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The Meeting That Never Was: One UN Weapons Inspector's Effort to Educate Hillary Before Her Iraq Vote

02/29/2016 04:37 pm ET | Updated Feb 29, 2016
Paul Marotta via Getty Images

America heads to the polls tomorrow as part of "Super Tuesday," and supporters of Hillary Clinton hope they will be able to cement the inevitability of her status as the Democratic Party's nominee for president of the United States with an impressive victory. Politicians like to live in the moment, and Hillary Clinton is no different, cloaking herself in the aura of a woman who is well positioned to make the hard choices of governance based upon her "experience, wisdom, skepticism, and humility." But Hillary's "moment" was shaken to the core by the resignation Sunday -- two days before the "Super Tuesday" contests -- of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a veteran of the Iraq War, from her position as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Tulsi Gabbard's resignation came at the same time she announced her decision to throw her support behind Hillary Clinton's rival for the Democratic Party nomination, citing "the necessity to have a commander-in-chief who has foresight, who exercises good judgment ... who looks at the consequences of the actions they are willing to take before they take those actions so that we don't continue to find ourselves in these failures that have resulted in chaos in the Middle East and so much loss of life." Tulsi Gabbard, in looking toward the future of America post-Barack Obama, has refused to allow the politics of the moment to blind her to the reality of the past, and in doing so has shined a spotlight on an issue Hillary Clinton wishes would go away -- her vote in support of military action against Iraq in 2002.

"I have a much longer history than one vote, which I said was a mistake because of the way that it was done and how the Bush administration handled it," Hillary has said, trying to explain away her actions. The issue at hand, however, isn't simply one vote, but rather the processes behind the casting of that one vote which shed considerable light on the judgement of the individual involved. This isn't the first time I've called out Hillary Clinton on the utter hypocrisy of her vote to authorize military force against Iraq in 2002 -- in early 2007 I wrote a piece for AlterNet that addressed my concerns then, on the eve of her first bid for the Democratic Party nomination.

I share those concerns today (and for those who might seek to obfuscate the issue of Hillary's recklessness when it comes to issues of war by accusing me of picking on Hillary simply because she is a woman, I would note that I subscribe to the principle of equal opportunity when it comes to hypocritical politicians and their vote on the Iraq War -- in August of 2004, I wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe strongly criticizing then-Senator John Kerry's qualifications to seek the nomination of the Democratic Party for president because of his vote to authorize military force against Iraq in 2002. I put the spotlight on Hillary's vote today because she is once again seeking the office of the Presidency of the United States. John Kerry is not. If he were, then I would voice the exact same criticism of him.

In the summer of 2002, on the eve of Senate hearings about Iraq, I paid a visit to Washington, DC, where I sought to gain an audience with those Senators who would be called upon to pass judgement on the president's case for war. For some, this was an exercise in futility -- John McCain, Joe Biden and John Kerry didn't even bother returning my phone calls, despite past promises to consult closely about the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Senator Dianne Feinstein did agree to meet, and we spent a good amount of time together, during which time she informed me that, as of that time, she had yet to receive anything resembling a "smoking gun" when it came to intelligence reports about Iraq's possession of WMD. Feinstein went on to vote in favor of military intervention, yet another example of a Senator putting personal politics above the national interest -- Feinstein later "regretted" that vote, but it was too late for those who were called on to pay the price for her political cowardice.

Senator Chuck Hagel -- a Republican who had previously met with me in length about Iraq -- gave me an audience with his staff, where I addressed the lack of a case for war in depth. Hagel went on to vote in favor of the war, giving voice to an earlier observation, made to me in the Spring of 2000, that I should not "expect any profile in courage moments" out of Congress when it comes to the issue of Iraq. If Chuck Hagel were running for president today, I'd be delivering a broadside in his direction as well.

The meeting -- or lack thereof -- that had the biggest impact on me was the one I didn't have with Hillary Clinton. Hillary was, at that time, one of two Senators from the State of New York, where I was a resident. She was my Senator, and as a constituent who possessed unmatched qualifications on the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, I felt I had a duty to brief her; and as her constituent, she had a responsibility to give me a hearing or, in the absence of such (recognizing Senators are very busy people), to assign a staff member, a la Chuck Hagel, to hear me out. I made several calls to Hillary's Senate office, trying to arrange a meeting at her convenience. Even after explaining to her staff that I was not only a former Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq, but also a citizen of the State of New York who wanted to meet with his Senator, all I got was a promise to take my information down in the hope that "someone would get back to me." No one ever did.

In the immediate aftermath of my meeting with Senator Feinstein, I decided that, armed with the insights of that meeting, I would simply go to Hillary's office and seek a meeting in person. I did so, only to be treated like a leper trying to enter Old Jerusalem in biblical times. I have spent many, many hours on Capitol Hill, waiting in the anterooms of Senators with far more tenure and qualifications than Hillary Clinton possessed in 2002. These were busy men and women, often chairing important committees, for whom time was a precious commodity. But I never saw them ignore a constituent -- there was always time for a handshake, to share some words and, if needed, to either schedule a more substantive meeting with the Senator or a member of his or her staff.

I made my way to 476 Russell, the Senate building where Hillary maintained her office. I had done my homework and knew that Hillary was in Washington, DC at the time I sought the meeting. The receptionist was decidedly cool when I arrived and indicated I would like an opportunity to meet with my Senator. Did I have an appointment? No, I replied. Then there would be no chance for a meeting, she replied. Is the Senator in? I asked. No response to that question, just a reiteration of the previous statement -- there was no chance for a meeting. Could I speak with a member of Senator Clinton's staff who dealt with foreign affairs? I asked, reiterating my qualifications for such a request -- a constituent with first-hand experience about an issue of great importance, only to be told that there was no such staffer available.

By this time the receptionist was out of her seat and, together with another staffer, were firmly yet politely herding me to the exit. I handed them a copy of the Arms Control Today article I had written back in 2000 (at the request of John Kerry) which addressed the issue of Iraqi WMD, along with a card containing my contact information -- and forcefully drove home the point that I wasn't some lobbyist to be given the cold shoulder, but rather a constituent seeking to voice legitimate concerns to my elected representative. I was told to try Hillary's New York office, but at that moment there was no chance of a meeting with either the Senator or a member of her staff (as a note, I did attempt to reach out to Hillary's New York office, but never received a reply back).

To some, this vignette about a non-meeting might sound like a case of sour grapes -- "the Senator didn't meet with me, so I'll show her!" But it is about far more than that -- Hillary Clinton was my Senator, who was going to be called upon to cast a critical vote about an issue I took very seriously, and in which I had a large amount of sweat equity. If democracy is going to work in this country, then there must be an element of accountability. Otherwise, as Hillary Clinton's opponent for the Democratic Party nomination has sagely observed, we risk sliding down a slippery slope that leads toward oligarchy.

"I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had," Hillary wrote in her book, Hard Choices, about her Iraq vote in 2002. This is the kind of comment that inflames me as a citizen, because I know, based upon my first-hand experience, that Hillary had been provided the opportunity to gain access to the kind of hard facts that could have pushed her to a different result when it came to her vote. "I wasn't alone in getting it wrong," Hillary lamented in her memoir. "But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple." This is disingenuous. The fact is, as of 2002, Hillary (and the other Senators who voted in favor of military action against Iraq) got it right -- at least as far as their political fortunes were concerned.

If you were a freshman Senator who had aspirations for higher office, you could not be seen as swimming against the political current, especially when it came to confronting someone like Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of 9/11, where Al Qaeda and the Iraqi dictator had been (wrongfully) conflated in the minds of most Americans. Hillary simply lacked the moral courage to embrace her own "profile in courage" moment by voting against the Iraq War on the merits. "I wasn't alone in getting it wrong." But she did get it wrong, and because she was my Senator, who ignored my efforts to help set her straight on the facts prior to her casting her vote on Iraq, I will hold her to account -- especially when she tries to gloss over her actions behind the false façade of acting in "good faith" based upon "the information I had."

What puzzles me are the blinders many supporters of Hillary Clinton wear when it comes to holding her to account for her past record. I feel I am justified to hold up Hillary's journey toward her vote on Iraq as a mirror to judge her subsequent decisions vis-à-vis Libya and Syria. "As much as I have wanted to," Hillary claims in Hard Choices, "I could never change my vote on Iraq. But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war ... I was determined to do exactly that when facing future hard choices, with more experience, wisdom, skepticism, and humility." All I could think of after reading that passage was of then-President George W. Bush, speaking in Nashville, Tennessee in September of 2002, proclaiming "Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me ... You can't get fooled again!" I, for one, won't allow myself to be fooled again by Hillary Clinton. She claims she is ready "on day one" to be commander-in-chief, and yet her record clearly indicates otherwise. I'm pleased that people like Tulsi Gabbard seem to agree.

But the operative question, here on the eve of 'Super Tuesday," is why so many others fail to hold her to account for issues that resonate among their respective constituencies with the same resonance that Iraq has with me? Why, for instance, would Hispanic voters believe a woman who so brazenly tells a 10-year-old Latina girl who worries about being deported to "Let me do the worrying ... I'll do all the worrying, is that a deal?," when she is on the record favoring the forced deportation of similar children in order to "send a message"? Why, after Hillary Clinton labelled black youth as "super predators" and supported policies in the 1990's that led to the mass incarceration of so many black males, would black voters give her the time of day, let alone their vote?

In both cases, Hispanic and Black voters are given an option -- support Hillary Clinton, who is on record making the politically expedient choice versus staking out her own personal "profile in courage" moment, or choose her opponent, who has a strong record of supporting the kind of civil rights Hispanic and Black communities demand and deserve. I can't speak for either the Hispanic or Black communities as to why they seem to be gravitating toward Hillary Clinton in the face of such an abysmal record when it comes to minority rights. But on issues of national security, where Hillary similarly seeks to separate herself from Bernie Sanders, the myth of competence and integrity has been shattered, regardless of one's gender, racial or ethnic status. "Meet the new boss," Roger Daltry of The Who once sang. "Same as the old boss."

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