Clinton's Iraq Evolution

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Spencer Ackerman has a great piece laying out Hillary Clinton's evolving views of Iraq over the years:

Clinton’s statements during October 2002 have received much attention. But what she’s said in the intervening years demonstrates a vertigo-inducing lack of clarity. Her position tracked the political zeitgeist elegantly: cautiously in favor of the war before it started; enthusiastically in favor of it during its first year; overtaken with doubt during 2004; nervously against withdrawal in 2005; cautiously in favor of withdrawal ever since—and all without so much as an acknowledgment of her myriad repositioning. At no point did she challenge the prevailing assumptions behind the war.

Spencer also, and correctly in my mind, draws an analogy between Clinton's ambiguous positioning on the war issue and that of John Kerry during the 2004 campaign:

And there’s a final significance to Clinton’s turn against the war. In November, the Democratic nominee will probably face a Republican who believed deeply in the war, but who also repeatedly criticized the war’s execution—Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). McCain, a war hero, has national-security bona fides that few candidates possess. He will be able to inhabit the space Clinton has carved out for herself over the past two years: sober critic and skeptic of Bush. However, he’ll also be able to pounce on her inconsistency and vacillation, if Thursday’s debate is any indication, in a replay of the "flip-flopper" charge that doomed Kerry four years ago. Unlike Obama, Clinton will have no way of pivoting to a broader indictment of the militarism that McCain cheerfully espouses. It may be that, nearly six years after Clinton thought she had positioned herself to avoid all the pitfalls of the war, her calculation itself was what ultimately sealed the fate of her candidacy.

Now an important caveat that I would add to Spencer's critique is that Barack Obama followed up his extremely smart October 2002 speech on Iraq with what amounted to several years worth of Clinton-style vacillation and CW-mongering. The Clinton campaign has emphasized at various points that her record on Iraq and Obama's record on Iraq are actually very similar. And they're quite right. Still, the different positions they took in 2002 do put these records in a different context and, I think, the advantage overall clearly goes to Obama.

UPDATE: It should be said that my forthcoming book, Heads in the Sand, deals extensively with issues in this neighborhood. At a time when the country is being governed by fundamentally misguided ideas, the finger-in-the-wind approach fails to generate arguments that operate on the correct level and make it difficult for opposition politicians to reap the benefits that ought to follow from the fact that Bush's ideas have had disastrous consequences.

DOD photo of Hillary Clinton at Kirkuk Airbase taken by A1C Alicia M. Sarkkinen, USAF, 29 November 2003

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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