Last month I attended the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting. I saw every presidential candidate speak about their vision for America and what they would do if elected president, including Senator Hillary Clinton.
Clinton made two major statements about Iraq in her DNC speech.
First she said, "If I had been president in October of 2002, I would not have started this war." This counterfactual elicited strong cheers from the audiences Clinton supporters, but was notable in that it was demonstrably wrong, not an apology for her pro-war vote, and irrelevant. Clinton did vote to go to war and she has never apologized for that vote. No electoral scenario existed whereby Clinton would have been president in 2002, so statements about what she might have done had she held an office in 2002 that she did not run for in 2000 are not worth the breathe she spend making them, let alone the applause that they inexplicably garnered.
Clinton also addressed a conceivable future in her DNC speech (video here), "If we in Congress don't end this war before January of 2009, as president I will." This statement is as clear as it gets. Clinton promised to end the war in Iraq if she takes office in January 2009. She made this promise to a room of thousands of Democratic loyalists, people who have been fighting to end this war since the day it started, people who have lost family members or themselves been injured in Iraq. And she made a promise, not unlike other Democratic candidates, to be sure that the war would end immediately were she to be given the reins of this country.
Clinton lied. Or at least changed her mind in the last month, though this is hardly a better explanation.
Michael Gordon and Patrick Healy have an article in today's New York Times based around an interview of Clinton and what she will do in Iraq if elected president. In it Clinton says that she would keep American troops on the ground in Iraq, though shift their mission to remove them from playing a role adjudicating the civil war and refocus on fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. The crux of Clinton's January 2009 plan is this: "What we can do is to almost take a line sort of north of, between Baghdad and Kirkuk, and basically put our troops into that region -- the ones that are going to remain for our antiterrorism mission; for our northern support mission; for our ability to respond to the Iranians; and to continue to provide support, if called for, for the Iraqis."
Senator Clinton, changing which parts of Iraq we focus our military's attention is not the same as ending the war. It's not even part of the same conversation.
Clinton told Healy and Gordon: "Trying to withdraw is not something you snap your fingers and tell people, do it tomorrow." Maybe, but that's what you said you would do if elected president. You said, "If we in Congress don't end this war before January of 2009, as president I will."
Clinton's is not a liberal, Democratic vision for ending the war in Iraq nor is it a plausible flushing out of the same ideas that Clinton presented at the DNC winter meeting. Matt Stoller described Clinton's position well, "It's a genuinely and deeply conservative foreign policy strategy, involving indefinitely keeping US troops in Iraq for unspecified national security interests while calling the war over." What goes unstated is how monumentally unacceptable Clinton's Iraq plan is for the Democratic Party and America.
Clinton came to the DNC and spoke with the Democratic base. She twice asserted that a Hillary Clinton presidency would mean no more war in Iraq. Yet this is clearly not the position that she holds; her real position is to continue America's presence in Iraq for the indefinite future that starts in January 2009. Clinton's lies at the DNC stem directly from her inability to wrap her mind around the idea of implementing the only sound course for Iraq: ending the war now and bringing our troops home.