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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Audacity of Hopelessness

Whatever has happened to Frank Rich? In yesterday's column he excoriates (mildly) Hillary Clinton for her vote on the Iraq war in 2002 (The audacity of hopelessness, New York Times Review of the Week, Februrary 24, 2002: 12).

There are two reasons not to blame Ms. Clinton or any other Democrat who voted to support giving the President the option of going to war in late 2002.

The first was outlined by Mr. Rich himself in a column on your pages on November 27, 2005. In this he excuses those Democrats who supported the President by pointing out that they lacked the information that the President had. He says that "They didn't have access to the President's Daily Brief that Mr. Waas uncovered [Waas stated in the National Journal that "the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the [9/11] attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda]. They didn't have access to the information that German intelligence officials spoke about to the Los Angeles Times [that Curveball, the defector who reported on Iraq's WMD capabilities, had been discredited and that this information was shared with the US well before the November 2002 vote].

The second is the timing of that vote. It is hard to remember at this late date the sequence of events from 2001 up to the present day. We need to be reminded that until November 2002 (that is until the President had the support of the Senate and the House) the Iraqis refused to allow UN inspectors to undertake inspections for WMD on Iraqi territory. By the end of November, inspections under the direction of Hans Blix were under way. The vote to grant the President war powers had achieved its purpose, the Iraq regime was being called to account for its actions.The vote was a magnificent piece of realpolitik

We have forgotten too that Hans Blix called on the US and Britain to give his inspectors the "hard intelligence" that they claimed to possess so that his inspectors could go to check out that information on the ground. The failure of the US and Britain to do so should have roused our suspicions that all was not well with the intelligence -- its invalidity has since been amply demonstrated.

Where we went wrong -- the Senate, and the House, and the country, and all of us -- was the failure to recognize the importance of the inspector's reports in mid February 2003 that there was no evidence of immanent danger from Iraq. That should have led to a re-evaluation of the war power resolution and its potential repeal based on the changed situation. We failed to do so and we are reaping the tragic consequences today.

So Senator Clinton can be blamed for not insisting on revisiting the vote in the light of the new information from the inspectors; she cannot be blamed, indeed she should be praised, for the original vote that put the inspectors back in Iraq.

Full disclosure: I support Barack Obama in the primaries, but believe the attack on Senator Clinton for her Iraq war vote is ill-advised. I also think that the New York Times should do better in explaining the historical context of that vote.

Sent to New York Times

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