Thursday, January 17, 2008

Clinton vs. Obama on Iraq

The Washington Post's Fact Checker does a better-than-usual job of comparing Clinton and Obama's statements on the war, producing a hyperlinked timeline of their statements and votes.

Strangely, however, the WP leaves out various timeline items cited by both Clinton and Obama in their own Clinton vs. Obama pieces. The fact check also doesn't address what would seem to be a critical question: when did each candidate publicly call for a withdrawal of forces from Iraq?

  • As items on Obama's website show, Obama called for a withdrawal in an October 2005 interview and then in a November 2005 Senate speech.
  • From the WP material, it looks like Clinton didn't make any public statement for withdrawal until she voted in favor of a withdrawal bill on April 26, 2007.

The WP concludes, "The Obama camp has overstated the difference between Obama and Clinton on Iraq from 2004 onward." The facts appear to be just the opposite. Obama was clearly out in front in calling for withdrawal in 2005 and 2006, when Hillary was still supporting a continued occupation.

I agree that Obama's comments around the time of the 2004 Democratic Convention were murkier, but this can be understood in part as a desire not to undermine the pro-occupation position of John Kerry, his party's nominee.


I didn't deal with the more important topic of positions on the war before it began. As the WP explains, Obama took a strong public stand against the war on Oct. 2, 2002, just a few days before Clinton voted to authorize military force.

Less noted is that just before the March 20, 2003 invasion, Clinton refused to provide a clear statement of her position on the war. A reader sent me the following, from a March 6, 2003 NY Times roundup of positions on the war:

The award for the most indefinite position has to go to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. When her press secretary, Philippe Reines, was asked her position, he sent a transcript of Mrs. Clinton's remarks last Friday on CNN and a news account of her comments on Monday during a visit to Watervliet, N.Y. (It seems that the senator, still a bit first ladylike, is reluctant to pick up the phone.)

She said on CNN that the president ''made the right decision to go back to the United Nations'' and suggested that the country ''take a deep breath, deal with Iraq if we have to, understand exactly what we've gotten ourselves into, because in the briefings I've received, there's a lot of unknowables.''

In Watervliet, the senator said, ''This is a very delicate balancing act.'' And, ''I fully support the policy of disarming Saddam Hussein.'' She also urged the administration ''to try to enlist more support.'' A skeptic might conclude that Mrs. Clinton wants to appeal to her antiwar constituents in New York now, and to a broader base later -- if she runs for president.

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