Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign would like voters to forget that she supported the war in Iraq. "Senator Clinton believes things are not going well [In Iraq], wants to begin phased withdrawal, wants to end the war," her spokesman Howard Wolfson told MSNBC on Friday.
It wasn’t always that way. A new book by two New York Times investigative reporters, excerpted in the NYT Magazine this coming Sunday, painstakingly details that not only did Hillary support the war, but did so in a way that echoed many of the Bush Administration’s most dubious talking points and undercut antiwar opponents.
"On the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration," reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta write. "The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut." In fact, on this point the reporters document that Clinton was to the right of Lieberman when she argued that Saddam gave "aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members."
For the better part of three years, Clinton stuck to her support for the war. As public opinion began to change, so did her position, albeit slowly. "I don’t support a fixed date for getting out, and I don’t support an open-ended commitment," she said in the summer of ’06, trying to have it both ways. Yet after she was booed at the Campaign for America’s Future, as Arianna Huffington notes, Hillary surprisingly signed on as a cosponsor of legislation to begin redeploying troops from Iraq.
Yet she resisted setting a timetable for withdrawal or using the Congressional power of the purse to bring the war to a close. "I face the base all the time," she told fellow Senators in ’06. "I think we need wiggle room."
But once she entered the Democratic primary for president she shifted further left, supporting legislation to force an end to combat operations by March 2008 and voting against last week’s funding bill for the war. She did both reluctantly, reflecting the cautious, calibrated style that has become her trademark. Indeed, two days before last week’s Iraq vote she told reporters tersely, "When I have something to say, I’ll say it."
Those words, like her tenure in the Senate, don’t exactly illustrate a profile in political courage.