Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.
What ought we to make of this?
First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.
Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.
The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.
The attempt to persuade us that Clinton was in favor of the authority to go to war but opposed President Bush’s decision to use that authority is not credible—but it is entirely predictable. After all, it is part of a well-known pattern when it comes to William Jefferson Clinton.
Bob Woodward put it this way:
People feel, and I think rightly, that they’re not being leveled with. . . . There is this tendency in Clinton which you see all through his life of, “How do we spin our way out of it? How do we put out 10 percent of the truth? How do we try to conceal or delay or obfuscate?” And that is a profound problem.
Michael Kelly, then of the New York Times, summarized things this way:
Mr. Clinton’s tendency to make misleading statements, renege on promises, and waffle on difficult questions has been a part of the story of his record in matters of public policy and politics, not just in personal terms.
Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey put it more bluntly:
Clinton’s an unusually good liar. Unusually good.
One can imagine that Bill Clinton, if asked under oath about this matter, would say something like: “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘the beginning of the war’ is.”
Bill Clinton’s comments cannot help Hillary Clinton, if only because it reminds people of some of the worst aspects of the Clinton presidency: the mendacity, the reckless disregard for the truth, the self-justification, self-indulgence, and shamelessness of the man. Hillary Clinton has enough negatives to last her a lifetime; her husband, in trying to rewrite history, is simply adding to them.