During a campaign swing for his wife, former President Bill Clinton said flatly yesterday that he opposed the war in Iraq "from the beginning" - a statement that is more absolute than his comments before the invasion in March 2003.
Before the invasion, Mr. Clinton did not precisely declare that he opposed the war. A week before military action began, however, he did say that he preferred to give weapons inspections more time and that an invasion was not necessary to topple Saddam Hussein.
At the same time, he also spoke supportively about the 2002 Senate resolution that authorized military action against Iraq.
Advisers to Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he did oppose the war, but that it would have been inappropriate at the time for him, a former president, to oppose - in a direct, full-throated manner - the sitting president's military decision.
Mr. Clinton has said several times since the war began that he would not have attacked Iraq in the manner that President Bush had done. As early as June 2004, he said, "I would not have done it until after Hans Blix finished the job," referring to the weapons inspections there before the war.
At the time of those remarks, though, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York was not a presidential candidate, and Mr. Clinton was not campaigning on her behalf. Nor was she running for the nomination against a Democrat who opposed the invasion from the start - Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are in a tight race to win the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, and Mr. Clinton made his remark in Iowa. One rival Democratic campaign circulated Mr. Clinton's remark to reporters and, without speaking for attribution, accused him of fuzzing the historical record to make the Clintons appear more antiwar than they actually were at the time.
Mrs. Clinton voted in favor of a Senate resolution authorizing military action against Iraq in 2002. She has said she was misled by Mr. Bush.
Mr. Clinton's remark yesterday came in the context of opposition to Republican-backed tax cuts for wealthy Americans like himself, and how that loss of revenue affected financing for the military.
"Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers," Mr. Clinton said.
© 2007 The New York Times