The War in Iraq Is Still Hillary Clinton's Big Political Liability

Democrats like Howard Dean who rally around her risk looking like opportunistic hypocrites.

During the 2004 election, Howard Dean said that when his Democratic rivals voted for the Iraq War, they called into question "their judgment and ability to sort out complicated issues regarding the most crucial decision any president has to make."

He has argued that supporters of the war were not only wrong in their judgment about Iraq, but were also wrong to back the doctrine of preemption. "So many who supported the war now say that they are opposed to the doctrine of preemption," Dean said. "Then why did they vote for this preemptive war? I opposed the president's war on Iraq, I continue to stand against his policy of preemption, and on my first day in office I will tear up the Bush doctrine and rebuild a foreign policy consistent with American values."

Dean attributes the rise of ISIS to the mistake made by proponents of invasion. "This is exactly the problem that I predicted in 2000 and 2003, that as a result of our invasion of Iraq, we were going to see a split Iraq into three parts and I said at the time al-Qaeda, but really it's of course now ISIS, was going to have a major effort in Iraq," he said. "And that's exactly what's happened. Let's not revise history."

On another occasion, he argued, "We wouldn't even be in Iraq if it weren't for Democrats like Senator Kerry." So how can this erstwhile champion of the anti-war movement tout his support for just that sort of hawkish Democrat in 2016? "At this point, I'm supporting Hillary Clinton," he said last year. And he confirmed as much to Ryan Lizza in a just-published article on the Democratic frontrunner. “I think the chances are fifty-fifty the Republicans are going to nominate a nutcase," he said, "and Hillary’s the perfect foil for a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz." (Wouldn't the perfect foil for Senator Paul have gotten the Iraq War right?)

Just last summer, Dean was complaining that prominent Iraq War supporters were being invited on television to discuss foreign policy. "I don't think they're necessarily entitled to a national forum based on the gross mistakes of the past," he said. Now here he is declaring that a Democrat as hawkish as any he ran against in 2004 is entitled not just to a national forum but to the commander in chief's chair.

The Democratic Party may be able to unite behind Clinton. But it can't do so without many prominent Democrats looking like opportunistic hypocrites with no convictions.