On June 3, The New York Times Magazine will print an excerpt from Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.'s upcoming book, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co.) that asserts that Sen. Clinton's (D-NY) June 21, 2006, floor statement was "the first time in her public speeches" that she offered "a new interpretation" -- or "revised account" -- of her 2002 vote to authorize the use of force against Iraq. But Clinton had made the statement to which they were referring numerous times before. In the excerpt, which was posted online on May 29, Gerth and Van Natta write: "The authority Congress given [sic] the president and his administration four years earlier, Clinton explained, had been 'misused' because they acted 'without allowing the inspectors to finish the job in order to rush to war.' " In fact, as Media Matters for America documented, Clinton had been publicly claiming that President Bush misused the Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Iraq long before June 2006.
In a May 30 letter sent by email to The New York Times, Media Matters requested that the Times correct the statement. The Times responded by email: "As of now, we see no need for a correction." However, by any reasonable reading of Gerth and Van Natta's claim, it is false.
In their excerpt, Gerth and Van Natta claim that in June 2006, Clinton "for the first time in her public speeches" accused Bush of misusing the 2002 authorization of force against Iraq. But as Media Matters documented, Clinton made previous public statements alleging Bush's "misuse" of that authority -- for example, she told the Poughkeepsie Journal on February 9, 2004: "What happened here is that we gave authority to a president who in my view misused the authority." Gerth and Van Natta offered no indication as to why Clinton's comments to the Poughkeepsie Journal did not (or would not) factor into their research. It is true that her comments to the Poughkeepsie Journal were not made in a "public speech," narrowly construed, but given Gerth and Van Natta's presentation of Clinton's "revised account" as a response to pressure from the left to articulate a more "antiwar" message, the fact that she said the same thing more than two years earlier is an egregious omission on their part, warranting a correction.
Moreover, even under a narrow definition of "public speech," Clinton did accuse Bush in a "public speech" of misusing his authority more than a year before Gerth and Van Natta said she did. During a January 23, 2005, "public speech" at Brandeis University, Clinton said that she "regret[ted] the way the President used the authority." From Clinton's speech:
CLINTON: Now overseas, we face, you see them everyday, horrific challenges. I supported the President's request for a resolution with respect to Iraq. I supported it because first, I, too, believed there were weapons of mass destruction based on eight years of being in the White House during the Clinton Administration. I, too, believed that Saddam Hussein should not be given a free ride for his continuing defiance of United Nations sanctions and international law. But I also believed the President would use that authority wisely and with restraint. And I've been asked many times, do I regret that vote? And I don't regret the vote based on what I knew at the time, but I regret the way the President used the authority. I also deeply regret our lack of planning, our refusal to use enough troops to stabilize and secure Iraq, to prevent looting and to make it very clear that the American military was in charge.
In public statements, Clinton has previously denounced Bush's actions using different wording -- by saying that she "regret[s]" the way he used his authority and by saying that he has "misused" that authority. During her interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal, Clinton said: "I don't regret giving the president authority; I regret the way he used it," and "[w]hat happened here is that we gave authority to a president who in my view misused the authority." Given her use of these two constructions interchangeably in the same interview, it follows, then, that when she said at Brandeis that she "regret[s] the way the President used the authority," she was saying the same thing as saying he misused the authority.
Media Matters identified additional instances in which Clinton criticized Bush for his use of the 2002 force authorization.
From the December 7, 2003, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:
TIM RUSSERT (host): When you stood up on the floor in October 2002, you said, "It's with conviction I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. It's a vote that says clearly to Saddam, 'This is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed.' " Do you now regret your vote giving the president the authority to go to war in Iraq?
CLINTON: No. I regret the way the president used the authority. I believe in presidential authority to deal with threats. I wish that the Congress had been, you know, more supportive of my husband when he did what he had to do in Bosnia and Kosovo and elsewhere. So I have no second-guessing about giving the president authority. And, in fact, in the immediate aftermath of that vote, he did exactly what I would have expected and what the White House told me they would do: going to the U.N., getting a Security Council resolution, going back in with inspections. What I do regret and what I think has been unfortunate is the way that that process was short-circuited and the military action was taken without any adequate understanding or planning about what the aftermath would be. And that's the consequence we're living with right now.
From Clinton's December 15, 2003, speech to the Council on Foreign Relations:
CLINTON: I was one who supported giving President Bush the authority, if necessary, to use force against Saddam Hussein. I believe that that was the right vote. I have had many disputes and disagreements with the administration over how that authority has been used, but I stand by the vote to provide the authority because I think it was a necessary step in order to maximize the outcome that did occur in the Security Council with the unanimous vote to send in inspectors. And I also knew that our military forces would be successful. But what we did not appreciate fully and what the administration was unprepared for was what would happen the day after.
From the February 13, 2004, edition of CNN's Inside Politics:
JUDY WOODRUFF (host): Senator Clinton, the same question. Would you have cast your vote the same?
CLINTON: You know, Judy, I regret the way that the authority that I voted for was used. Based on what was made available to us publicly, in classified briefings, I certainly had every reason to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction. And that given Saddam Hussein's track record of what I would consider aggressive, belligerent irrational behavior, you could never discount him as a threat.
But I do wish that the president had permitted the U.N. inspections to continue longer than he did, because maybe we would have found that out. And maybe then we would have adopted a different strategy.
From a November 15, 2005, statement:
As I have said in the past, I disagree with the way the President has used the authority granted to him and the way he has prosecuted this war. I am glad that the Senate today acted in a bipartisan manner to demand answers from the President. The time is long overdue for the Administration to give us the facts about their current and future plans for the war in Iraq. Our brave men and women who serve valiantly each and every day deserve nothing less.
From a January 30, 2006, New York Sun article:
Mrs. Clinton insisted that the vote was, in essence, about getting U.N. weapons inspectors readmitted to Iraq. She said she never expected Mr. Bush to go to war before the inspections were complete.
"I did vote to give the president authority based on what the president said he was going to use the authority for," the senator said. "I thought we did need to get inspectors back into Iraq.... I don't regret my vote. I regret the way he used the authority."