THE BLOG
04/02/2008 05:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Judging Hillary's Judgment

Undecided Democratic voters and uncommitted superdelegates should remember that Senator Hillary Clinton's 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq was at odds with the majority of congressional Democrats -- 60 percent in the House and nearly half in the Senate -- who unlike her opposed the 2002 Iraq War resolution. The 126 Democratic House members and 22 Democratic Senators voting against the invasion included: Nancy Pelosi, current House Speaker; David Obey, current chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Robert Graham, at the time, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and its former chair; Carl Levin, current chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Daniel Inouye, World War II veteran and current chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

While acknowledging that Saddam Hussein might possess weapons of mass destruction, these Democrats realized that such weapons did not pose a significant enough threat to justify the war. They knew that sanctions were still effective. When National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice raised the specter of an Iraqi mushroom cloud, Senator Graham countered that "the briefings I have received suggest our efforts, for instance, to block [Iraq] from obtaining necessary nuclear materials have been largely successful." Senator Edward Kennedy cited evidence that "even with Iraq's obstructions, inspections [had] resulted in the demolition of large quantities of chemical and biological weapons."

These members of Congress also predicted that the Iraq War would increase hostility toward the U.S. Congressman Obey emphasized that an invasion could unleash "an anti-U.S. backlash in the Arab world, a backlash that could generate thousands of new recruits for al Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations." Senator Graham noted that a war on Iraq "leaves America more vulnerable to the number one threat facing us today, those international terrorist organizations" and that invading Iraq attacks "the wrong target." Senator Levin added that there would likely "be a reduction in the international support we are receiving for the war on terrorism."

Like other prominent Democrats, they understood that an invasion could destabilize the region. Former Vice President Albert Gore forecast that "the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam." Senator Levin observed that the invasion could "undermine Jordan, Pakistan, and possibly even end up with a radical regime in Pakistan, a nuclear weapons nation."

While comprehending fully that Saddam Hussein was a brutal murderer, these Democrats knew that an invasion might fail to improve either life in Iraq or U.S. security. Congressman Obey warned, "[T]he most serious consequences would well be those we face after Iraq is occupied, unless the effort is well thought out. Based on discussions with the administration and the intelligence community, I believe much more work needs to be done." Senator Graham quoted Winston Churchill's admonition, "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter."

The Iraq War may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history. It has produced tens of thousands of casualties, American and Iraqi, will cost as much as two trillion dollars, and has inspired the world's one billion Muslims to distrust, if not hate, the United States, thereby increasing the risk of terrorism. A critical question therefore is why Senator Clinton's judgment was flawed, when a majority of congressional Democrats with the same information reached an opposite and, as it turns out, accurate judgment of the wisdom of invading. One benchmark, in other words, for judging her judgment -- and also that of the acknowledged Republican presidential nominee, John McCain -- should be the actions of the majority of congressional Democrats who, along with a few Republicans, opposed our disastrous Iraq invasion from the start.