Mark Goldblatt, writing yesterday on “Hillary’s Hurdle,” suggested that Hillary’s “greatest obstacle may be that she cannot give the Democratic base what it so desperately craves,” and that her problem is not so much her October 2002 Senate vote, but the explanatory speech that preceded it.
In that speech, she recited a long list of “undisputed” facts about Saddam Hussein and concluded that “though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001” it was “clear” that “Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons” and “he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.”
In Goldblatt’s view, that speech compels Hillary “to concede that Bush’s decision to oust Saddam was made in good faith, based on the best evidence available to him.”
But there is actually another speech -- given almost three years later -- that presents a bigger problem for her. On May 24, 2005, Hillary spoke to the AIPAC Policy Conference, telling them she wanted “to take just a few minutes to discuss some of the significant challenges facing the United States” -- starting with Iraq:
[W]e know that the goal, the important, essential goal of a democratizing
Middle East is complex, and it is not without risks. A few months ago, I went for the second time to Iraq and Kuwait and Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I returned home with hopefulness about what I had seen and learned, but also with a sense of caution about how we should proceed. In Iraq I saw firsthand the daily challenges confronting the Iraqi people. I met with a number of our troops, the brave young men and women who are on freedom's frontlines in Iraq. . . . I flew from Baghdad to Fallujah in a Blackhawk helicopter; met with the Marines who had liberated Fallujah from the insurgents and terrorists.
I met with many others of our Marines and soldiers who are committed to their mission to try to bring freedom to the people of
Iraq. They, as well as the troops I saw in Kuwait and in Afghanistan, are committed to this fundamental belief that people deserve the right to be free, deserve the right to select their own government t. . . .
So there is no doubt that America has started down a path, with blood and treasure, to try to create the condition for democracy and freedom in the Middle East -- which has consequences for the entire region, for our security, and certainly for Israel's.
May 2005 was more than two years into the war, long after it was evident there had been no stockpiles of WMD, and more than six months after the 2004 election (with its relentless “Bush LIED!” themes, and John Kerry’s eventual repudiation of his support for the war). When Hillary gave her AIPAC speech, casualties had already (as she noted in her speech) exceeded 1,600 lives. If one felt that one’s vote was “mistaken” or based on “faulty intelligence” or “would have been different based on what I know today,” by May 2005 there had been more than enough time to reach that conclusion.
But Hillary didn’t. Instead, she referred to “freedom’s frontlines in Iraq,” praised the Marines committed to their “mission to try to bring freedom to the people of Iraq,” spoke of her two trips there and her “hopefulness about what I had seen and learned,” cited the “liberation” of Fallujah, and noted that America had started down a path “with blood and treasure” to create freedom. And she ended her speech with words that could have been spoken by George W. Bush:
[W]e need to recognize that our struggle, our ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy is the only way that we can ensure that in this shrinking, flattened world, our children will have a chance for peace and security.
We cannot shrink from the duty that this time has imposed upon us.
Her speech was a faint echo of a Democratic president who promised to “pay any price, [and] bear any burden . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” who recognized that “[i]n the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger” and who stated that “I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it.”
But what the Democratic base now “so desperately wants” is something much different -- and having given the above speech a year and a half ago, she cannot give it to them.