Without Hillary's Support, The War Might Never Have Happened

09/20/2007 05:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

(By Joe Drymala and Ryan J. Davis)
The Story Behind "Chickenhawks For Hillary"

Chickenhawks For Clinton

Remember these words?

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members..."

What about these:

"[i]f left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."

Scary stuff--positively Cheney-esque in its evocation of nuclear and biological nightmare scenarios. There is even a reference to the evildoers themselves: those ubiquitous Al Qaeda members, presumably nestled securely in one of Saddam's palaces, laughing it up with Uday and Qusay as we go about our business, ignorant of their infernal schemes.

This wasn't Dick Cheney talking, though. Or George Bush. Or Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell. It wasn't the daily two-minute hate from the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. These words were spoken by a candidate who may very well be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008: Hillary Clinton, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, on October 10, 2002.

Hillary Clinton's support of the war was no technicality, and talking about it isn't mere hair-splitting. It's not about harping on one particular vote that she still won't apologize for, or playing Russert-style "gotcha" with fear-mongering quotes from days of yore. George Bush wanted to go to war with Iraq; that much is clear. But without bipartisan support, or the support of the Washington foreign policy establishment (and with it, the D.C. media elite), the run-up to the invasion would have been very, very different. Maybe we would have had a real debate over the merits of the invasion. Maybe the intelligence would have been properly analyzed. Maybe a forthright discussion of the possible costs of the war would have taken place. We'll never know, though, because the "serious" foreign policy experts, the press, and virtually all Democratic leaders were actively telling war opponents to please shut up already.

(To see a great example of Clinton's attitude toward the views of war opponents, take a look at this video of her speaking to a group of activists from the group Code Pink on March 6, 2003.)

Clinton's role in the invasion was unique. She'd been in the Senate for less than two years, but was understandably more famous and more visible than any other member. She was also respected as an intelligent, capable politician who'd won her Senate seat largely on her own merits. She was a star. And she became the most high-profile Democrat leading the march to war.

Had she done the opposite--forcefully opposed the invasion, as a few courageous Senators chose to do--the Bush administration would have had a much bigger hurdle to cross in terms of convincing the press and the public that invasion was the most prudent course of action. Would she have taken heat for it? Of course. Would she have put herself out of the running for the presidency? Possibly. But she wasn't president yet. She was a Senator, our Senator, the Senator from New York, for whom both of us pulled the lever in 2000, and she let us down, and consequently war opponents had no real voice in Washington. And now, our worst nightmares about Iraq have come true.

I have no doubt that Clinton, along with a vast majority of Americans, now regards the war as a spectacularly bad idea. History will surely record it as such. But some of us thought it was a bad idea in 2001, and in 2002, and in 2003 (to paraphrase another presidential candidate). And even today, Clinton still won't say she was wrong to vote for the war. She won't join the other major candidates in refusing to vote for funding without a deadline for withdrawal. She may be trying to appear tough for the general election, concerned that as a female candidate, she needs to err on the side of hawkishness. That's a poor excuse, though, if it's true (not to mention a seriously amoral calculation), and if it's not, then we have no choice but to believe her support of the war was genuine. Either way, Democrats can do better when it comes to the person we choose to lead our party.

We created "Chickenhawks For Hillary" because we were angry, and are angry still, at the fact that the press has largely given her a pass on her full-throated advocacy of the Iraq war. We hope the ad will help remind people that she is not only complicit in the invasion, but probably more complicit than any other Democrat on the national stage.

The distinctions between the candidates in Iraq have been somewhat blurred by the media, but Hillary Clinton set herself apart from the rest of the pack with her words and actions over the past five years. She may issue carefully-worded statements on the campaign trail bemoaning the management of the war, but the time for her to take a stand against the war was before the invasion, when it counted. For whatever reason, she chose not to. She may one day be president, but she's already missed her historic opportunity to be a leader.