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Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iraq Politics The War on Terrorism

The Iraq Thing

“Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning,” said Clinton, “I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers.”[digg-reddit-me]

So Bill Clinton said yesterday in Iowa. Most people – myself included – were under the impression that the former president supported the Iraq war. Perhaps it was items like the one below that led me to such conclusions. Most of the commenters on this have concluded that Bill Clinton is trying to rewrite history. But parsing Clinton’s statements reveals something else. He made statements again and again that would lead any reasonable observer to believe he supported the invasion, but on closer examination, it depends on what your definition of is is.
In an interview with Time magazine in June 2004, Bill Clinton was asked if President Bush was right to invade Iraq.

You know, I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over. I don’t believe he went in there for oil. We didn’t go in there for imperialist or financial reasons. We went in there because he bought the Wolfowitz-Cheney analysis that the Iraqis would be better off, we could shake up the authoritarian Arab regimes in the Middle East, and our leverage to make peace between the Palestinians and Israelis would be increased.

At the moment the U.N. inspectors were kicked out in ’98, this is the proper language: there were substantial quantities of botulinum and aflatoxin, as I recall, some bioagents, I believe there were those, and VX and ricin, chemical agents, unaccounted for. Keep in mind, that’s all we ever had to work on. We also thought there were a few missiles, some warheads, and maybe a very limited amount of nuclear laboratory capacity.

After 9/11, let’s be fair here, if you had been President, you’d think, Well, this fellow bin Laden just turned these three airplanes full of fuel into weapons of mass destruction, right? Arguably they were super-powerful chemical weapons. Think about it that way. So, you’re sitting there as President, you’re reeling in the aftermath of this, so, yeah, you want to go get bin Laden and do Afghanistan and all that. But you also have to say, Well, my first responsibility now is to try everything possible to make sure that this terrorist network and other terrorist networks cannot reach chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material. I’ve got to do that.

That’s why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for. So I thought the President had an absolute responsibility to go to the U.N. and say, “Look, guys, after 9/11, you have got to demand that Saddam Hussein lets us finish the inspection process.” You couldn’t responsibly ignore [the possibility that] a tyrant had these stocks. I never really thought he’d [use them]. What I was far more worried about was that he’d sell this stuff or give it away. Same thing I’ve always been worried about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capacity. I don’t expect North Korea to bomb South Korea, because they know it would be the end of their country. But if you can’t feed yourself, the temptation to sell this stuff is overwhelming. So that’s why I thought Bush did the right thing to go back. When you’re the President, and your country has just been through what we had, you want everything to be accounted for.

I’ve excerpted the entire response here for two reasons: 1) to demonstrate that I’m not selectively highlighting certain statements; and 2) to show how deftly President Clinton failed to answer the question. If I read this at the time, I would have been under the strong impression that Bill Clinton supported the invasion of Iraq. If I had read the text extremely closely, trying to determine if he had actually said he supported the invasion, I would have found that he had not. Clinton is suddenly vague when saying what he supports: calling it “the Iraq thing”.

A charitable reader, or even a normal person, would take this to mean that the individual speaking could not think of the appropriate word for a moment. But if, three years later, President Clinton is insisting that he opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, the whole conversation takes on a different cast: his comments are clearly designed to lead someone to believe he did support the invasion, but he was apparently careful enough not to say this directly. A lie is a statement that deviates from or perverts the truth. Clinton spoke as if he were trying to avoid being charged with perjury while avoiding the truth. But his intent is now clear.

In short, we shouldn’t be surprised: Bill Clinton lied for political reasons.

Meanwhile, Marc Ambinder explains how Bill’s statements have been hurting Hillary.

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