Slowly, very slowly, Hillary Clinton’s vote to invade Iraq is turning into a political horror story. It is the moldering hand of a murder victim coming out of the grave to grab her by the ankle.
Bodies would not be jumping out at the candidate of the money wing of the Democratic Party if she had only said she made a mistake in voting for the war, but she has refused to do that so often that if she did it now she would open herself up to a chorus of catcalls.
She may be concerned that a retraction will make her look weak. So her line of defense has been, “My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time.” She says it over and over again.
The facts she had and the facts she could have had before she cast her vote for the war are two different things. We learn that from an article in The New York Times Magazine by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.
These two, who have made a career out of investigating Hillary, have dug up a couple of facts the Senator is going to have a hard time ignoring. The big fact is that she had access at the time to a highly classified report, the National Intelligence Estimate, which contained authoritative doubts that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Gerth and Van Natta have established that she did not read this report. Because it was classified, senators wishing to read it had to sign in, and Hillary did not. Although one of her Democratic colleagues, Bob Graham, then chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged Hillary and all the other Democratic senators to read it, few did. Graham, however, read the ninety-page document and was so shaken by the questionable evidence for the existence of WMDs that he voted against going to war.
In fairness to Hillary, she is not the only Democratic presidential aspirant who had a chance to read the National Intelligence Estimate and did not. John Edwards did not read it either and also voted for war. Since then Edwards, unlike Hillary, has recanted his vote, but he still has some explaining to do. Also with some explaining to do are Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd, two other Democratic senators running for the nomination. But Hillary is the only one saying that she would still vote for war knowing what she did then.
If her vote was “a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” what exactly is a “sincere vote”? Why did Clinton vote to send Americans and Iraqis their doom without reading a report throwing cold water on the reasons she later gave for supporting the war? And as for the assurances, where did she get them? From intelligence sources or from her political advisers?
There is more than one dead hand snatching at Hillary’s ankles. Why, Gerth and Van Natta ask, did she accept the Bush-Cheney line that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam? Not only the National Intelligence Estimate but other intelligence reports available to her as a senator said it simply was not true.
Yet another hand slapping the ground and grasping for Hilary’s ankle is what Gerth and Van Natta call “the forgotten vote.” They write: “For all the scrutiny of Clinton’s vote, an important moment has been lost. It came several hours earlier, on Oct. 10, 2002, the same day Clinton spoke about why she would support the Iraq-war authorization.
“In her remarks on the Senate floor, she stressed the need for diplomacy with Iraq on the part of the Bush administration and insisted she wasn’t voting for ‘any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for unilateralism.’ Yet just a few hours after her speech, Clinton voted against an amendment to the war resolution that would have required the diplomatic emphasis that Clinton had gone on record as supporting–and that she now says she had favored all along….
“The amendment called…for the U.N. to pass a new resolution explicitly approving the use of force against Iraq. It also required the president to return to Congress if his U.N. efforts failed and, in Senator (Carl) Levin’s words, ‘urge us to authorize a going-it-alone, unilateral resolution.’ That resolution would allow the president to wage war as a last option.”
Safely seated in the armor-plated political machine of her candidacy, Hillary Clinton has not had to explain her vote against the “diplomacy first” amendment. Nor has she had to answer for not reading the National Intelligence Estimate before voting to send thousands of people to their deaths.