For well over a decade, Hillary Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War Resolution has been used to undermine her political ambitions. She entered the 2008 Democratic presidential race as the heavily favored candidate, only to have her 2002 Senate vote, if not outright disqualify her in the eyes of voters, at least breathe oxygen into then-Senator Barack Obama’s outsider campaign. In the most recent Democratic presidential primary, Bernie Sanders relentlessly attacked Clinton for her lack of “judgment” when it came to what he characterized as the most important foreign-policy decision of a generation. In her defense, Clinton chided Sanders for conflating policy disagreements with poor judgment, while correctly arguing that her 2002 vote was more complex than her critics acknowledge.
But Clinton also did something that only recently became part of her explanation for her Iraq War vote: She apologized. “I made it very clear that I made a mistake, plain and simple. And I have written about it in my book, I have talked about it in the past,” Clinton said at a campaign stop in Iowa last year. She repeated the sentiment at a town-hall forum on Wednesday, telling NBC’s Matt Lauer: “I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake. And I have said that my voting to give President Bush that authority was, from my perspective, my mistake.” Her explanations of the vote on the campaign trail tend to be variations on her first such mea culpa, which appeared in her 2014 book Hard Choices:
[M]any Senators came to wish they had voted against the resolution. I was one of them. As the war dragged on, with every letter I sent to a family in New York who had lost a son or daughter, a father or mother, my mistake become more painful. I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.
But Clinton has never explicitly said what, exactly, she did wrong. From Clinton herself, there has been a demand for nuance in discussing her vote, a clarification of her intentions, and plenty of blame heaped on the Bush administration. But without a clear explanation of what her mistake was and how she plans to avoid repeating it, what does an apology actually mean?