Now that the presidential hopeful field has reached double digits, expect to hear scores of speeches about what should not have been done in Iraq. All the Democrats running, and even many of the Republican candidates, will most likely spend a good deal of time saying they would not have taken the same course of action President Bush did in Iraq. What I am interested in, though, is what those running would have done if they had been in President Bush’s shoes in those months and years following 9/11.
Some will probably say we already know what the senators running would have done, because we have their votes on record. Votes are funny things, though -- often conducive to interpretation. At least they are for those who wish they had voted differently. Besides, there are some who might find it easy to vote as a part of a large group, especially when voting with the majority, but if forced to make a decision standing alone, might not make the same choice. Although we can’t know for certain what the Senators running would have done had they been in the President’s place in 2002 and 2003, determining what they likely would have done then is crucial to determining what kind of President they would make in the future. Even though we will never know for certain, there are clues that point to the likely answer.
Cal Thomas recently pointed to a speech Hillary Clinton made to the anti-war organization, Code Pink in 2003, when the decision to go into Iraq was popular. At that time, Sen. Clinton said, "There is a very easy way to prevent anyone from being put into harm's way, that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm. And I have absolutely no belief that he will. I have to say that this is something I've followed for more than a decade. If he were serious about disarming, he would have been much more forthcoming. I ended up voting for the resolution after carefully reviewing the information, intelligence that I had available, talking with people whose opinions I trusted, trying to discount the political or other factors that I didn't believe should be in any way part of this decision."
Now that the war in Iraq is unpopular, Clinton is trying to distance herself from statements like that one. Statements made closer to the time she cast her 2002 vote, like the one Thomas quoted, give us greater insight into her decision making than any comments she could make now would though. The fact that she is now trying to deny much of what she said then is very telling as well. Does that mean that although she might have made the same decision George Bush did in 2003, that once things got tough and public opinion turned she would have abandoned the mission, as she is now trying to abandon her previous statements?
John Edwards voted for the resolution to authorize the President to use force in Iraq and stood by that vote until it became clear that position would make it next to impossible to win his party’s nomination. Edwards’ position on Iraq changed with the public opinion polls. He is now putting pressure on his old colleagues in the Senate to deny funding for the war, specifically for the “surge” -- a move I don’t believe Edwards would have the intestinal fortitude to make were he still in the Senate. "Silence is betrayal," the former senator from North Carolina said. "Speak out and stop this escalation now. You have the power, members of Congress, to prohibit this president from spending any money to escalate this war — use that power."
Edwards says he now believes he was “wrong” when he voted to authorize force in 2002. What is not clear, is what he thinks was wrong about the vote. You have to make decisions based on the best information you have at the time. It is of little value for me to know how Edwards or any of the other senators would have voted “knowing what they know now.” Unless a presidential candidate is claiming to be a fortuneteller, how they would have voted were they able to see into the future is really of very little consequence.
What I do know of Edwards’ vote is that it was made along with a majority of other Senators, and when the vote was made, it was very much in step with public opinion. If Edwards’ vote was “wrong” then I can assume that if he had the same vote to make today, with the same circumstances, he would vote differently, lest he be wrong again. That tells me that if the leader of a country we had a cease fire agreement with today was shooting at our planes, and defying U.N. resolutions, and we had intelligence (that matched that of numerous other countries) that said the same leader was in possession of chemical and biological weapons, and that he was supporting terrorist activities and torturing his people in ways almost too horrific to believe, and that he had tried to assassinate a former U.S. President and that we were told he was planning terrorist attacks on U.S interests, that Edwards would be against the use of force in that situation. That is not the President I want dealing with the threats we face from Iran, North Korea, and others.
What I want to hear from the Senators running for the White House is why they voted the way they did in 2002, and whether or not they would apply the same decision-making skills when deciding how to respond to future threats. If not, I want to know how they would change their decision making to deal with the same set of circumstances. If intelligence was wrong in Iraq, then it can be wrong in any other situation we are faced to confront. I want to know how, if in any way, the candidates have changed the way they would approach future threats in light of the experience in Iraq and now being painfully aware that human intelligence is imperfect. I fear the result is a reluctance to again take any action against a threat unless we have world consensus. It will be interesting to see how many candidates run on that message.