The unfortunate re-eruption of warfare in Iraq will lead to many more questions for Hillary Clinton about her past support for the war—a rather unfortunate thing from her point of view, given the issue was a key reason for her 2008 Democratic presidential primary loss.
Her answer to one such question at a forum in Toronto reveals Clinton still has serious trouble talking about the war in a language recognized by those who opposed it—and there are a great many.
According to Alex Seitz-Wald of National Journal, this is what Clinton said at an event sponsored by the Toronto Region Board of Trade:
Clinton says “smart political move” would have been to recant on iraq vote earlier, but “I couldn’t break faith with” service members.
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) June 16, 2014
That statement echoes some of the worst impulses of the Bush administration, which were to frame supporting the war publicly as a matter of “supporting the troops.”
One of the central animating concerns of the anti-war movement—from the Cindy Sheehan encampment to a young Senator named Barack Obama’s describing soldiers from Illinois who had been badly maimed by battle—was for the thousands of US troops dying, and the thousands more being injured, in what was ultimately a needless war. When George W. Bush would bash war opponents as people who didn’t “support the troops,” the anti-war refrain was: that’s exactly what we’re doing. Hillary perhaps does not accept that argument—or if she does, it’s hard to tell.
When Terry Gross went after Clinton last week on NPR on gay marriage, she was trying to get at a basic question: Did Hillary always support gay marriage but withhold her public support for political reasons? What about all the people being denied rights, how might they have been helped sooner if she spoke out?
Here, Hillary seems to be pre-answering that same question as it applies to Iraq, and giving a pretty terrible answer for why she didn’t speak her mind on the war.
UPDATE: There is now video of Hillary’s full response to this question, which are hardly exculpatory. Transcript of the response where it begins in earnest (at 1:01) below the video.
CLINTON: I kept trying to say “Well if we knew then what we know now it would not have ever come for a vote,” all of which was true, but just sort of avoided the fact of my saying “You know I just got it wrong, plain and simple. I made a mistake.” I thought a lot about that, because people said well—“You’re not saying you made a mistake for political reasons.” Well in fact, in the Democratic Party at that time, the smart political decision, as so many of my colleagues did, was to come out and say “Terrible mistake, shouldn’t have done it,” and you know blame the Bush administration. I had this sense that I had voted for it, and we had all these young men and women over there, and it was a terrible battle environment. I knew some of the young people who were there and I was very close to one Marine lieutenant who lead a mixed platoon of Americans and Iraqis in the first battle for Fallujah. So I felt like I couldn’t break faith with them. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to anybody else but me, but that’s how I felt about it. So I kept temporizing and I kept avoiding saying it because I didn’t want there to be any feeling that I was backing off or undercutting my support for this very difficult mission in Iraq.
Read Next: Peter Van Buren on “How the ‘War on Terror’ Became a War on the Constitution”