Hillary Clinton Has Her Own Questions To Answer About Iraq, Libya, And Syria

Hillary Clinton has admitted she made a mistake in supporting the Iraq War in 2002, but there are plenty of other questions she needs to answer when it comes to foreign interventions.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Unlike Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton didn’t have any real problem answering what has come to be known as the Iraq War Question when she finally spoke to reporters after a month yesterday:

After days of Republican presidential candidates wrestling with questions on the Iraq war, Hillary Clinton weighed in Tuesday, telling reporters that her vote in favor of the war in 2002 was a “mistake.”

“I made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple. And I have written about it in my book, I have talked about it in the past,” Clinton told reporters at an event in Cedar Falls, Iowa, adding that “what we now see is a very different and very dangerous situation.”

During her 2008 campaign, Clinton defended her vote as a way to give President George W. Bush authority to deal with Iraq, which she said he then abused. She frequently followed up this statement by saying that if she had known what Bush would do with the authority she would not have voted the way she had, but declined to call the vote a “mistake.”

Then-Sen. Barack Obama hammered her over the vote during the campaign, citing his opposition to the war while he was serving in Illinois’ state senate. Many experts believe the Iraq war issue was a major reason she ultimately lost in the primaries to Obama.

But since losing that election she wrote in her 2014 book “Hard Choices” that she “got it wrong.”

In her comments Tuesday she made clear that she viewed her past vote as a mistake, with no qualifications.

She then pivoted to talking about Iraq’s current political situation. In the last year much of western Iraq has been overtaken by ISIL, a terrorist group whose successes many analysts attribute to the decade of instability following Saddam Hussein’s ouster.

“The United States is doing what it can but ultimately this has to be a struggle that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people are determined to win for themselves,” said Clinton. “And we can provide support, but they’re going to have to do it.”

On the whole, this is a far better answer to the question than either Bush or Rubio gave, and far better than the way that Clinton handled the issue four years ago when Barack Obama was able to use it to create a wedge between her and the Democratic Party’s base voters and then ultimately win the election. As John Cassidy notes in The New Yorker, though, there are still several more questions that Clinton will need to answer not only about Iraq, but also about another American intervention she supported:

Clinton, for her part, still has work to do to explain what she learned from the Iraq disaster. Clearly, it didn’t turn her against the concept of overseas military intervention. In 2011, as Secretary of State, she helped orchestrate air attacks on Libya that aided in bringing down Muammar Qaddafi, unleashing a civil war that is still raging. In 2013, after she left office, she supported U.S. military action against the Syrian regime, a course that President Obama eventually backed away from. In “Hard Choices,” however, she struck a cautious note. “As much as I have wanted to, I could never change my vote on Iraq,” she wrote. “But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war … I was determined to do exactly that when facing future hard choices, with more experience, wisdom, skepticism, and humility.”

As the 2016 campaign unfolds, Clinton might want to say more about how her views have changed, and how, as President, she would reconcile her urge to exercise American power—both to protect U.S. interests and to do some good in the world—with the harsh realities of experience. Such a discussion would help shift attention away from her 2002 vote and allow her to draw a contrast with the Republicans’ empty rhetoric. More importantly, it would focus the campaign debate on the question that, ever since March, 2003, has been hovering over practically everything: Whither America after Iraq?

Given how things have proceeded in Libya since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime, these are legitimate questions that Clinton, as well as anyone who supported American intervention in that civil war, ought to answer. In Clinton’s case, though, we have some interesting material to work from. She supported the Iraq War, even though she now says she was mistaken in doing so. She supported the intervention in Libya, which has had utterly disastrous consequences for that country and many of its neighbors and now appears to be turning the nation into the latest target of ISIS’s ambitions. And, at least according to the story she told in Hard Choices, she was one of the members of the Obama Administration who argued in favor of arming the Syrian rebels. These would be the same Syrian rebels that are fighting along side ISIS and, according to numerous reports, have frequently traded the non-lethal aid that they have received from Western nations to ISIS and other jihadist members of the rebellion.

So, this leaves us with several questions. Clinton obviously believes she was wrong to support the Iraq War a dozen years ago, although one wonders whether her position on that issue at this point is motivated by her realization that she was in fact wrong, or her realization that admitting she was wrong is the politically beneficial position to take. At the same time, though, she supported American intervention in a situation in Libya that, if anything was orders of magnitude more volatile than pre-war Iraq and was Secretary of State during a time when the United States did virtually nothing to try to manage Libya’s transition from four decades of dictatorship to something resembling a civil society. Then, she supported the idea of providing lethal aid to rebels in Syria we barely knew and had no reason to trust, a position that at the time was supported by few people beyond John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Taken together, all of this raises some real questions about Clinton’s foreign policy views that she really needs to answer at some point. Admitting that she was wrong about Iraq is a good first step, I suppose, but again I have to wonder how much of her admission here is based more on political considerations than a change of opinion about the proper use of force. Given the positions she’s taken on other foreign policy issues, though, Clinton needs to tell Americans a whole lot more about what she believes the proper use of American force might actually be, and how she would respond to a future international crisis. Why, for example, does she apparently believe that the intervention in Iraq was a bad idea, but that interventions in Libya and Syria are acceptable? What does she believe are the criteria that would be necessary in order to justify American intervention abroad? Does it involve something more than a clear and obvious threat to the homeland or our vital national interests and, if so, what else would justify intervention abroad? Given the chaos that followed American intervention in nations such as Iraq and Syria, does she still believe that American intervention is universally good? And so on. So far at least, she has failed to do that and the manner in which she continues to carefully control the ability of reporters to ask her questions makes it unlikely that she’ll be forced to do so in the near future. Or at least she should be.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2016, Iraq War, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I agree. She should answer all those questions. And she will.

    But it won’t matter in the end because she isn’t running against Elizabeth Warren or Ron Paul, she’s running against whichever candidate the Republicans pick. And that guy? He’ll have likely supported Libya and still be unable to admit Iraq was a mistake.

  2. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    although one wonders whether her position on that issue at this point is motivated by her realization that she was in fact wrong, or her realization that admitting she was wrong is the politically beneficial position to take.

    That is the 64 dollar question (or was that 64,000?). Alas, as the seldom intellectually challenged Mr. Reynolds notes above, her opponent may end up not even being capable of that level of thought experiment. To play devil’s advocate for those benighted souls, with their party being what it is knowing the politically beneficial position to take is sometimes problematical.

  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Not to state the obvious, but wouldn’t it be just as productive to post a daily “I do not like Hillary Clinton” statement and leave it at that?

  4. EddieInCA says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Counselor –

    I think that’s been “stipulated”, as y’all like to say in the courtroom.

  5. Davebo says:

    On the whole, this is a far better answer to the question than either Bush or Rubio gave, and far better than the way that Clinton handled the issue four years ago when Barack Obama was able to use it to create a wedge between her and the Democratic Party’s base voters and then ultimately win the election.

    Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in an election four years ago? OK Doug, whatever you say. But wait.

    In 2011, as Secretary of State, she helped orchestrate air attacks on Libya that aided in bringing down Muammar Qaddafi

    Let’s forget that you just told us that in 2011 Hillary was running against Obama. Now the Sec. of State orchestrates tactical air attacks?

    Beyond the total confusion of history and basic American civics this post creates, I’m curious about what Hillary should have done regarding the actions in Libya and Syria the administration supported.

    Should she have resigned in protest from her position at State?

    At the same time, though, she supported American intervention in a situation in Libya that, if anything was orders of magnitude more volatile than pre-war Iraq and was Secretary of State during a time when the United States did virtually nothing to try to manage Libya’s transition from four decades of dictatorship to something resembling a civil society.

    Stick to quoting other more knowledgeable Hawks Doug. Because you can’t, and don’t even attempt, to support any of these baseless allegations. I mean seriously, you couldn’t find a Max Boot or Victor Hanson editorial to link to?

    Has it gotten that bad? Or were you forced to do some billable legal work today?

  6. Scott F. says:

    John Cassidy sez:

    In 2011, as Secretary of State, she helped orchestrate air attacks on Libya that aided in bringing down Muammar Qaddafi, unleashing a civil war that is still raging.

    The use of “unleashing” there is a pretty clever use of wordplay. It suggests that civil war wasn’t happening in Libya prior to the NATO intervention and Libya would be stable today had NATO not gotten involved. The first position is demonstrably false and the second one is counterfactual at best.

    I’ll give credit to those who argue intervention in Libya was not in our national interest and we should have stayed out of it all together. But, the contention that the current state of Libya is the result of American action there has no merit whatsoever.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Davebo:

    Don’t forget this:

    Given the chaos that followed American intervention in nations such as Iraq and Syria, does she still believe that American intervention is universally good?

    Resting on the idiotic assumption that Hillary believes intervention is “universally good.” Pure HDS hack work.

    It’s interesting watching Doug flail, abandoning any pretense of accuracy in his desperation to somehow stop that woman. Like many Clinton haters before him, Doug ends up destroying his own credibility.

  8. stonetools says:

    Yeah, I’m confused. Is Doug blaming Hillary for us getting involved in Libya at all, or is he is blaming Hillary for not having us intervening more heavily to manage the Libyan situation after Ghadaffi, i.e. nation build?
    Those two positions appear inconsistent-but then aren’t the only time Doug has taken logically inconsistent positions re HRC. The HDS is ruining the man’s thinking.

    Doug, why don’t you take a step back , not post on Clinton for a week, and just re-assess your thinking on HRC. I think most commenters here agree a rest and reset is needed.

  9. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Resting on the idiotic assumption that Hillary believes intervention is “universally good.”

    Also resting on the equally idiotic assumption that Libya and Syria would not be chaotic today had the US stayed on the sidelines.

  10. David M says:

    It would be nice if this election included a candidate who opposed the Iraq War as well as intervening in Libya and Syria, and who also supported the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and re-engaging with Cuba. Unfortunately, it will not. The choices will be roughly as follows:

    Option 1: Supports or supported the Iraq War and wanted to intervene in Libya, Syria and against ISIS. Opposes negotiating with Iran or re-engaging with Cuba.

    Option 2: No longer supports the Iraq War, and wanted to intervene in Libya, Syria and against ISIS. Supports negotiating with Iran and re-engaging with Cuba.

    So sure, I’d prefer if Option 2 was a little less interventionist, so maybe the military actions against Libya, Syria and ISIS were less likely. However, I’d have to be completely insane to consider Option 1 as the alternative, given that ramps up the likelihood of war with Iran and was responsible for the Iraq War.

  11. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There are tons of reasons to disagree with our interventions in Libya and Syria as well as lots of other places. I just don’t see how:

    A. Those interventions are laid at Clinton’s feet and not Obama’s (other than the fact that Clinton is the one running for president)

    B. That by staying at State after those decisions were made she somehow implicitly supports them. Perhaps she did/does I suppose.

    It’s like Doug realized he had milked the email/Clinton Foundation scandals for all they were worth and suddenly found Daniel Larison’s Blog which, by the way is fantastic.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    Any Democrat who navigated the political terrain that existed in the 80s and 90s and remains prominent in national politics has a record on ‘law and order’ issues and international issues (war in Iraq, trade agreements) that requires some explication. To have survived and prospered however that person has demonstrated a lot of political skill. If Newt Gingrich were still relevant imagine the policies and statements that could be tossed into his face.

  13. Rafer Janders says:

    was Secretary of State during a time when the United States did virtually nothing to try to manage Libya’s transition from four decades of dictatorship to something resembling a civil society.

    Well, we would have, but BENGHAZI!!!

    Seriously, the same people who were complaining that American diplomats — the very people who would have helped manage that transition — should not have been on the ground in Libya because it was too dangerous are now arguing that those same diplomats should have done more?!?!

  14. Rafer Janders says:

    In 2011, as Secretary of State, she helped orchestrate air attacks on Libya that aided in bringing down Muammar Qaddafi, unleashing a civil war that is still raging.

    Um, wait a minute. As someone who was actually alive in 2011, I remember that we intervened BECAUSE of the civil war that was already raging, not that our intervention unleashed the civil war. The very reason US planes bombed Qaddafi’s forces was to stop them from overwhelming the rebels — which, in a world governed by a linear sensation of time, seems to indicate that the civil war came before the intervention, not after….

  15. David M says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Yes, I keep hearing how the US started a civil war in Libya, but that doesn’t seem to be the right use of the word “started”. Intervened in an ongoing conflict, sure. Started, not so much.

  16. Tillman says:

    @Rafer Janders: I also recall something to the effect of how the main reason we were getting involved in something that didn’t involve our interests was because Britain and France wanted us involved, to help their interests, and hey, they helped us with Iraq and got next to nothing out of it…

    But actual history has little to do with current perceptions.

  17. David M says:

    @Tillman:

    I can’t decide if the fact we were helping Britain and France makes the intervention a better or worse decision, but it’s important to have an accurate history of what actually happened. Sometimes the way it’s described makes it seems like we randomly decided to start a civil war somewhere, and Libya turned out to be the lucky country, for no reason at all.

  18. Ben Johannson says:

    Given her personal record of advocacy and history of recruiting Democratic interventionists to her staffs, it is unlikely she would do much differently today. I don’t expect Clinton or any other member of the Washington elite to acknowledge the 100% failure rate of American foreign adventures over the last fourteen years. I do expect Clinton to adopt the politically safest position at any given time; for now (while pursuing a nomination) that’s saying Iraq was a mistake. She will not admit the Libyan adventure was bad policy although both she and Obama well know it was (had they considered it a political win they would not have been virtually silent on the issue over the last three years.)

  19. @Rafer Janders:

    Silence fool, don’t you know that Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are Time Lords?

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    @David M:

    Sometimes the way it’s described makes it seems like we randomly decided to start a civil war somewhere, and Libya turned out to be the lucky country, for no reason at all.

    Substitute the word “Iraq” for “Libya” and that’s actually a pretty accurate statement….

  21. Eric Florack says:

    the mistake in Iraq, was not recognizing that somebody of the lack of quality of a Barack Obama would come along and muck the whole deal up.

    one has to make decisions based on the information that one has at the time.based on the information we had at the time it was the right thing to do and still is. Anything more is simply political posturing.this is particularly true since it has been shown repeatedly that Eric did in fact have weapons of mass destruction. Denials by the Democrats not withstanding. What do carry on, Democrat, it is amusing to watch you guys scrambling to cover for one of your team that has become synonymous with corruption

  22. Ben Wolf says:

    @Eric Florack: The information at the time was deliberately planted — by the Bush Administration via selective leaks and “evidence” invented behind closed doors. Judith Miller didn’t blunder she was fed bullshit to advance the narrative of a Hussein in league with terrorists. Story after story was fabricated to the end of invading Iraq as shown to us by the text of the Downing Street Memo:

    C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. . .

    The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

    The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

    The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

    http://www.downingstreetmemo.com/memos.html

    Add to this yellow-cake uranium, Mohammed Atta’s invented meeting with Iraqi agents in Prague, Bush’s public claim in 2002 that Saddam was working with al-Qaeda to make drones for attacking the U.S. six thousand miles away, his statement that, “Never would we dream that someone would use our own planes and our own mail to attack us”, despite lack of any evidence the anthrax originated from an Iraqi weapons lab. The refusal of Republican candidates and leadership to acknowledge this is exactly why they can’t be trusted in power again.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @David M:

    I never believed we were on the sidelines in the run-up to Libya. Yes, France and the UK had interest in the matter, but someone got Vladimir Putin to sign off on the deal, and I don’t think those two have the juice to get that done.

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    was Secretary of State during a time when the United States did virtually nothing to try to manage Libya’s transition from four decades of dictatorship to something resembling a civil society.

    So we should have intervened more, or we should have intervened less? Help me out here, Doug.

  25. Rafer Janders says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Anything more is simply political posturing.this is particularly true since it has been shown repeatedly that Eric did in fact have weapons of mass destruction.

    Hey, I always said we should have intervened in Eric, but I fear the situation may be too far gone by now….

  26. An Interested Party says:

    the mistake in Iraq, was not recognizing that somebody of the lack of quality of a Barack Obama would come along and muck the whole deal up.

    Yes, of course, because before he came along Iraq was such a tremendous success…who in their right mind believes this bull$hit…

  27. Tillman says:

    @michael reynolds: Putin signed off on Libya? Never heard that, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    @Eric Florack:

    The mistake in Eric was not recognizing that somebody of the lack of quality of a Barack Obama would come along and muck the whole deal up.

    Yes, the quality of a George W. Bush, that’s what we were missing. And your advanced quality, let me type writing for everybody else, was sorely missed during the time of James P.

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @Eric Florack:

    the mistake in Iraq, was not recognizing that somebody of the lack of quality of a Barack Obama would come along and muck the whole deal up.

    Actually, you were only off by one president. The mistakes were:

    (1) lying about the reasons for going to war in Iraq in the first place
    (2) ignoring the results of actual on-the-ground weapons inspections, which showed there to be no WMDs
    (3) Invading Iraq for no reason directly related to the security of America
    (4) taking down Hussein and ceding power in the region to Iran, and in so doing sowing the seeds that lead to the ascension of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

    That’s right, George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, was the architect of our biggest foreign policy failure since Vietnam.

  29. oh the lies says:
  30. Tony W says:

    Florack gives us a hint here about the Republicans plan for covering up the huge cluster fvck that is Mr. Bush’s Iraq – blame Obama for “mucking it up”.

    Dude – as Al Ameda above says, it was mucked up a long time before Obama came on the scene.

  31. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: It may depend on how he’s paid. Most blogs pay a fixed fee per word or per 100 words. “I do not like Hillary Clinton” is not long enough to secure a payment in such a case.

  32. anjin-san says:

    @Eric Florack:

    the mistake in Iraq, was not recognizing that somebody of the lack of quality of a Barack Obama would come along and muck the whole deal up.

    Well of course. The Iraq war under Bush was a shining triumph. Of course.

  33. anjin-san says:

    Looking at Florack’s blog (broken image links and all) I see that he thinks that “Hillary Clinton continues to self implode.”

    I wonder if this is anything like the “Democrat civil war, worse than Chicago in ’68” that he predicted for the 2008 Democratic convention.

    Say bithead, how did those election night riots in Grant Park work out for you?

  34. C. Clavin says:

    Without darkness, there is no light.
    Without Florack, there is no smart.

  35. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But it won’t matter in the end because she isn’t running against Elizabeth Warren or Ron Paul, she’s running against whichever candidate the Republicans pick. And that guy? He’ll have likely supported Libya and still be unable to admit Iraq was a mistake.

    I think that’s factually accurate but also really sad that our politics is about the being better than the lowest possible standard. It’s also sad that advocates trumpet that comparative advantage as some kind of virtue.

    Unlike most of the crowd here I cannot be a cheerleader for someone who is just slightly better than . Is it too much to ask for a candidate that has a foreign policy vision which isn’t dictated by pandering or partisan focus polls? As a guy who participated to a greater or lesser degree in just about every US conflict since 1994 (and had friends die as a result) it sure would be nice to see a candidate with a coherent foreign policy for the future of the US. Instead, what we get is “hey, my past decisions were slightly less shitty than the other person, so vote for me!”

  36. Ron Beasley says:

    I have always seen Hillary Clinton as a neocon lite – a Scoop Jackson Democrat which was why I didn;t support her in 2008. Although looking back today I’m not really sure I didn’t get much of the same with Obama.

  37. Davebo says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Apparently it pays enough to change

    Doug is an attorney in private practice in Northern Virginia. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law.

    To

    Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law.

    But in fairness to Doug, private practice can be a bitch especially these days.

  38. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    It’s also sad that advocates trumpet that comparative advantage as some kind of virtue.

    It would be sad, yes, but I don’t see that happening here. In fact, I’m not sure there are any Hillary Clinton advocates here at all. (Any of you advocates, sing out.)

    What we mostly have is people who don’t much like Hillary or her policies, but see a night-and-day difference between the warm spit that is Hillary and the hot toxin that is every Republican policy (and Supreme Court appointee) of the last couple of decades. As I said in another thread, I’m not crazy about Brussels sprouts, but I’d rather eat Brussels sprouts than Drano.

  39. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:

    Is it too much to ask for a candidate that has a foreign policy vision which isn’t dictated by pandering or partisan focus polls?

    I think the answer is “yes, it is too much to ask.” As Ron Beasley notes directly after your comment, the electorate voted in Obama in 2008 as the anti-war candidate and we’ve still gotten more military adventurism in the last six years than most here would care to see.

    The question is why.

  40. MarkedMan says:

    FWIW, I’m actually a Clinton advocate. But I have to admit that I don’t get disappointed very easily by politicians or business executives. You have to judge them by what they were able to get accomplished – I don’t spend a single moment contemplating what a non-existent person could have accomplished in their place. Hillary is tough and smart and consistently aligned with me for many years on a lot of the issues I care about. She was a darn good Senator for NY and gained the respect of both her Republican and Democratic colleagues.

    And when I run down the list of all the other real-world potential candidates, Democrat or Republican, and consider the environment she’ll have to work in, I can’t think of anyone better.