Sunday, February 03, 2008

Obama and Hillary, March 2003: One wore blue and one wore gray

Obama has drawn too one-dimensional a contrast between his opposition to war in Iraq and Hillary Clinton's support for war in the months preceding the March 2003 invasion. His message has been a sound byte: I opposed the war, Hillary voted for the resolution authorizing force. Hillary has narrowed the contrast further, granting that "he gave a great speech in 2002" -- and then tried to efface the difference in their conduct entirely by claiming, unfairly, that Obama's opposition softened in years following.

It's well known that in October 2002 Obama gave a speech in which he unequivocally denounced the prospect of war in Iraq as "a dumb war" and "a rash war," while Hillary voted in support of the resolution authorizing force -- though she did cast her vote as a means to force inspections, cautioning, "a vote for [the resolution] is not a vote to rush to war." But over the next four months, the contrast in their conduct widened.

Obama opposed the war right up to the eve of attack. On March 4, 2003 the AP reported, "Barack Obama is criticizing the idea of war against Iraq and challenging his Democratic opponents in the U.S. Senate race to take a stand on the question...Issuing the challenge at a weekend speech in Champaign, Obama said he does not oppose war if it's necessary. But he believes Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses no immediate threat and that, with Iraq's economy in shambles, he can be 'contained' until internal pressures force him out." On March 9, according to the Chicago Defender, Obama said, "Bush's vision of America's role in the world is fundamentally flawed. Our long-term safety and security is best accomplished with working with our allies, not trying to bully them." On March 16, he told a Chicago antiwar rally that "It's not too late" to stop the war.

In that same month, as noted in my prior post, Hillary let go her tepid admonitions not to rush to war and to give inspections a chance and offered the president an equally tepid, ambivalent support. On March 2, Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said that "Sen. Clinton fully supports the steps the president has taken to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction." On March 17 - the day after Obama told a Chicago crowd that the war could still be stopped, Hillary rallied round:
Tonight, the President gave Saddam Hussein one last chance to avoid war, and the world hopes that Saddam Hussein will finally hear this ultimatum, understand the severity of those words, and act accordingly. While we wish there were more international support for the effort to disarm Saddam Hussein, at this critical juncture it is important for all of us to come together in support of our troops and pray that, if war does occur, this mission is accomplished swiftly and decisively with minimum loss of life and civilian casualties.
And then, on March 20, on the eve of invasion, theThe Daily News reported:
Hillary Clinton wishes President Bush had lined up more nations in his "coalition of the willing" against - but she won't second-guess him as war approaches.

Clinton, outspoken on major issues such as homeland security, defended her near-silence yesterday over Bush's failed diplomatic efforts to rally UN backing to disarm Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by force. "I think everybody wishes we had more international support for this action," Clinton said in an interview.But, she added, "I don't think it's useful now to go back and Monday morning quarterback."
In her Oct. 10, 2002 speech, by framing her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing force as a vote for "coercive diplomacy," Hillary was trying to coerce Bush as well as Saddam, couching her yes vote with pointed admonitions to seek U.N. support, try inspections first, not go to war unilaterally. But she never held Bush to the conditions laid out in that speech.

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