Monday, June 13, 2016

Since a recent post...

...of mine generated some comments on Hillary Clinton's Iraq War vote I thought I'd weigh in on the subject.

First of all, like President Obama, I'm a child of the 1970s who learned (or overlearned?) the lessons of Vietnam. Obama might sum it up by saying, "Don't do stupid stuff." I would say something more like, "Wars are much easier to get into than out of."

I remember "discussing" the first Gulf War back in 1990 with my brother-in-law at his dining room table. A Vietnam veteran, who like many Republicans had revised his earlier opposition to the conflict, he was all for "teaching Saddam a lesson" after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. I was skeptical, however. What if it wouldn't be as easy as everyone thought? What if we got ourselves stuck in another "quagmire"?

And I wasn't an outlier: the U. S. Senate only approved the war by a close 52–47 vote.

Turns out the war was a rout -- my brother-in-law and those 52 senators were right. From Wikipedia (my emphasis):

Bush made the decision to stop the offensive after a mere 100 hours. Critics labeled this decision premature, as hundreds of Iraqi forces were able to escape; Bush responded by saying that he wanted to minimize U.S. casualties. Opponents further charged that Bush should have continued the attack, pushing Hussein's army back to Baghdad, then removing him from power. Bush explained that he did not give the order to overthrow the Iraqi government because it would have "incurred incalculable human and political costs.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."

So the war was over quickly, Bush's approval ratings went through the roof and those 47 senators who voted against it (and me) sure looked dumb.

And, yet, it could also be argued that we're still involved in Iraq twenty-five years later. Did the first Gulf War ever really end? Or are we stuck in a "quagmire" with no end in sight?

Maybe my brother-in-law and I were both right.

Fast forward to the run-up to the "Second" Gulf War.

Democrats, still smarting from their last vote, helped pass the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution overwhelmingly, by a 77-23 margin.

An obscure Illinois state senator named Barack Obama opposed the war, but Sen. Hillary Clinton joined 28 of her Democratic colleagues in voting "Yea."

(Sen. Jim Webb wrote presciently before the vote, "Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade.")

Like the First Gulf War, I was leery of this one too. (I wasn't even sold on the invasion of Afghanistan -- again, I thought it would be much easier to get in than get out. I told you I was an old '70s peacenik!) But I didn't even have Obama's tiny megaphone. I'm not sure if the term "blog" had been invented back then.

So Obama (and I) turned out to be right while Hillary was wrong. (At least it looks that way in 2016.) She ended up paying the price by losing to him in 2008.

What about now? Does Mrs. Clinton still get punished for her vote or is there a statute of limitations on this sort of thing? (Hers wasn't even the deciding vote, remember?) I say enough is enough. She admitted her mistake and I for one forgive her.

But why did she vote for the war? Why did she join fellow Democrats Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman? What did all those senators have in common? Hmm. Could it be . . . that they all had plans to run for president some day? And that none of them wanted to be seen as wrong (like last time) or insufficiently "strong" on national security? And wouldn't that go double for someone who hoped to be the first woman ever nominated by a major party? Wouldn't Sen. Clinton have to prove that she could be just as hawkish as any man? What if a "No" vote had been the wrong one, like in 1990? Wouldn't that have put Hillary at a huge disadvantage to President Bush in 2004 or someone like John McCain in 2008? Wouldn't that have doomed her chances for the White House?

Barack Obama (and I) didn't have a whole lot to lose in 2002 if we were wrong about the war. (Although dinners at my brother-in-law's would have been even more uncomfortable.) But Clinton had a lot to lose.

Let's get real here. The choice in November will be between someone who has served as a United States Senator, a Secretary of State and as an integral part of two successful eight-year Democratic administrations, and on the other hand a guy whom everyone knows is completely unqualified and unfit for the office.

P. S. The U. S. still has troops in Germany 71 years after World War II ended, and in South Korea 63 years after an armistice was signed (strictly speaking, the war never ended). How long do you think the U. S. will have a presence in Iraq and Afghanistan?


James said...

Even if you concede the Iraq vote there was still her outsized role in Libya. What I read from the huge nytimes article on her role in what President Obama calls his worst foreign policy mistake shows Hilary as someone driven by insecurities and unable to learn from mistakes. While the world didn't collapse from her errors here, I don't think it's unreasonable to call her judgement into question.

Mike Tracy said...

From my friend Tom:

I remember the Bush constantly stressing "I can't negotiate with Sadam with one hand tied behind my back," the threat of force has to be real, etc. The chorus of Cheney, Rumsfeld, backed him up. So technically the vote was not a vote "for war."

I agree Hilary and others probably felt they had to look "strong" on defense. This is one the Democrats' albatrosses they must carry around there necks. But perhaps some of them were also guilty of naivete, as I was, in thinking Bush really wanted to negotiate.

Mike Tracy said...

While I'm admittedly not well-informed on "Libya," it had been American policy for decades to depose Muammar Gaddafi. The U. S. did so without having to send in troops, right? What was the big "fail" here?

James said...

From what I understand it had to do with a sloppy regime change which resulted in none at all and created a vacuum in which groups like ISIS can thrive. While I'm not sure what US policy has been over time in terms of Libya, I know Gates opposed the action and that the failed attempt to arm rebel factions would certainly be opposed to the Obama administration's "don't do stupid stuff" doctrine.

Mike Tracy said...

From "How the 2016 election is upending party stereotypes about strength," in The Week (my emphasis):

"As we look back on previous elections, we see the same argument repeated over and over: Republicans say their candidate is strong and manly while the Democrat is weak and effeminate. Then Democrats struggle to find a retort, often with awkward results. But this election, and the responses Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton gave to the massacre in Orlando, highlight the fact that "strong" can be a complicated idea.

Republicans usually start a campaign with an advantage on national security issues, irrespective of the individual they nominate. There's a default assumption that they're the party that's more concerned with external threats and more eager to march out to meet them. Only at certain moments, like the depths of the Iraq War, does the public move past that assumption and decide that Democrats are the ones they prefer on that issue.

IN ORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES ONE MIGHT EXPECT THAT A FEMALE DEMOCRAT WOULD START WITH AN EVEN GREATER DISADVANTAGE, but Hillary Clinton is not an ordinary candidate. Not only has she long been more hawkish on national security than most in her party, after all this time even her most implacable enemies would grant that she's a pretty tough lady. And when there's a terrorist attack, she knows the notes of seriousness and resolve she's supposed to sound."