Commentary Magazine


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Hillary’s Time Tunnel

In last night’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton continued to insist on her illogical disavowal of her 2002 vote in the Senate in favor of authorizing the use of force in Iraq: “It was a sincere vote,” she said, “based on the information available to me. And I’ve said many times that if I knew then what I now know, I would not have voted that way.”

But of course Clinton did not know then what she knows now. No one did. Those who voted for or against the war had to base their decision on the information available to them at the time. The TV program, The Time Tunnel, which I used to watch in the 1960’s, was not a reality show, but Clinton and others like her seem to think that if they could only go back in time, bringing their current knowledge with them, they could alter the course of history. Andrew Sullivan plays the same game, only, given his higher IQ and learning, even more dishonestly—see my Tiramisu, Andrew? for his particular recipe.

The decision to go to war can certainly be debated, as can the conduct of the war. If we are to find a good way forward, it is this latter subject that is now more pertinent.

Today’s Washington Post, for example, calls attention to an article in Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. This was the unit that won the battle of Tal Afar in 2006, the success of which, as the Post points out, was cited by President Bush as “the model for the new security plan under way in Baghdad.”

Yingling charges that “America’s generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq.” He then proceeds to elaborate a devastating critique of the American high command, who

spent the years following the 1991 Gulf War mastering a system of war without thinking deeply about the ever changing nature of war. They marched into Iraq having assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like the wars of the past. Those few who saw clearly our vulnerability to insurgent tactics said and did little to prepare for these dangers.

Whether Yingling is right or wrong about the conduct of the war I do not know. There is also a serious question of whether an officer serving on active duty should be free to eviscerate his superiors in this way. In a better world, it might be preferable if those who want to issue such a challenge should first resign.

But we do not live in a better world, and we do not want to drive mavericks and innovators from military service. In any case, the relevant point here is that Yingling is not seeking a way for the United States to shirk its responsibilities. On the contrary. The “hour is late,” he writes,

but not too late to prepare for the challenges of the Long War. We still have time to select as our generals those who possess the intelligence to visualize future conflicts and the moral courage to advise civilian policymakers on the preparations needed for our security.

We also will have time—a year and a half—to select new leaders from among the candidates for President. Let us hope they have the intelligence and the moral courage not to seek clever ways to dodge responsibility for the decisions they made in the past.

Clinton the time-traveler is not such a leader. She wants to have it every which way: she was right back then, she is right now, and she will be right in the future. And it is all probably true: she always will be right. Her position on the war is based upon the Time Tunnel episode “Rendezvous With Yesterday.”