As a follow up to my post yesterday, in which I called on Obama not to apologize for saying that 3,000 American lives were "wasted", I read the following article No Apology Needed in today's NYT by the liberals' favorite conservative columnist. David Brooks argues that Hillary Clinton should not apologize for her 2002 war resolution vote.
I have always had suspicions about Hillary's vote and her seemingly inexplicable unwillingness to apologize for it, especially when many other Democrats - Kerry, Edwards, Biden - have apologized.
Her explanation - that she was trying to support diplomacy and negotiation - did not quite pass the smell test. It was a little too smarmy; too much triangulation for me.
But looking back at what Hillary said at the time, Brooks makes a convincing argument that she specifically rejected a pre-emptive, unilateral attack on Saddam. Also see Union Leader article.
Her approach is thoughtful and complex, precisely the qualities we need in a president, he says.
The Time Line
In September 2002, Clinton was saying in public what Colin Powell was saying in private: work through the U.N. and build a broad coalition to enforce inspections.
Her October 10th Senate resolution speech was Clintonian in character:
"On the one hand, she rejected the Bush policy of pre-emptive war," writes Brooks. "On the other hand, she also rejected the view that the international community 'should only resort to force if and when the United Nations Security Council approves it.'"
Drawing on the lessons of Bosnia, she said sometimes the world has to act, even if the big powers cannot agree.
Classic Clinton Triangulation 101: more U.N. resolutions, more inspections, more diplomacy...with the threat of force reserved as a last resort.
But the Senate resolution offered her a Yes or No choice. She says she wanted to give Powell bipartisan leverage at the U.N. So she voted Yes.
This is how she now explains that vote, and Brooks says, "I confess that until now, I've regarded her explanation as a transparent political dodge." Brooks now feels that diplomatic leverage really was on her mind. (I wonder what his motives are?)
On November 8th, 2002, the Security Council passed a unanimous resolution threatening Saddam with "serious consequences" if he didn't disarm.
"The next crucial period came in March 2003, as the U.S. battled France over the second Security Council resolution. Clinton's argument at this point was that inspections were working and should be given more time. "It is preferable that we do this in a peaceful manner through coercive inspection," she said on March 3, but went on, "At some point we have to be willing to uphold the United Nations resolutions."
Then she added, "This is a very delicate balancing act."
On March 17, Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to disarm or be attacked. Clinton squirmed and tried to be critical of the Bush policy while supporting the President's negotiating position.
"She clearly had doubts about Bush's timing, but she kept emphasizing that from her time in the White House, she knew how unhelpful it was for senators to be popping off in public on foreign policy."
At one press event in New York, she nodded when Charles Rangel said Bush had failed at the U.N. But when reporters asked Clinton to repeat what Rangel had just said, she bit her tongue. On March 17, as U.S. troops mobilized, she issued her strongest statement in support of the effort.
In the fall of 2003, most liberals went into full opposition, wanting to see Bush disgraced. Clinton -- while an early critic of the troop levels, the postwar plans and all the rest -- tried to stay constructive. She wanted to see America and Iraq succeed, even if Bush was not humiliated.
Brooks concludes with, "When you look back at Clinton's thinking, you don't see a classic war supporter. You see a person who was trying to seek balance between opposing arguments. You also see a person who deferred to the office of the presidency. You see a person who, as president, would be fox to Bush's hedgehog: who would see problems in their complexities rather than in their essentials; who would elevate procedural concerns over philosophical ones; who would postpone decision points for as long as possible; and who would make distinctions few heed.
"If she apologizes, she'll forfeit her integrity. She will be apologizing for being herself."
I still think that she should apologize and say forcefully that the vote was a mistake, but this article makes me think about Hillary in a new light.