Barack Obama and the Iraq War

In the New Hampshire debate on Saturday night, Hillary Clinton understandably came out swinging at Barack Obama.  Having just lost Iowa by an astounding margin and facing frightening polls in the Granite State, she knew she needed to score some points against the Senator from Illinois if she had a hope of recovering in the NH primary.  One of the ways she chose to attack, an attack I’ve heard repeated by both Hillary and Bill Clinton in the days since, was on Obama’s record regarding the Iraq War. 

The Clintons assert that while Obama came out strong against the war in 2002, he has since reneged on that position by voting for bills in the US Senate that fund the war.  Grant me the indulgence of pointing out that Obama’s voting record and Clinton’s voting record on these bills is identical.  So, essentially what Hillary is saying is, “How dare you be just like me.”  What she wants to be drawing attention to is a perceived inconsistency between Obama’s saying that he is against the war, has been from the beginning, and his voting record for funding the war.

On November 11, 2007, Obama appeared on Meet The Press with Tim Russert.  As Russert is want to do, he grilled Obama fairly hard on this exact question.  Here’s is an excerpt from that interview:

“Look, I was opposed to this war in 2002, 2003, four, five, six and seven. What I was very clear about, even in 2002 in my original opposition, was once we were in, we were going to have to make some decisions to see how we could stabilize the situation and act responsibly.  And that’s what I did through 2004, five and six, try to see can we create a workable government in Iraq? Can we make sure that we are minimizing the humanitarian costs in Iraq?  Can we make sure that our troops are safe in Iraq?  And that’s what I have done. ”

Clearly, once we had boots on the ground, Barack Obama would not have voted to cut off the funding that provides those troops with the equipment they need to keep them safe.  That would have been the height of irresponsibility.  And rapid flight from the area, resulting from sudden loss of funding, would, according to the Iraq Study Group, be a “humanitarian disaster”.

Understanding that he needed to vote for the funding necessary to maintain troop support, he has consistently worked for a withdrawal plan.  Here is another excerpt from his interview with Tim Russert:

“You know, throughout I was a constant critic.  The first hearing that I had was with Condoleezza Rice in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  This was a few months after I had been sworn in as senator.  And I told her at that point, we need to wind this war down.  It is true that my preference would not be to end this war simply by cutting off funding.  My preference would be for the president to recognize that we needed to change course, and that was what I continually pushed for. At the point where we realized the president was not willing to change course, I put forward a very clear timetable for when we should remove our troops. And, when that was vetoed, I then suggested that the only way to get the president to the table to negotiate how we’re going to move in a different direction in Iraq is by not giving him a blank check when it comes to funding.

But, look, throughout this process my views have been consistent.  The question has been, given the situation on the ground, how can I be most constructive not in scoring political points, but making sure that we have the best possible outcome after what I considered to be a tragic strategic mistake in the region . . . . You know, I’ve never rooted against success in Iraq, I’ve just been skeptical that this was the right approach for us to take.”

It seems extraordinarily disingenuous for Hillary Clinton to claim that Barack Obama suddenly became pro-war when he came to the Senate.  Or that his votes to fund the war somehow make a case that he is in support of the overall strategy.  She, herself, believes that we need out of Iraq, and yet she has voted for these same funding bills.  This is, in the end, a manipulation of Obama’s voting record in an attempt to dupe the voting public.  Thank goodness we are too smart to fall for it.

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