Hillary Clinton is pushing back against criticism of her vote as a Senator in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war, The Hill reports.
"I have a much longer history than one vote, which I said was a mistake because of the way that it was done and how the Bush administration handled it," the Democratic presidential front-runner said at CNN's Democratic town hall in Des Moines, Iowa.
But many Democrats don't think that the vote to authorize the Iraq war - which has killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, wounded many more physically and psychologically, and which apparently didn't really end in December 2011 - can be dismissed as just "one vote." Many Democrats also don't think that the "mistake" of voting for the war can be wholly laid at the feet of the George W. Bush Administration. Twenty-one of the fifty Democratic Senators voted no, including Barbara Boxer, Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Debbie Stabenow, Paul Wellstone, and Ron Wyden. So it was certainly possible for Democratic Senators to vote no - almost half of them did so.
In September 2002, it was a knowable fact for Members of Congress that the Bush Administration's public case for war did not match the U.S. intelligence reports that were available to Congress.
Politico recently called attention to a declassified Joint Chiefs of Staff [JCS] report that shows that in September 2002, senior Bush Administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Air Force General Richard Myers, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, knew that the Bush Administration's public case for war did not match U.S. intelligence knowledge.
Politico noted that the 2002 JCS report was available for inspection by Members of Congress, if they were interested. But there was not much Congressional interest in such things among war supporters. As the Washington Post reported in April 2004, as Congress debated the war in the fall of 2002, no more than six senators read the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq WMD. Senator Clinton was not one of the six.
If the United States has not been attacked - and the U.S. had not been attacked by Iraq in 2002 - the burden of proof is on people who want to take the country to war. But at least twenty-three Democratic Senators, including Clinton, accepted the Bush Administration's public case for war without checking it against U.S. intelligence reports to which they had access.
Senator Dick Durbin, who voted against the war, said on the Senate floor in April 2007 that as a member of the Senate intelligence committee, he had known in 2002 that U.S. intelligence knowledge did not match the Bush Administration's public case for war. "The information we had in the intelligence committee was not the same information being given to the American people. I couldn't believe it," Durbin said. So, if they didn't want to read the reports themselves, Senate Democrats had another option. They could have met with Dick Durbin, and asked him: is the Bush Administration's public case for war consistent with what you know as a member of the intelligence committee? And they could have voted accordingly. That's why we have Democrats on the intelligence committee, to enable that conversation.
On the question of the U.S. use of military force, the past didn't go anywhere - it's not even past. There's a simmering debate now about demands for greater use of U.S. military force in Iraq and Syria, which flares up whenever a terrorist attack starts looping on the cable TV news networks or whenever Republicans have a presidential debate. When Washington political actors demand a major commitment of U.S. troops to Iraq and Syria, it's essential to know: who are these people? What did they advocate for in the past? In particular: what role did they and their associates play in creating the Iraq fiasco?
Politico noted that several Iraq war architects are now advising Republican presidential candidates. Then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose military assistant was copied on the JCS report, is one of Jeb Bush's foreign policy experts. John Bolton is advising Ted Cruz. Elliott Abrams and William Kristol are supporting Marco Rubio.
If any of these Republicans wins the Republican nomination for President, it seems likely that one of their talking points will be the purported need for greater U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria, because that's what they're saying right now. And if any of them win in November, it seems likely that escalating the use of U.S. military force in Iraq and Syria is something they might want to do.
Since it is very likely that we will have to fight this fight in the future, it is reasonable for Democrats who don't want to see greater U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria to consider who they want to be the captain for our side in this fight. Who can call these people out on what they knew about the bogus case for war in 2002 and when they knew it? It's not about the past. It's about the future.