Why Clinton’s Iraq decision matters

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

By one mid-range estimate, the Iraq War killed 500,000 people by 2011.  It created millions of refugees and out of its ashes ISIS was born. It was an unjust war pushed by an Administration that, to put it kindly, wildly exaggerated the evidence that Saddam had WMD’s. The timing was obvious–9/11 had happened and it was a golden opportunity for a demagogic demand for war. What America needed were calm voices of reason, foreign policy experts who could point out the massive holes in the Bush Administration’s case, along with voices of common decency who could point out the utter immorality of starting a war on non-existent evidence that would likely produce a gigantic catastrophe and in fact did so, just as many predicted.

Or rather, we needed that on the Senatorial level. Millions of ordinary Americans, using this newfangled contraption called the internet, already knew enough to see that the Bush people were lying. We just needed enough Senators to say this openly.

Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War. But that’s okay. She apologized.

Paul Krugman wrote that in his New York Times column Thursday, “Sanders Over the Edge”, referring to an article by Fred Kaplan from February, Hillary Clinton Told the Truth About Her Iraq War Vote (the piece by Kaplan is nonsense).

Hillary Clinton (Aslan Media / Flickr / Creative Commons)
Hillary Clinton (Aslan Media / Flickr / Creative Commons)

For a detailed antidote, try this from Stephen Zunes — The 5 Worst Excuses for Hillary Clinton’s Vote To Invade Iraq.

But you don’t need to read the pieces; anyone who remembers that period and wasn’t an idiot knew what was happening and so does Krugman. There was a lot of whipped up hysteria over WMD’s and it was obvious that the Bush Administration was distorting the evidence. The world badly needed enough American politicians to stand up and put a stop to the rush to war, but Clinton went along with it and was still refusing to apologize as late as 2007. Her later record strongly suggests a person who takes pride in being “tough”–on a personal level she even gushes over Henry Kissinger.

Clinton is a rather typical sort of politician, the kind who tells people what they want to hear if that will get them the votes they want or the donations they need. And that’s the problem. People start to accept this as the norm and adopt the values of the cynical politicians they support. During the Bush era Democratic partisans were constantly denouncing the Iraq War, calling Bush and Cheney war criminals, referring to it as the worst American policy decision in decades if not longer and yet– a few years later, it doesn’t seem to be all that important to some. It’s “moral purity” to think it matters. It was fine to use as a club with which to beat Republicans, but who cares about hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead if people point to them as a reason why someone should not be running for the White House?

This isn’t just about Clinton or big name pundits like Paul Krugman. It’s everyone who thinks it is illegitimate to bring up the Iraq War during a political campaign. It’s everyone who thinks Hillary can be excused by claiming she was the innocent victim of Bush deception. Last I looked, the most popular comment under Krugman’s column at the NYT was by a self-described former Sanders supporter who was outraged that Clinton’s credentials were questioned. Of course she is qualified to be President! Credentials and experience, what you put on your resume–this is everything.

Thomas Frank is right — the Democrats are to some degree the party for the 10 percent, the affluent successful people who believe in the “meritocracy”, the best and the brightest who did well on their SAT’s. Little things like mass killings and refugee flows and air strikes and torture, all flowing from a decision supported by the “qualified” person–well, why should easily predictable consequences matter? How dare anyone question her qualifications? This is the choice of privileged people, Americans who live in a superpower and who, if they are well off and of course not in the military, suffer nothing if our leaders decide to start some stupid war somewhere for no good reason at all.

This isn’t about Sanders either. Sanders is not a perfect candidate by antiwar standards, not by a long shot. But his (long distance) speech to AIPAC at least acknowledged Palestinian suffering. Clinton’s speech was so pandering to Benjamin Netanyahu that even some in the mainstream press were embarrassed by it. “Hillary Clinton’s Speech to AIPAC Was a Symphony of Craven, Delusional Pandering.”

And what was she doing this for? How many potential Democratic voters would require her to swing that far right on Israel? She can’t be stupid enough to believe what she said. (If she is, that is terrifying.) Did she do that for money from a handful of rich bigots, or are there enough bigots that she needs their votes?

Again, though, the point is not Clinton herself. The point is about a party that took for granted that she would be its nominee before Sanders actually shook things up and did much better than expected. What is wrong with a party where the leading candidate has a ghastly record on foreign policy and yet runs as though her record is her strength? I am guessing it is because the Democratic Party is largely dominated by a collection of politicians and lobbyists who run a lucrative system that enriches those willing to play. If you retire from politics you can be a lobbyist or give speeches or both, and then you can, if you choose, go back into politics and this is seen as normal. “Mistakes” like the Iraq War are easily forgiven, or not even seen as something that needs to be forgiven. And pundits go along with it.

Krugman is very good at pointing out the intellectual and moral corruption when he can blame it on Republicans, but he turns into a defender of big banks and can barely bring himself to mention Iraq at all when it comes to the Democrats. He is outraged by Bernie’s flaws, real or imaginary. He forgives all of Clinton’s. He is comfortable with the system. And sadly, some ordinary people who are partisan Democrats start defending things as they are.

Note that I have not said anything about who to vote for in November. Personally I am a lesser of two evils voter. For me global warming is the biggest issue and I also think Republicans will cause more suffering on most of the others and people who argue that I have to vote Democratic on these grounds have convinced me. But I am not going to argue about it. My only point is this–if you accept the lesser of two evils argument, and I do, do not be surprised to find that people like Krugman will claim you have to take the next step and enthusiastically endorse the lesser evil as the greater good. No, you don’t.


Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I have yet to hear any politician (except Sanders I guess) who refers to the Iraq war as one of our worst blunders, that it resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, thousands more injured, and more than millions of refugees. No one speaks of it, and what our blunder cost that nation. We never saw scenes showing what our deadly bombs did to those poor people, their cities devastated, homes… Read more »

Actually it is hard to imagine that politicians who supported the Iraq war could run for any public position at all – let alone becoming the leader of the world’s strongest nation.

Krugman! One imagines that he has an “iron rice bowl” as long as he supports the Institutional Democratic Party (the party, today, of Clinton) and is willing to spout any sort of nonsense to retain his position on NYT. Shouldn’t it be enough to be a professor with tenure, as I imagine, as for instance Chomsky is or was, and have a right to speak truth to power instead of feeling a need to speak… Read more »

Help me, Mondoweiss. What did AIPAC and Israel get out of the Iraq war? I don’t see that the war with Iraq had any immediate benefit for Israel’s economy and I’m not seeing any Israeli colonists living there in comfort. Was it arms sales, a distraction from attention to Palestinian rights, a future place to exile unwanted Palestinians, some future colonial land grab, or was it revenge for WW II even if Iraqis had nothing… Read more »

My only point is this–if you accept the lesser of two evils argument, and I do. Hillary will do much more damage than good; same difference. Protesting and punishing the undemocratic Democratic Party if Sanders doesn’t make it, will have a much more beneficial long-term effect than the insignificant short term lesser evil that will ensure the corruption and status quo forever. Sometimes you have to give up something in the present to gain something… Read more »