Before the first Gulf War, someone asked Bill Clinton how he would have voted on the Senate resolution concerning the war. He replied that he would have voted with the majority (in favor of the war resolution) if the vote was close but thought that the minority had the better arguments. At the time, this chillingly cynical statement about a question of war and peace seemed like something new in American politics. It sounds more familiar now, inasmuch as many Senate Democrats adopted a similar approach to the second Gulf War in 2002.
But lest we conclude that anyone, even Al Gore, is as prone as Clinton to cynicism and outright dishonesty on national security and defense issues, I present this piece by Paul Greenberg via Town Hall and Real Clear Politics. Greenberg shows that, while Clinton is now trumpeting his “support” for President Bush’s war effort, the fact is that Clinton “attached more reservations to his support than a deadbeat dad.” And even shortly after Baghdad was liberated, Clinton said he was “totally angry” that we attacked Iraq without giving Kofi Annan and Hans Blix more time.
Greenberg sees this as another case of Clinton positioning himself on both sides of the issue to preserve his ability to say he was right regardless of the outcome. Greenberg is not wrong, but I think there is something more going on. Clinton’s statement in 1991 was less a calculated attempt to hedge than a potentially damaging admission of a propensity to hedge. And this time he continued to waffle about the merits of the decision to go to war even after the war ended.
Clinton’s slickness, then, does not stem solely from political calculation and a lack of regard for the truth. In addition, I believe, there is a desire to flaunt his abiility to calculate and his lack of regard for the truth, as well as a desire to tell his audience what it wants to hear. All of this occurs in the context of an astonishing lack of seriousness, and is driven, perhaps, by the need to tell the world to shove it, while still being loved.
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