Senator Clinton’s Political Epitaph
On Wednesday the New York Times published an investigative report on the evolution of Senator Clinton’s Iraq war position. Among other things, the article gives us the best available information on what led to her decision to authorize war in 2002. Clinton herself refused to be interviewed for the story.
What the article reveals should shock both Clinton’s supporters and her New York constituents. If Democrats have any sense left, the article should also spell the end of her presidential bid. Her political epitaph will read “She didn’t do her homework.”
The facts are simple and stark. As we all know now, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that the Bush Administration used to justify the War in Iraq was full of doubt and caveats. Strong dissenting voices disagreed that Saddam had, or even was developing, weapons of mass destruction. The dissenting voices included the State Department’s intelligence service. As a whole, the NIE did not support the notion that Saddam had anything to do with Al Qaeda or September 11. Yet Clinton did not read the NIE before her vote.
Let me repeat that. Before voting on the most important issue that any elected representative ever faces—the decision to go to war—Senator Clinton did not read the most authoritative official report on the supposed justification for war.
Although the NIE was classified at the time, all senators had the right and ability to read it. The Capitol had set up two special locations where senators could read it. (Three heavily redacted versions of the NIE have since been declassified and are available on the Web.)
Every senator had ten days to read the full report after it was made available and before the vote on the war resolution. Three days before the vote, Senator Bob Graham (D., Fla.), then Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “forcefully” urged all Democrats to read it at a party caucus that Clinton attended.
The entire NIE was only 90 pages long. Yet like a derelict student, Clinton did not do her homework. When asked recently at political rally whether she had read it, she reportedly said only that she had been briefed on it.
That simple word—“briefed”—hides all the hubris and inattention that has laid our nation low. Apparently the question of war or peace was not important enough for Clinton to do her homework.
At the time she was not yet a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. So her staff had no authorization to read the NIE. In saying she had been briefed on it, Clinton must have been referring to the oral briefings that various intelligence services (largely controlled by the Bush White House) had given senators. On the most important issue in a generation, she simply didn’t care enough about the facts to study them herself.
To understand how damning that admission is, you have to know something about legal education. Senator Clinton is a graduate of Yale Law School, one of our nation’s most prestigious centers of legal education. Like every other law school in the nation, Yale requires every graduate to take a course in constitutional law. (Today, Yale’s students take that course in their very first year of study, when it will make the greatest impression.) That course teaches students, among other things, how strong the president’s powers are in the realm of war and foreign policy.
As a result of her study at an elite law school, Senator Clinton had to know that her vote on the war resolution was her first, last and only chance to have an impact as senator on the fateful choice between war and peace, let alone the conduct of any war to follow. It goes without saying that a legal education teaches the importance of facts. Yet Clinton didn’t do her homework.
The New York Times article has other important insights. It notes that Clinton voted against the Levin Amendment to the war authorization, which would have required the president to engage in further diplomacy before going to war. That vote belies her current claim that she expected the president to exhaust diplomacy before war and he disappointed her—a claim that has been very effective for her politically. The article also outlines how her pivot on Iraq policy followed the leadership of people like Congressman Jack Murtha (D. Pa.), the Democratic ex-marine and ex-hawk, and her own husband. As the article shows, Clinton was a follower, not a leader, both in authorizing the war and in coming belatedly to oppose it.
But the article’s most damning revelation is her failure to read the crucial report before her vote.
Why didn’t she read it? Apparently politics were more important to her than substance. After September 11, she worried whether the public would perceive her—or any woman—as strong enough to lead the nation in wartime. An experienced political warhorse, she had a good idea how the Bush Administration would tar anyone who opposed it as weak. She was certainly right on that score. So she voted for war, apparently with politics and her future bid for the presidency foremost in her mind.
That is precisely why Senator Clinton, or anyone else like her, should never reach the White House. On the most crucial decision in her political career, she put politics above substance, her career above the facts. For all the record reveals, she made a conscious decision not to learn the facts that might have informed her most important decision as senator.
In that respect she is no different from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who have shunned the facts and let politics and ideology govern.
Unfortunately, Bush and his neocons were not alone. Only six of 100 senators reportedly read the NIE before voting to authorize war. That is an appalling figure. It shows that only six percent of the members of our most elite legislative body are worthy of governing us. And now one of the unworthy ones, Senator Clinton, wants to be president.
The bitter fruits of this “facts be damned” approach are plain for all to see. Our nation is losing its power, prestige and moral fiber because our leaders think that politics and Washington are all a great game. They prefer political perceptions, which they can control by “spin,” to reality, which is less tractable. They are playing with our lives.
If we want to restore our nation’s greatness, we have to make a decisive break with that sort of pathological leadership. We need leaders who face facts, who study them carefully—in person—before making important decisions. Between the two front runners for the Democratic nomination—Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton—there should be no doubt now who is the best choice. Unlike Clinton, Senator Obama does his homework.