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Obama, Clinton and Iraq: You Make the Call

01/13/2008 02:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary Clinton today used her appearance on NBC's Meet the Press to question whether Barack Obama really has strongly opposed the Iraq War. You can watch the video here and then read Obama's response here. Getting past the sheer absurdity of Clinton -- one of the chief proponents of the war -- attacking Obama for not opposing the war enough, let's just take a look at the record and ask a simple question: Who is correct? As you'll see, it's not such a cut-and-dry issue.

Here's what I reported back in 2006 in my profile of Obama for The Nation:

Then there is the Iraq War. Obama says that during his 2004 election campaign he "loudly and vigorously" opposed the war. As the New Yorker noted, "many had been drawn initially by Obama's early opposition to the invasion." But "when his speech at the antiwar rally in 2002 was quietly removed from his campaign Web site," the magazine reported, "activists found that to be an ominous sign" -- one that foreshadowed Obama's first months in the Senate. Indeed, through much of 2005, Obama said little about Iraq, displaying a noticeable deference to Washington's bipartisan foreign policy elite, which had pushed the war. One of Obama's first votes as a senator was to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State despite her integral role in pushing the now-debunked propaganda about Iraq's WMD.

In November Obama's reticence on the war ended. Five days after hawkish Democratic Representative Jack Murtha famously called for a withdrawal, Obama gave a speech calling for a drawdown of troops in 2006. "Those of us in Washington have fallen behind the debate that is taking place across America on Iraq," he said. But then he retreated. On Meet the Press in January, Obama regurgitated catchphrases often employed by neoconservatives to caricature those demanding a timetable for withdrawal. "It would not be responsible for us to unilaterally and precipitously draw troops down," he said. Then, as polls showed support for the war further eroding, Obama tacked again, giving a speech in May attacking the war and mocking the "idea that somehow if you say the words 'plan for victory' and 'stay the course' over and over and over and over again... that somehow people are not going to notice the 2,400 flag-draped coffins that have arrived at the Dover Air Force Base." (emphasis added)

In April of 2007, I wrote this small piece for Radar Magazine, noting some more back-and-forth:

When it comes to his Iraq dance, has Barack Obama stolen his moves from Hillary Clinton? The freshman senator has been trying to position himself as the antiwar candidate in the Democratic presidential primary, but this weekend he told the Associated Press that he will support continued funding for the war -- even if President Bush follows through on a pledge to veto any hard withdrawal date.

That move puts Obama in lonely, treacherous waters -- directly in opposition to Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who announced he will push to cut off funding for the war within a year.

But it's not the first time Obama has bounced around on Iraq. He regularly says he's against the Iraq war, for example, but when asked by the New York Times in July 2004 how he would have voted in 2002, he said, "What would I have done? I don't know." Fast forward to 2006 when he told the New Yorker's David Remnick that senators who saw intelligence reports on Iraq may have been justified in voting for the invasion. "I didn't have the benefit of U.S. intelligence," he said. "And, for those who did, it might have led to a different set of choices." (emphasis added)

So yes, Obama did oppose the war back in 2002. But yes, between that speech and the announcement of his presidential run when loud opposition to the war became a Democratic primary necessity, he has dithered between not talking about the war, supporting funding for the war, and even suggesting that he might have voted for the war had he been in the U.S. Senate at the time.

Clinton, as I suggested to start, is making a fool out of herself by attacking Obama for not opposing the war more strongly. As Obama himself today correctly pointed out, he "stood up against the war when she was voting for it, at a time when she didn't read the intelligence reports or give diplomacy a chance." At the very moment Obama was speaking out against the war, she was actually IN the U.S. Senate helping drive the country into war by being the most famous Democrat in America pushing it.

All of that said, however, outside of this particular campaign scuffle, those who want the war to end should be cognizant of Obama's full record. While it is true that, as Obama said, he "clearly and unambiguously oppose[d] the war in Iraq," it is also true that he did not always clearly and unambiguously use his position or platform to help actually end the war in Iraq. And just as Clinton's strong support of the Iraq War is relevant, so too is Obama's behavior, as both records may indicate what these candidates would -- and would not -- do as president.

Cross-posted from Credo Action