Senator Hillary Clinton appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, for the entire show, and asserted once again that Senator Barack Obama's rhetoric does not match the reality of his record. Referring to voters, she remarked, "I want them to have accurate information about our respective records." Yet moments later, Clinton, ostensibly providing voters with information about Obama's record, falsely characterized what Obama had once said about Saddam Hussein--to make it seem that prior to the war Obama was weak on Saddam.During the show, Tim Russert brought up Clinton's vote in October 2002 for the legislation authorizing George W. Bush to take military action against Iraq, and he quoted a speech Obama gave at that time:
I know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors....I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.
Russert then asked Clinton, "Who had the better judgment at that time?" Meaning you or him.
Clinton insisted that her support for the war resolution had been merely a vote to pressure the Iraqi dictator to allow weapons inspectors into Iraq. She quickly moved on to attack Obama:
And in Senator Obama's recent book, he clearly says he thought that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, and that he still coveted nuclear weapons. His judgment was that, at the time in 2002, we didn't need to make any efforts. My belief was we did need to pin Saddam down, put inspectors in.
You can read it in his own book, Clinton was saying: Obama didn't want to do anything to stop Saddam, even though he feared that Saddam did possess chemical and biological weapons.
That was one helluva charge. Obama was willing to sit back and let a WMD-toting dictator go along on his merry own way (while Clinton was doing what she could to pin down that snake). Could this be true? Had Obama been a do-nothing appeaser of Saddam in 2002? (Forget for a moment that it turned out Saddam had zilch in the WMD department at the time.) I emailed Howard Wolfson, the communications director for the Clinton campaign, and asked for a citation to back up this incendiary allegation. He quickly replied, directing me to page 294 of Obama's Audacity of Hope.
Obama writes on this page, "Like most analysts, I assumed that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and coveted nuclear arms." Indeed, that's what Clinton had maintained he had said. So far so good. But what about Clinton's charge that Obama didn't want to do anything about a WMD-bearing Saddam? For that, Wolfson provided a link to the same speech that Russert had quoted from. And Wolfson pointed out this particular sentence:
[Saddam] can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
Was favoring the continuing containment of Saddam Hussein in October 2002 the equivalent of doing nothing? That's what Clinton was suggesting on Meet the Press (adopting a talking point of the neoconservative cheerleaders for the war). But in that same 2002 speech, Obama advocated making "sure that the UN inspectors can do their work." That was not a call for doing nothing. And in his book--on the very page that Wolfson cited--Obama fully explains his position at the time,
I believed that [Saddam] had repeatedly flouted UN resolutions and weapons inspectors and that such behavior had to have consequences. That Saddam butchered his own people was undisputed; I had no doubt that the world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
What I sensed, though, was that the threat Saddam posed was not imminent, the Administration's rationales for war were flimsy and ideologically driven, and the war in Afghanistan was far from complete. And I was certain that by choosing precipitous, unilateral military action over the hard slog of diplomacy, coercive inspections, and smart sanctions, America was missing an opportunity to build a broad base of support for its policies.
Go back and review Clinton's abovementioned remark about Obama. She was suggesting that his book was evidence that Obama didn't want to do anything regarding Saddam. Yet Obama plainly stated he favored an alternative course of action to war: diplomacy, tough inspections, and sanctions. Clinton's statement was clearly misleading--and purposefully so.
This is not the first time Clinton has mischaracterized Obama's position on Iraq. In New Hampshire, Clinton claimed that Obama had broken a significant promise: that when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004 he vowed "never" to vote for Iraq war funding but then did so once he was in the Senate. This was part of her effort to persuade Granite State voters that Obama was an all-show/no-work hypocrite. There was one problem with her use of this example. It was not true. Though Obama did oppose an $87 billion funding bill for Iraq and other matters in 2003, he didn't say he would "never" vote for Iraq war money. When he later voted for funding bills, he was not, as Clinton insisted, breaking a promise.
Clinton and her gang are certainly entitled to raise questions about Obama's experience and his record--including on the war. Though Obama did speak out against the war before entering the Senate, he was not a leading voice of antiwar opposition in his first years as a senator. (Neither was she during those that period.) But Clinton and her aides have been peddling false information about Obama to undercut one of his primary arguments: she voted for the war; I was against it. Engaging in such disingenuous attacks may help Clinton beat back Obama, but it is hardly the way for her to counter Obama's claim that she represents poltics-as-usual. It only proves his point.
David Corn is the Washington Editor for The Nation.
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