THE BLOG

As War Neared in 2003 -- Hillary Was Silent

03/16/2008 11:41 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Wherever you stand on the Obama/Clinton race, one thing nearly everyone agrees on is this: She voted for the war resolution in 2002, has not apologized for that vote since -- but now says the resolution did not really authorize the war and calls the 2003 invasion a mistake. But what did she do in attempting to halt the war -- which she felt she did not authorize -- in the two weeks before it began? Apparently, nothing.

With fifth-anniversary coverage now in full swing, I probed The New York Times' online archives today from March 1 to March 23 in 2003 (the war started on March 19), looking for evidence. Numerous articles involving the junior senator from New York turned up, but most related to subjects pretty far afield from the war: from abortion to the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The only Clinton statement about the war in the Times -- as the countdown arrived -- came in a revealing roundup of local officials' views written by Joyce Purnick. She found several top New York officeholders strongly against the war (such as Rep. Rangel), and a few okaying it. But here is her summary of Hillary's views:

The award for the most indefinite position has to go to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. When her press secretary, Philippe Reines, was asked her position, he sent a transcript of Mrs. Clinton's remarks last Friday on CNN and a news account of her comments on Monday during a visit to Watervliet, N.Y. (It seems that the senator, still a bit first ladylike, is reluctant to pick up the phone.)

She said on CNN that the president ''made the right decision to go back to the United Nations''' and suggested that the country 'take a deep breath, deal with Iraq if we have to, understand exactly what we've gotten ourselves into, because in the briefings I've received, there's a lot of unknowables.'

In Watervliet, the senator said, 'This is a very delicate balancing act.' And, 'I fully support the policy of disarming Saddam Hussein.' She also urged the administration 'to try to enlist more support.'

A skeptic might conclude that Mrs. Clinton wants to appeal to her antiwar constituents in New York now, and to a broader base later -- if she runs for president. Or maybe she remains conflicted.

A little over a week later, on March 14, this letter appeared in the Times, from Susana Margolis of New York City: "It's increasingly evident that the likely invasion of Iraq is only secondarily about the variously offered objectives, from weapons of mass destruction to 'liberation.' Rather, it represents a historic change in United States foreign policy: the establishment of an American garrison to carry out policy goals in western Asia by military means.

The president should come clean on the administration's true intentions, and it is the Senate's duty to debate the issue. Yet there's not a word. New York's senators, having voted for the resolution last year authorizing the use of force in Iraq, appear to have lost their voices entirely. History will record that when the country effected a sea change in its posture toward the world, Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles E. Schumer were nowhere to be found.

Nothing else related to Iraq and Clinton turns up in the Times' archive until a week later. Skip ahead to just after the war began, to a March 23 news story: "In New York City, about 35 members of a group called Westsiders for Peace sang, prayed and protested at lunchtime outside the Third Avenue offices of Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Complaining that the senators supported the war, the protesters carried manila file folders that bore messages like, ''Who represents us if our senators aren't listening?'''

NOTE: Greg Mitchell's new book, hailed by Arianna, Bill Moyers and others, is "So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq" (Union Square Press). It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and foreword by famed war reporter Joe Galloway.

His email is: gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com

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