, it is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, 'Well, how could you say, that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech you're now running on off your website in 2004 and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?' Give me a break.”

“This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen!”

Mr. Clinton’s statement that it is “wrong” for Senator Obama to have gotten to go through several debates claiming that he always opposed the war deserves to be examined. Indeed, questions of war and peace are obviously very important, and if the greatest distinction between the two candidates is that one can claim to have had better judgment in consistently opposing an unnecessary war, while the other voted to authorize it, then the issue should be thoroughly investigated.

Of course, at the time the war resolution was passed, Mr. Obama was still serving in the Illinois state senate, and since the legislature of Illinois doesn’t have the authority to start a war, he didn’t actually get the opportunity (or have the responsibility) to vote on the matter, while Mrs. Clinton was then serving in the US Senate, and did. Consequently, one can only judge Mr Obama’s position by his statements.

If Mr Clinton’s accusation that, “you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution” is a full and accurate portrayal of Mr. Obama’s statements at the time, then he would have something of a point. And although no one could claim that Senator Obama bears any responsibility for starting the war (as opposed to Mrs. Clinton, who undeniably does), still this would indicate that his judgment on the issue wasn’t always so unswerving as he is currently making out. Therefore, it is worthwhile to pour through some of Mr Obama’s past statements, in order to assess the accuracy of Mr. Clinton’s claim.

Mr. Obama’s speech at an anti-war rally in October of 2002 (concurrent with the passage of the war resolution) was a clear statement of his opposition. The eloquence and clarity of that speech, as well as its publicity, has obviously had an impact - and this seems to be what has fueled Mr. Clinton’s ire. (Whether or not Mr. Obama continuously maintained that speech in a prominent position on his web-site doesn’t amount to much – there is no record of his disavowal of it.) Also in a November, 2002 interview on a local talk show, ‘Public Affairs With Jeff Berkowitz', Obama stated "If it had come to me in an up or down vote as it came, I think I would have agreed with our senior Sen. Dick Durbin and voted 'Nay’.” The Obama campaign has compiled numerous press reports where he is quoted making similar unequivocal statements over the past few years.

Still, regardless of Mr Obama’s eloquent opposition in 2002, it is worth looking into whether Obama stated in 2004 that he didn't know how he would have voted on the resolution, as Mr. Clinton alleges.

It should be noted that in July of 2004, Mr. Obama was slated to be the keynote speaker at the Democrat National Convention, a convention which was in the process of nominating John Kerry, who had, like Mrs. Clinton, voted for the war authorization. Under such circumstances, Mr. Obama would have obviously been somewhat reticent about denouncing the vote of his party’s nominee – but what should be determined is whether his reticence had developed into equivocation. Is it really a full and accurate description of what Mr. Obama said at the time that he didn’t know how he would have voted on the resolution?

Mr Obama was interviewed by three different press outlets on or about July 25, 2004. Fortunately, with the internet, a more full description and/or transcript is available, making it unnecessary to simply take a man like Bill Clinton at his word. Those articles and/or transcripts deserve to be quoted at length.

The July 26, 2004 edition of the New York Times contained excerpts from an interview conducted with Mr. Obama:

In a recent interview, he declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time.

"But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports," Mr. Obama said. "What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made."

On the July 25, 2004 edition of NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS,Mr. Obama was also questioned on this matter by Tim Russert. Excerpts from the transcript follow:

MR. RUSSERT: You also said this: "...I also know that Saddam possesses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history."

The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said he was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so write (sic) as a state legislator in Illinois and they're on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees in Washington?

STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. And what is absolutely clear is that John Kerry said, "If we go into war, let's make sure that we do it right. Let's make sure that our troops are supported. Let's make sure that we have the kind of coalition that's necessary to succeed." And the execution of what was a difficult choice to make was something that all of us have to be concerned about. And moving forward, the only way that we're going to be able to succeed is if, I think, we have an administration led by John Kerry that's going to allow us to consolidate the relationships with our allies that bring about investment in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?

STATE REP. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.

MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?

STATE REP. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn't there and what is absolutely clear as we move forward is that if we don't have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we're going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed in Iraq...

On CNN's "Late Edition"” , also on July 25 2004, Mr Obama had this exchange with Wolf Blitzer”

BLITZER: ... you're going to talk about some of the issues.

Was the war in Iraq a mistake?

OBAMA: I think that it is clear that the numbers were fudged, that we shaded the truth, because I think there was a predisposition to go in, and wasn't based on facts on the ground.

But I think what's most important now and what John Kerry is focusing on now is going forward, how do we being together the international community to invest in the reconstruction in Iraq and make sure that we're relieving some of the pressure not only for American taxpayers, but also from our service men and women.

BLITZER: Had you been in the Senate when they had a vote on whether to give the president the authority to go to war, how would you have voted?

OBAMA: You know, I didn't have the information that was available to senators. I know that, as somebody who was thinking about a U.S. Senate race, I think it was a mistake, and I think I would have voted no.

BLITZER: You would have voted no at the time?

OBAMA: That's correct.

BLITZER: Kerry, of course, and Edwards both voted yes.

OBAMA: But keep in mind, I think this is a tough question and a tough call. What I do think is that if you're going to make these tough calls, you have to do so in a transparent way, in an honest way, talk to the American people, trust their judgment...

Clearly, Mr Obama was scrupulously avoiding an attack John Kerry for his war vote. His intention appears to have been to allow Mr. Kerry some wiggle room, based on the possible existence of intelligence reports that may have been available to Senators, but not the general public. (Obviously, no such intelligence has surfaced regarding the fabled, and non-existent, WMD.)

But each time he tried to give that wiggle room, by pointing out that he wasn’t in the senate at the time, and that one can’t really say, definitively, what one would do in a different set of circumstances, he also pointed out that from where he was at the time, that he was clearly opposed. His statements were actually quite straight forward:

“What I know is that from my vantage point the case (for war) was not made.''

“I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time”

“I know that, as somebody who was thinking about a U.S. Senate race, I think it was a mistake, and I think I would have voted no.”

There is no way that any honest or fair minded person could interpret Mr. Obama’s words as anything but forthright opposition. And only a thoroughly dishonest partisan would truncate Obama’s statements the way that Bill Clinton did, and he was obviously doing so only to mischaracterize them.

Indeed there is a fairy tale being told, but the one telling the fairy tale is Bill Clinton, not Barack Obama. And the fact that Bill Clinton can tell such fairy tales with extreme vim and vigor, while at the same time accusing others of doing so, only demonstrates that he has not lost his unique “gift” for being self-righteous, hypocritical, and vehement and at the same time utterly deceptive.

Notes in the margin
This offering should not be interpreted as an endorsement of Barack Obama - I have no intention of voting for him in the upcoming primary (I support Congressman Ron Paul). My only reason for researching this topic and sharing that research in this post is that I wish to support and defend the anti-war movement. To that end, I find this attempt by a notorious liar to cloud the issue, and mischaracterize opponents of the war as fence-straddlers while averring that those responsible for this war shouldn't be held accountable to be reprehensible.

I didn't read the whole thing, since I'd already heard some of it before.

I would just note that HJR 114 calls Iraq an "existing threat"

I'm sure you remember the debate about Bush never using the words 'imminent threat' in describing Iraq. I always thought HJR 114 went way past 'imminent' in calling it 'existing'.
Oh, I read it more fully. Obama voted for war funding in 2004. There was no higher period of incompetence than 2004, was there? Have you read Imperial Life in the Emerald City? The situation kept getting worse and worse and worse and worse, year after year after year.

A Sane Congress could have thrown the batshit psycho Boykin to the wolves, or cut funding unless Bush put an actual health care person, rather than an abortion rights activist, in charge of Iraq's health care system. Nothing of the sort happened.

I watched a heck of a lot of Iraq committee hearings and floor debate on C-SPAN back then. The finest critic was Robert Byrd. I have to admit that in 2005 and 6 I was watching a lot less C-SPAN, but nothing in Obama's criticism made me think "Gosh, he's the man!"
I agree with you Josh, but I think the actual term used in HJR 114, (the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq) was "continuing threat posed by Iraq". It means the same thing (in that context) and you are right – calling it a “continuing” or “existing” threat is as strong, if not stronger than calling it an “imminent” threat, especially when used in the context of an authorization to use military force against it.

Regarding Obama's vote for war funding after he was elected to the senate:
It is a lot to ask a politician to vote against providing funding for equipment and supplies to an army in the field. I am not saying that it might not be the only solution to force an end to the occupation, but it is a lot to ask. On the other hand, asking politicians to vote against an authorization for aggressive war doesn’t strike me as that much to ask.
Interesting to know.
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