Friday, January 11, 2008
I think Matthew Yglesias is close here, but he and others who point to Hillary Clinton's refusal to apologize for her Iraq War authorization vote are missing the real vulnerability of her position. Clinton's explanation, both for her vote and her refusal to apologize for it, boils down to the claim that in voting for the authorization, she believed she was only giving President Bush negotiating leverage for a diplomatic resolution of the UN WMD inspection stand-off. And it's a solid defense in that it allows her to deny the accusation that she supported the war, as opposed to the threat of war.
The line of attack it really opens up, though, is actually far more damaging, because it goes to the heart of her current campaign message: competency and experience. Because if Clinton really believed that the Bush administration -- and even worse the Bush administration as it was then constituted -- was simply going to use the authorization as a negotiating ploy, then she hasn't actually benefitted much from all her experience in Washington. I've spoken to French diplomats who were convinced as early as spring 2001 (ie. before 9/11) that given the pretext, the Bush administration would invade Iraq. So if Clinton claims to have been unaware of the real significance of her vote, she's either lying or not as savvy as she claims.
It's a potentially devastating attack, because it really calls Hillary Clinton's major claim to the nomination -- that she understands how to fight the partisan battles in Washington -- into question. But so far, people have gotten caught up on the politics of apologies.