Bill Clinton Says He Opposed Iraq War from Start (UPDATED)

Bill Clinton, who as president committed the country to a policy of regime change in Iraq, now claims he was opposed to the Iraq war “from the beginning,” Patrick Healy reports for the NYT.

Bill Clinton Says He Opposed Iraq War from Start David Lienemann/ Associated Press Former President Bill Clinton spoke Tuesday in Muscatine, Iowa, on behalf of his wife. During a campaign swing for his wife, former President Bill Clinton said flatly yesterday that he opposed the war in Iraq “from the beginning” — a statement that is more absolute than his comments before the invasion in March 2003.

Before the invasion, Mr. Clinton did not precisely declare that he opposed the war. A week before military action began, however, he did say that he preferred to give weapons inspections more time and that an invasion was not necessary to topple Saddam Hussein. At the same time, he also spoke supportively about the 2002 Senate resolution that authorized military action against Iraq.

Advisers to Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he did oppose the war, but that it would have been inappropriate at the time for him, a former president, to oppose — in a direct, full-throated manner — the sitting president’s military decision.

Mr. Clinton has said several times since the war began that he would not have attacked Iraq in the manner that President Bush had done. As early as June 2004, he said, “I would not have done it until after Hans Blix finished the job,” referring to the weapons inspections there before the war.

[…]

Mr. Clinton’s remark yesterday came in the context of opposition to Republican-backed tax cuts for wealthy Americans like himself, and how that loss of revenue affected financing for the military.

“Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers,” Mr. Clinton said.

ABC’s Ed O’Keefe suggests the former president is rewriting history.

Clinton has long been critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and called it a “big mistake” as far back as November of 2005.

But like his wife, the former president supported giving President Bush the authority needed to go to war.

“I supported the President when he asked the Congress for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” said Clinton in 2003 while delivering commencement remarks at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss.

Clinton enthusiast Oliver Willis is more blunt, calling the statement “a load of bull.”

DavidL @ BitsBlog believes this one is so silly that it tarnishes Clinton’s reputation for being a good liar.

Hillary Clinton’s Fact Hub site, though, provides several quotes, including one from March 2003, supporting Bill’s contention that he opposed invasion while supporting regime change.

Steve Gilbert goes them one better, quoting Bill Clinton’s lengthy 1998 argument for military action against Iraqi WMD.

It’s largely picking nits, since Bill Clinton wasn’t a decision maker. His position was that of many Democrats: Let’s give inspections a chance to work and then consider the military option. A goodly number, including Hillary Clinton, nonetheless voted in support of the use of force resolution which authorized President Bush to go to war. Bill Clinton acknowledges that he also supported that resolution.

Essentially, then, it puts the Clintons in much the same position as John McCain and most of the Republicans running for the nomination: Authorizing the war but saying they’d have conducted it better.

Regardless of whether Bill Clinton is now fibbing it’s rather bizarre to think that people will base their judgment on whether to make his wife commander-in-chief based on what he now claims he was thinking five years ago. Is he suggesting that Hillary’s vote in favor of the war resolution is immaterial because she’d listen to him were she elected? Or is it just all about him?

From a sheer political standpoint, I’m not sure how this helps, either. It just reminds Democrats that the Clintons didn’t speak out forcefully against the war.
ObWi’s Publius is more resolved than ever against voting for another Clinton.

[T]he Clintons are so scarred that they’re scared. Nothing bold will come from a second Clinton administration — and there’s a non-negligible chance that she’ll be pressured into doing something hawkishly stupid on the foreign policy front. Whether the flaw is action or inaction, the reason will be the same — they are intensely, neurotically afraid of appearing too liberal. The scars cut too deep.

Certainly, this gives Barack Obama more leverage on the war issue.

Photo credit: David Lienemann/ Associated Press

UPDATE: Commenter Neo points to a November 2006 piece in The Nation describing a Democratic strategy meeting shortly after the 2004 elections:

A surprise guest at the meeting was Bill Clinton, whose agenda seemed to be protecting his wife. But things didn’t work out quite as planned. When Guy Saperstein, a retired lawyer from Oakland, asked Clinton if Democrats who supported the war should apologize, the former President “went f***ing ballistic,” according to Saperstein. Forget Hillary, Clinton said angrily during a ten-minute rant; if I was in Congress I would’ve voted for the war. “It was an extraordinary display of anger and imperiousness,” Saperstein says.

Of course, it’s possible to be simultaneously opposed to a war and yet vote for it based on political calculations. It’s not the ideal position for claiming the moral high ground, however.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Patrick T McGuire says:

    He also said he “…did not have sexual relations with that woman”.




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  2. jukeboxgrad says:

    “Bill Clinton, who as president committed the country to a policy of regime change in Iraq”

    The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (link) called for support to “Iraqi democratic opposition organizations,” via a limited amount of money, training and equipment. It specifically indicated we should have no military role beyond that: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of United States Armed Forces (except as provided in section 4(a)(2)) in carrying out this Act.”

    There is somewhat of a tendency to overlook this important fact, by Bush supporters who like to falsely imply that Bush was just continuing a policy set by Clinton. I’m not saying this is your perspective, but I think some of your readers might have that perspective.




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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Note to self: when you phrase your statements ambiguously enough you’ll be able to support any claim about what you said after the fact.

    Ready for eight more Clinton years?




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  4. jukeboxgrad says:

    “when you phrase your statements ambiguously enough”

    Good point. It’s really much better to make statements that are unambiguous and false (e.g., “we have found the weapons of mass destruction;” “he wouldn’t let them in;” “a wiretap requires a court order;” et al).




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  5. rodney dill says:

    Actually I always thought everything Bill said was unambiguous




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  6. Christopher says:

    Um, James, you maybe hadn’t heard, but…Bubba is no longer prez. So who cares what he thinks or says? ONLY dyed in the wool Hillary supporters do, and what the heck, of course he’s going to feed them a lot of bull!




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  7. Dan Spencer says:

    The former president’s blunder could not have come at a worse time for Hillary’s race for the presidency. Her campaign has stalled. In Iowa Obama has tied Hillary in the most recent polling, some are predicting Obama will beat her in Iowa, and Hillary is bracing for defeat.

    As Hillary campaign teeters on defeat and needs to rely upon the political prowesses of the infamous “comeback kid,” he stumbles. Clinton reminds everyone, as Hillary’s Democratic opponents continue to repeat – the Clinton’s have trouble giving straight answers – Clinton admitted that answers he gave about Ms. Lewinsky during a 1998 deposition were false and that he “knowingly gave misleading and evasive answers.”




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  8. Neo says:

    There was this about a meeting in May of 2006 ..

    A surprise guest at the meeting was Bill Clinton, whose agenda seemed to be protecting his wife. But things didn’t work out quite as planned. When Guy Saperstein, a retired lawyer from Oakland, asked Clinton if Democrats who supported the war should apologize, the former President ” went f*cking ballistic,” according to Saperstein. Forget Hillary, Clinton said angrily during a ten-minute rant; if I was in Congress I would’ve voted for the war. “It was an extraordinary display of anger and imperiousness,” Saperstein says.




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  9. Wayne says:

    Juke
    Your link didn’t work. Let us assume you are right. The act didn’t stop Clinton from using military force against Iraq including 300 cruise missiles.

    http://edition.cnn.com/US/9812/16/clinton.iraq.speech/




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  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Wayne, people like JBG suffer from BDS. It causes them to Clintonize their spins. The little note about wire tapping. I believe is was not broadly applied. Only to those who were foreign and suspected to be terrorist. This, as opposed to keeping FBI files, illegally, in the White House because they were thought to be enemies of the Clinton’s. Willy Jeff was guilty of perjury. In court, no questions asked. That is a felony. That is a fact in evidence. All the left says about Bush is conjecture. Jukebox.




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  11. nightjar says:

    A thorough and honest post Mr. Joyner. It’s may have been naive to trust Bush with such a blank check to depose Saddam, but it is unfair to claim supporting the Iraq use of force resolution is the same as supporting Bush’s short-circuiting it’s intent by pulling out inspectors and launching an invasion.– Of course provided objections were stated at the time. As I believe Clinton did as well as most dems who voted for the resolution

    By such a standard to allege war support, Joe Wilson would be a war supporter. Also, how loud would repubs have yelled if a recent former president and loudly and forcefully objected to Bushes actions so soon after 9-11.




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  12. jukeboxgrad says:

    wayne: “Your link didn’t work.”

    Oop, sorry. Thanks for pointing that out. Try this one.

    “Let us assume you are right.”

    You need to assume nothing. The document is exceptionally easy to find. Just google the phrase “iraq liberation act.” If you are really as helpless as you sound (with regard to doing your own research), that would explain why so much of what you post here is so misinformed.

    “The act didn’t stop Clinton from using military force against Iraq including 300 cruise missiles.”

    First of all, the link you offered doesn’t say that Clinton used “300 cruise missiles.” It says only this:

    More than 300 cruise missiles are available for use against Iraq

    Let us know if you really don’t grasp the difference between ‘were used’ vs. ‘were available for use.’ And let us know if you actually have a source for the claim you made.

    Secondly, ILA didn’t prohibit the use of force against Iraq. ILA simply called for regime change, while explicitly declining to authorize the use of US forces in carrying out regime change. Bushists often refer to the ILA in a way that implies that it authorized the use of force for the purpose of regime change, even though it expressly omitted that authorization. It’s not hard to construe Joyner’s opening sentence, above (“Bill Clinton, who as president committed the country to a policy of regime change in Iraq, now claims he was opposed to the Iraq war”), as carrying this false implication.

    Yes, Clinton “committed the country to a policy of regime change in Iraq,” but he did it with a policy expressly designed to avoid the use of US forces. What Bush did is radically different. Therefore I think it’s disingenuous to bring up ILA without being clear about this point.




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  13. Wayne says:

    Juke
    I didn’t look up the “iraq liberation act” since your point about it whether true or false was irrelevant. Unless you are claiming that Clinton broke the law for doing so.
    Clinton use significant military force before and after it. To deny that is asenine, which is nothing new for you.

    On December 17, 1998 The Washington Post reported, “The opening U.S. attack against Iraq yesterday involved more than 200 cruise missiles launched from ships in the Persian Gulf and scores of bombs dropped from aircraft flying from the carrier USS Enterprise against targets across the country, defense officials said. With the strikes planned to last at least three days and possibly longer, officials said U.S. and British warplanes stationed in Persian Gulf states and B-52 bombers operating out of the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia would join the effort, which aims to pummel a broad range of targets critical to Iraq’s weapons manufacturing and President Saddam Hussein’s hold on power

    http://www.reasons-for-war-with-iraq.info/

    The ILA was not an authorization for a mass ground invasion. The intent was for regime change. However military use was understood. Clinton later use of military force may have been for other reasons but it also promoted the intent of the ILA.

    Fox News has played clips of Clinton supporting the congress authorization for war with Iraq and Bush invasion of Iraq. Of course Clinton thought he could have done better but support he did give. Now he is trying to change history once again.




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  14. Wayne says:

    Juke
    In case you are going to argue that over 200 isn’t the same as 300. 325 plus 90 is equal to 415 cruise missiles. Not that it changes the point of significant use of military force.

    16-19 December 1998 (United States, Iraq)
    In response to Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the United States and United Kingdom conduct air strikes and missile attacks on 100 Iraqi military sites. US Navy ships fire more than 325 RGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles, while US Air Force B-52 aircraft fire 90 AGM-109 Tomahawks. US Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that the attacks “degraded [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons.”[56]

    http://cns.miis.edu/research/wmdme/chrono.htm

    I didn’t research your point because I didn’t contest it. You however contested mine. Maybe you need me to explain the difference to you.
    Talk about being lazy about doing your research.




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  15. jukeboxgrad says:

    zelsdorf: “The little note about wire tapping. I believe is was not broadly applied.”

    This is what Bush said: “a wiretap requires a court order” (4/20/04, text, video).

    On 12/19/05, Hayden and Gonzales essentially admitted to the press that they had been conducting warrantless wiretapping, and they explained why they felt it was necessary and legal.

    You should explain how Bush’s statement was something other than a lie.




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  16. jukeboxgrad says:

    wayne: “The ILA was not an authorization for a mass ground invasion. The intent was for regime change. However military use was understood.”

    I don’t know what you mean when you say “military use was understood.” The ILA expressly omitted “military use,” in the sense of US forces being involved in regime change. I don’t know why you’re trying to distort what ILA actually said.

    “You however contested mine.”

    I contested your point because you provided a link which purportedly supported your point, even though it didn’t.




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  17. Wayne says:

    The link was meant for reference to Clinton using military force. I use 300 because my recollection was that he used almost all of the cruise missile available to him at the time in the area of operation. I thought the number was higher but didn’t have the time at that moment to research it further.

    You made the inference that they were not used but merely available. You should have research it before trying to slam down my claim.




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  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    wayne: “You made the inference that they were not used but merely available.”

    I wasn’t really making an “inference.” I was simply paying attention to what your link actually said.

    “You should have research it before trying to slam down my claim.”

    I tried to find a different answer elsewhere, and didn’t. In any case, you’re obviously right about the number of cruise missiles, and I appreciate the other links you provided.

    “The link was meant for reference to Clinton using military force.”

    I don’t see your point. Yes, Clinton used “military force.” No one denies that, or has forgotten that. But this in itself does not prove that Clinton was in favor of invading/occupying Iraq. That’s what you seem to be claiming.

    This is what you said to begin with: “the act didn’t stop Clinton from using military force against Iraq.” I’m still having a hard time understanding your point. Clinton did not invade/occupy Iraq. ILA did not call for a US invasion/occupation of Iraq (in fact, it expressly withheld that authorization). Nevertheless, lots of people seem to be wishing/pretending that it did. That’s what you seem to be implying, and it’s also the meaning implied in Joyner’s opening sentence.

    Yes, Clinton used military force. Yes, Clinton set a policy of regime change. But Clinton’s policy of regime change expressly withheld authorization for the use of force for that purpose. This tends to be glossed over and denied, and it shouldn’t be.




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