On the February 17 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report, host and Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot pointed to three brief statements by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) -- from a 2002 Senate floor statement, a 2004 interview on CNN's Larry King Live, and a 2007 speech -- as examples of her alleged “marked turn to the left” on the Iraq war. Gigot went on to ask Journal columnist Bret Stephens to comment on Clinton's argument that her 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution was not intended to serve as “a blank check for President Bush,” but rather to “give the president more leverage” in the weapons inspection process. Stephens responded that this argument is “disingenuous” and claimed that Clinton “supported the war for a very long time, including after it became clear that weapons of mass destruction were probably not going to be found in Iraq.” As proof, Stephens cited the quote from the 2004 CNN interview, in which Clinton stated that she “did not regret” voting for the 2002 resolution “because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction.”
But Gigot and Stephens both ignored Clinton's subsequent statements during that same interview, which make clear she did not “support the war” at the time. Indeed, Clinton went on to say that she regretted “the way the president used the authority” granted him by the 2002 resolution and criticized his “short-circuiting of the inspections process” and his “failure to plan ... for the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein.” Further, in selectively quoting Clinton, Gigot ignored the part of her 2002 floor statement in which she stated she expected Bush to seek “complete, unlimited inspections” and did not view her support for the measure as “a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption.”
Gigot began the segment -- titled “Hillary's Left Turn” -- with three brief quotes that he said represented “the arc of the senator's positions” on the issue:
GIGOT: As Senator Hillary Clinton vies for the Democratic presidential nomination, she is taking a marked turn to the left. Pressured by other candidates and by her party's left wing, when it comes to Iraq, the once-stalwart hawk is now embracing a get-out-fast strategy.
Let's take a look at the arc of the senator's positions on Iraq, starting with her speech on the Senate floor in 2002, endorsing the Iraq war resolution.
CLINTON [video clip]: So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interest of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war. It is a vote at that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president. And we say to him, use these powers wisely and as a last resort. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein, “This is your last chance, disarm or be disarmed.”
GIGOT: Then we have a statement by the senator in 2004 when the war was growing more unpopular. But she said this: “I don't regret giving the president the authority, because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade.” Unquote.
Now more recently, in 2007, to the Democratic National Committee.
CLINTON [video clip]: Nearly four years ago, our president rushed us into war in Iraq. If I had been president in October of 2002, I would have never asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq. And I certainly would never have started this war.
Gigot then asked Stephens to respond to Clinton's argument that she has been consistent on the issue. Stephens called this argument “disingenuous” and claimed she “supported the war ... [even] after it became clear” that no WMD would be found in Iraq:
GIGOT: The campaign now, in responding to this, is saying, “Look, that wasn't a blank check for President Bush. All that vote was was conditional. It was to influence Saddam Hussein, to give the president more leverage.” What do you think of that argument?
STEPHENS: Well, she supported the war as the 2004 quote suggests. She supported the war for a very long time, including after it became clear that weapons of mass destruction were probably not going to be found in Iraq. So that's disingenuous.
But I think the real question you have to ask is: Which Hillary is real? And I think both answers are depressing.
But the full text of Clinton's 2004 interview suggests the opposite -- that while she stood by her 2002 vote, she strongly opposed the Bush administration's handling of both the pre-war inspections process and the conflict itself. From the April 20, 2004, edition of CNN's Larry King Live:
LARRY KING (host): You voted for it, though, didn't you?
CLINTON: I voted for the authorization, and obviously I've thought about that a lot in the months since.
KING: Sorry you did?
CLINTON: No, I don't regret giving the president authority, because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly, Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade.
What I regret is the way the president used the authority. I think that the short-circuiting of the inspections process, after going to the United Nations, and then basically not permitting the inspectors to finish whatever task they could have accomplished to demonstrate one way or the other what was there. The failure to plan is the most hard -- of all the things is the hardest for me to understand. I mean, how could they have been so poorly prepared for the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein? And there's just a number of questions that, you know, we still don't really have answers for.
Clinton went on to state that, while she believed the conflict “could have been handled differently,” she supported “mak[ing] the best” of the situation in Iraq:
KING: So you favor us -- favor us being there?
CLINTON: Well, I favor the fact that now that we're there, we're going to have to make the best of it. I think it could have been handled differently. That's why I say I regret the way the president decided to use the authority.
And it's been bewildering to me, you know, the idea that they would reject out of hand all the planning that was done in the State Department, that they would, you know, basically ignore the warnings that so many people gave them about what would happen when the oppressive, you know, heavy hand of Saddam Hussein was lifted off. For the life of me, I don't understand how they had such an unrealistic view about what was going to happen.
Clinton's comments during the 2004 interview are in concert with the expectations she laid out prior to voting in favor of the 2002 resolution. Indeed, as Media Matters for America has noted, elsewhere in the October 10, 2002, floor statement, Clinton stated explicitly that she expected the White House to push for “complete, unlimited inspections” and that she did not view her support for the measure as “a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption or for unilateralism.” From the statement:
CLINTON: While there is no perfect approach to this thorny dilemma, and while people of good faith and high intelligence can reach diametrically opposing conclusions, I believe the best course is to go to the United Nations for a strong resolution that scraps the 1998 restrictions on inspections and calls for complete, unlimited inspections, with cooperation expected and demanded from Iraq. ... If we get the resolution the president seeks, and Saddam complies, disarmament can proceed and the threat can be eliminated. ... If we get the resolution and Saddam does not comply, we can attack him with far more support and legitimacy than we would have otherwise.
Clinton went on to acknowledge that the Iraq resolution was “not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first,” but stated that she trusted Bush would gain a U.N. resolution requiring full inspections before proceeding with military action:
CLINTON: Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I take the president at his word that he will try hard to pass a United Nations resolution and seek to avoid war, if possible.
Further, she clarified that her vote in favor of the Iraq resolution did not represent support “for any new doctrine of pre-emption or for unilateralism”:
CLINTON: This is a difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Any vote that may lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction. ... My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption or for unilateralism or for the arrogance of American power or purpose, all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, the rule of international law, and the peace and security of people throughout the world.
Gigot and Stephens' characterization of Clinton as having “supported the war” as late as 2004 before taking a “marked turn to the left” echoes a February 8 Wall Street Journal editorial, headlined "Hillary on Iraq: From stalwart hawk to get out fast." In that piece, the Journal cited the same three quotes -- from 2002, 2004, and 2007 -- as evidence that Clinton is “steadily, even rapidly, moving” in the direction of the “antiwar left.” Additionally, the Journal noted Clinton's remarks following the December 14, 2003, capture of Saddam Hussein as proof of her support for the war at the time. During a December 15, 2003, speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton had said she “was thrilled that Saddam Hussein had finally been captured,” and added, “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.” But while Clinton celebrated Saddam's capture and again stood by her October 2002 vote for the Iraq war resolution, she at no point in this speech expressly supported the conflict. To the contrary, she went on to note her “many disputes and disagreements with the administration over how that authority has been used” and criticized Bush's unwillingness to further “internationalize our presence” in Iraq. Moreover, as the Clinton camp noted in response to the Journal editorial, Clinton had assailed Bush's execution of the war in separate comments that month. Indeed, she had criticized the White House for “miscalculation” and “inept planning,” and asserted that “the administration has from the very beginning not leveled with the American people.”