By PAUL C. CAMPOS
The most important issue in next year’s presidential election will be the Iraq war. Every candidate will have to answer the following question: Did you support the invasion of Iraq at the time, and, if you’ve changed your mind about the issue since, when did you do so and why?
The candidates already are falling into four groups: Those who opposed the invasion from the beginning; those who supported it and continue to do so; those who supported it, but have since concluded that doing so was a mistake, and those who supported it but are now pretending that they really didn’t.
Of these four groups, the last is easily the most disturbing. The choice between, say, John McCain, who has always supported the invasion, and Barak Obama, who opposed it from the start, is simply that between a hawk and a dove. Simplifying things slightly, if you believe the U.S. should not hesitate to invade other countries whenever it seems likely to advance the national interest you’ll favor McCain; while if you believe war should truly be considered an option of last resort, you’ll prefer Obama.
Meanwhile, someone like John Edwards, who voted for the war but has since said that doing so was a mistake, represents the refreshing sight of a prominent politician candidly admitting a serious error of judgment, and vowing to learn from it.
By contrast, there’s nothing good to be said about the fourth group, which at this point consists of the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton. Senator Clinton seems determined to create the illusion that she didn’t really support the invasion.
Given her words and actions, not only in the months leading up to the war but for years afterwards, this seems like a rather Orwellian goal. Clinton voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq; on the eve of the invasion she issued a statement that fairly unambiguously approved of the president’s decision to invade, and for years afterwards she supported the war.
Now she’s attempting to cast doubt on these extremely straightforward facts by, for example, stating in a newspaper interview that, “when I set forth my reasons for giving the President that authority (to invade), I said that it was not a vote for pre-emptive war.”
This sort of thing suggests that Senator Clinton is banking on H.L. Mencken’s dictum that nobody ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Clinton seems to believe that by throwing up a smokescreen of lawyerly caveats she can disguise that she did, in fact, support President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
In late 2002 and early 2003, prominent American politicians such as Hillary Clinton were faced with a simple choice: To either speak out against the President’s plan to invade Iraq, or to support it. Not speaking out was, as a practical matter, exactly the same thing as active support. And, as anybody who bothers to examine the public record will discover, Senator Clinton went far beyond simply failing to speak out when her opposition could have potentially made a difference.
She supported the invasion, and continued to do so for years afterwards. Her objections, such as they were, were limited to criticisms of how the war was being carried out. Now that it’s impossible to find anyone, including President Bush himself, who isn’t criticizing the way the war has been carried out, Senator Clinton is, preposterously, trying to re-write the historical record.
The vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq was the most important Hillary Clinton ever cast. That, even now, she won’t admit she made a mistake should give pause to anyone who supports her presidential aspirations. And that she’s now implying she actually opposed the war should call her candidacy into serious question.
(Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)