Hillary Clinton has been under considerable pressure to join antiwar Democrats in attacking the administration and bailing on the war effort. Today she finally issued a statement of her position on the war, in the form of a 1,600-word email to supporters. Clinton took what was probably the most predictable approach. She bashed President Bush:
I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the president and his administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war. *** Given years of assurances that the war was nearly over and that the insurgents were in their ‘last throes,’ this administration was either not being honest with the American people or did not know what was going on in Iraq.
At the same time, Clinton made no apology for her pro-war vote, nor did she term it a “mistake” as some other Democratic Senators have done. She did, however, try to spin the vote as something other than an outright authorization of war:
In her letter to voters, the senator cited prewar assurances from the White House that the United States would use the United Nations to resolve the issue of Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction.
“Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the president authority to use force against Iraq,” she said.
Most significantly, I suppose, Clinton declined to join the stampede of Democrats calling for immediate surrender in Iraq:
It is time for the president to stop serving up platitudes and present us with a plan for finishing this war with success and honor. *** America has a big job to do now. We must set reasonable goals to finish what we started and successfully turn over Iraqi security to Iraqis.
This makes no sense, of course. President Bush’s plan for “finishing this war with success and honor” is exactly what Clinton calls for, i.e., “successfully turn[ing] over Iraqi security to Iraqis.”
No doubt Clinton’s approach, which recalls her husband’s policy of triangulation, will be hailed as another shrewd move by the mistress of calculation. But I wonder. There is a certain sourness in the position Clinton has staked out: the war was a mistake which I voted to authorize only because I didn’t know the facts; ever since, it has been bungled horribly; nevertheless, we have no choice but to see the mistake through to the bitter end. It smacks, somehow, of the purse-lipped, take-your-medicine feminist First Lady of the early days of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
It strikes me that Hillary’s cod-liver-oil approach to Iraq could well lose to a more emotionally satisfying, back to the ’60s antiwar campaign in the Democratic primaries, or, in the general election, to a proponent of President Bush’s idealistic vision of the Iraq war as a key element in the nation’s long-term strategy for defeating Islamic terrorism.