It Doesn't Matter If Hillary Apologizes for Her Iraq War Vote
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Sen. Hillary Clinton wants to become President Hillary Clinton. "I'm in, and I'm in to win," she said, announcing her plans to run for the Democratic nomination for the 2008 presidential election.
Let there be no doubt that Hillary Clinton is about as slippery a species of politician that exists, one who has demonstrated an ability to morph facts into a nebulous blob that blurs the record and distorts the truth. While she has demonstrated this less than flattering ability on a number of issues, nowhere is it so blatant as when dealing with the issue of the ongoing war in Iraq and her vote in favor of this war.
This issue won't be resolved even if Hillary Clinton apologizes for her Iraq vote, as other politicians have done, blaming their decision on faulty intelligence on Iraq's WMD capabilities. This is because, like many other Washington politicians at the time, including those now running for president, she had been witness to lies about Iraq's weapons programs to justify attacks on that country by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and his administration.
"While there is no perfect approach to this thorny dilemma, and while people of good faith and high intelligence can reach diametrically opposed conclusions, I believe the best course is to go to the U.N. for a strong resolution that scraps the 1998 restrictions on inspections and calls for complete, unlimited inspections with cooperation expected and demanded from Iraq," Sen. Clinton said at the time of her vote, in a carefully crafted speech designed to demonstrate her range of knowledge and ability to consider all options. "I know that the administration wants more, including an explicit authorization to use force, but we may not be able to secure that now, perhaps even later. But if we get a clear requirement for unfettered inspections, I believe the authority to use force to enforce that mandate is inherent in the original 1991 U.N. resolution, as President Clinton recognized when he launched Operation Desert Fox in 1998."
Hillary would have done well to leave out that last part, the one where her husband, the former president of the United States, used military force as part of a 72-hour bombing campaign ostensibly deemed as a punitive strike in defense of disarmament, but in actuality proved to be a blatant attempt at regime change that used the hyped-up threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as an excuse for action. Sound familiar? While many Americans today condemn the Bush administration for misleading them with false claims of unsubstantiated threats, which resulted in the ongoing debacle we face today in Iraq (count Hillary among this crowd), few have reflected back on the day when the man from Hope, Ark., sat in the Oval Office and initiated the policies of economic sanctions-based containment and regime change that President Bush later brought to fruition when he ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
"My vote," Hillary said with great sanctimony, "is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of preemption, or for unilateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose -- all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world." But by citing the policies of her husband, there can be no doubt that this was exactly what her vote was about.
I should know. From January 1993 until my resignation from the United Nations in August 1998, I witnessed firsthand the duplicitous Iraq policies of Bill Clinton's administration, the implementation of which saw a president lie to the American people about a threat he knew was hyped, lie to Congress about his support of a disarmament process his administration wanted nothing to do with, and lie to the world about American intent, which turned its back on the very multilateral embrace of diplomacy as reflected in the Security Council resolutions Hillary Clinton so piously refers to in her speech, and instead pursued a policy defined by the unilateral interests of the Clinton administration to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
I personally witnessed the director of the CIA under Bill Clinton, James Woolsey, fabricate a case for the continued existence of Iraqi ballistic missiles in November 1993, after I had provided a detailed briefing which articulated the U.N. inspector's findings that Iraq's missile program had been fundamentally disarmed. I led the U.N. inspector's investigation into the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, in August 1995, and saw how the Clinton administration twisted his words to make a case for the continued existence of a nuclear program the weapons inspectors knew to be nothing more than scrap and old paper. I was in Baghdad at the head of an inspection team in the summer of 1996 as the Clinton administration used the inspection process as a vehicle for a covert action program run by the CIA intending to assassinate Saddam Hussein.
I twice traveled to the White House to brief the National Security Council in the confines of the White House Situation Room on the plans of the inspectors to pursue the possibility of concealed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, only to have the Clinton national security team betray the inspectors by failing to deliver the promised support, and when the inspections failed to deliver any evidence of Iraqi wrongdoing, attempt to blame the inspectors while denying any wrongdoing on their part.
This last fact hits very close to home. As a former Marine Corps officer and as a chief inspector responsible for the welfare of the personnel entrusted to my command, I take the act of official betrayal very seriously. "I want the men and women in our Armed Forces to know," Sen. Clinton said in her speech defending her vote for war, "that if they should be called upon to act against Iraq, our country will stand resolutely behind them." I am left to wonder if, in citing the record of her husband when he was president, Hillary would stand behind the troops with the same duplicitous "vigor" that her husband displayed when betraying the U.N. weapons inspectors.
In February 1998 the Clinton administration backed a diplomatic effort undertaken by then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to help get the weapons inspection process back on track (inspections had been stalled since January 1998, when a team I led was prevented by the Iraqis from carrying out its mission because, as the Iraqis maintained, there were too many Americans and British on the team implementing the unilateral policy of regime change instead of the mandated task of disarmament). Hillary stated that she wanted a strong U.N. resolution designed to promote viable weapons inspections and specifically singled out the compromises brokered by Kofi Annan to get inspectors back into Iraq as a failed effort that weakened the inspection process. What she fails to mention is that her husband initially supported the Annan mission, not so much because it paved a path towards disarmament, but rather because it provided a cover for legitimizing regime change.
I sat in the office of then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, as the United States cut a deal with then-U.N. Special Commission Executive Chairman Richard Butler, where the timing and actions of an inspection team led by myself (a decision that was personally approved by Bill Clinton) would be closely linked to a massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Iraq triggered by my inspection. I was supposed to facilitate a war by prompting Iraqi noncompliance. Instead, I did my job and facilitated an inspection that pushed the world closer to a recognition that Iraq was complying with its disarmament obligation. As a reward, I was shunned from the inspection process by the Clinton administration.
In April 1998 Bill Clinton promised Congress that his administration would provide all support necessary to the U.N. inspectors. In May 1998 his National Security Team implemented a new policy that turned its back on the inspectors, seeking to avoid supporting a disarmament process that undermined the policies of regime change so strongly embraced by Bill Clinton and his administration. When I resigned in August 1998 in protest over its duplicitous policies, I was personally attacked by the Clinton administration in an effort to divert attention away from the truth about what it were doing regarding Iraq. Four months later Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq, Operation Desert Fox, referred to in glowing terms by Hillary Clinton as she endorsed the policies of deception that led our nation down the path towards war.
"So it is with conviction," Hillary said at the moment of her vote, "that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president, and we say to him -- use these powers wisely and as a last resort. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein -- this is your last chance -- disarm or be disarmed."
It turned out Saddam was in fact already disarmed. And it turned out that Hillary's husband, President Bill Clinton, knew this when he ordered the bombing of Iraq in 1998. Hillary can try to twist and turn the facts as she defends the words she spoke when casting her fateful vote in favor of a war with Iraq. But no amount of rewriting history can shield her from the failed policies of her very own husband, policies she embraced willingly and wholeheartedly when endorsing war.
Run, Hillary, run. But your race towards the White House will never outpace the hypocrisy and duplicity inherent in your decision to vote for war in Iraq.
Scott Ritter served as a former Marine Corps officer from 1984 until 1991. and as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 until 1998. He is the author of several books, including "Iraq Confidential" (Nation Books, 2005) and "Target Iran" (Nation Books, 2006).