In their focus on the electoral horse-race, the media have ignored a key difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- the positions of their foreign policy advisors on the Iraq war. As political scientist Stephen Zunes points out in Foreign Policy in Focus, Clinton's key advisors overwhelmingly supported it, while Obama's opposed it. The differences in their positions on whether to go to war mirror those of the two candidates. They also give a sense of how Clinton and Obama are likely to deal with the immensely difficult foreign policy challenges they'll face if elected, including dealing with Iraq.
Zunes's article, revised and shortened for posting here:
The president makes the decisions, but who advises the president? We know Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle insisted to Bush that American forces would be treated as liberators if we went into Iraq. McCain has surrounded himself with people likely to encourage him to follow a similar disastrous path if he becomes president. But what about Obama and Clinton?
A major difference stands out among those they are likely to appoint to key posts in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs: Almost everyone in Senator Obama's foreign policy team opposed the U.S. invasion. By contrast, most of Senator Clinton's foreign policy team, which largely comprises veterans of her husband's administration, strongly supported George W. Bush's call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
It should come as no surprise that during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Obama spoke at a Chicago anti-war rally while Clinton went as far as falsely claiming that Iraq was actively supporting al-Qaeda. And during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.
Clinton's advisors are similarly confident in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force. This is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush's troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon.
Clinton's top foreign policy advisor -- and her likely pick for Secretary of State -- Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained "a clear and present danger at all times." He rejected the broad international legal consensus against such offensive wars and insisted European governments and anti-war demonstrators who opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq "undoubtedly encouraged" Saddam Hussein.
Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband's national security advisor, insisted that "even a contained Saddam" was "harmful to stability and to positive change in the region" and insisted on the necessity of "regime change." Other top Clinton advisors -- such as former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq.