Bill Opposed the War?

Marc Ambinder flags a press account of Bill Clinton claiming to have been against the invasion of Iraq:

"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." Clinton has long been critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and called it a "big mistake" as far back as November of 2005.

Marc notes that this is likely to muddy Hillary Clinton's message. Nor does it seem, um, accurate to me. Probably the best example of Bill's contemporaneous thinking on Iraq is his March 18, 2003 Guardian op-ed "Trust Tony's Judgment." Here, Clinton makes it clear that he sees Blair as having spent the past year navigating a wise middle course between regime change hawks in the US and die-hard anti-war types on the continent. Blair, with great finesse, had used threats of force to move the inspections ball down the road until we reached the point of mid-March. Clinton paid no note to the fact that the inspectors were on the ground saying there was no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program. Indeed, Clinton contributed to some extent to the smokescreen of war by clouding this issue, writing "Saddam has destroyed some missiles but beyond that he has done only what he thinks is necessary to keep the UN divided on the use of force. The really important issues relating to chemical and biological weapons remain unresolved."

Thus the central plank of the argument for war -- that it was necessary to invade in order to halt Saddam's advance nuclear weapons program -- was swept under the rug at just the point where it was becoming clear that this talking point was false. Clinton regret the outbreak of war, but put the blame for it squarely on the shoulders of France, Russia, and Germany, arguing that "if a majority of the security council had adopted the Blair approach, Saddam would have had no room for further evasion and he still might have disarmed without invasion and bloodshed. Now, it appears that force will be used to disarm and depose him." Clinton endorsed the view that Saddam's alleged WMD arsenal was a terrorism threat, "There is, too, as both Britain and America agree, some risk of Saddam using or transferring his weapons to terrorists." Then he concluded:

I wish that Russia and France had supported Blair's resolution. Then, Hans Blix and his inspectors would have been given more time and supprt for their work. But that's not where we are. Blair is in a position not of his own making, because Iraq and other nations were unwilling to follow the logic of 1441.

In the post-cold war world, America and Britain have been in tough positions before: in 1998, when others wanted to lift sanctions on Iraq and we said no; in 1999 when we went into Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing. In each case, there were voices of dissent. But the British-American partnership and the progress of the world were preserved. Now in another difficult spot, Prime Minister Blair will have to do what he believes to be right. I trust him to do that and hope that Labor MPs and the British people will too.

What Blair believed was right was, of course, invading Iraq. Obviously, it's possible that Clinton wrote a March 18 op-ed urging blind faith in Tony Blair's leadership, then when Blair invaded Iraq a few days later was shocked to see him make such a mistake, but then decided he better not say anything about the wisdom of the invasion until years later, but it's not very plausible. For all intents and purposes, Clinton's public statements on the Iraq issue (like those of Colin Powell and Tony Blair) were part of the push to round up "moderate" support for the war. I remember this stuff. I was one of the millions of Americans who thought that, sure, George W. Bush must be a maniac but if Bill and Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright (and other Clinton-era officials like Ken Pollack) and Joe Biden and so on and so forth think it's a good idea, maybe I should have some more confidence. Obviously, that was a stupid, stupid mistake. But I find it really offensive that people who abused the trust of citizens who admired them by selling us on this mess now want to turn around and do it again by pretending that never happened.