Then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 hammered her for it. 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders repeatedly hammers her for it. Even some have held up Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump's opposition to the Iraq war to hammer her for it. The "it" is then New York Senator Hillary Clinton's vote for the 2002 Iraq War resolution. That's the one issue above all others that has driven Bernie Sanders' supporters, and even some liberal Democrats, to rail at Clinton as a hopelessly, hardened war hawk, and vow not to vote for her if she gets the nomination.
But Clinton's record on the resolution and the Iraq war is stuffed with as much fiction as fact. Start with the resolution. It did not explicitly call for waging war against Iraq. It demanded that Saddam Hussein permit UN inspectors back into Iraq to determine whether he was indeed ramping up his alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It gave a hard deadline for him to agree to inspection and failing that authorized military action. It hedged the war call further by emphasizing that the U.S. must continue to push for "further diplomatic or other peaceful means" to get Hussein to comply. It hedged things further by mandating that Bush before waging war tell Congress why a military assault was necessary.
Clinton didn't take Bush's statements on Iraq totally at face value. Bush national security advisor Condoleezza Rice swore to her before she voted that the resolution was intended to get inspections going again and not just as a cover to start a war.
We now know that Bush shamelessly lied about the weapons, and Hussein's aim to make and use them. However, though it was widely suspected that it was all a tissue of lies, given Hussein's hideous and bloody record of invasion, intimidation, and gross human rights violations, there was just enough doubt to make it seem that Hussein was a real threat to blow up the region. This was enough to sell the resolution to 28 other Senate Democrats who along with Clinton voted for it.
One of those Democrats could well have been the Democrat who progressives universally hail for having the guts to stand up to the Bush war machine, and parlayed that adulation into a big hit piece on Clinton during the 2008 campaign. That Democrat is, of course, President Obama. Things, though, were not as cut and dried as the adulation for his opposition makes it seem. He did oppose the war. But he did it not as a sitting senator but as a member of the Illinois state legislature. When he was asked what he might have done if he had been in the Senate then, he said he wasn't totally sure and added that he wasn't "privy" to Senate intelligence reports. He emphasized that as an outsider looking in Bush didn't make the case for a possible war. That's a far cry from an unabashed ringing trounce of Bush's war declaration if he had been a Senator then.
Once Obama was in the Senate it was a different story. Both he and Clinton did not press Bush to scale down the war effort, threaten to cut off funds, or demand a deadline or even a timetable for withdrawal. In fact, in 2004 Obama said that he thought maybe even more troops should be sent in to insure stability. Two years later both he and Clinton opposed an amendment by then Senator John Kerry to start the troop withdrawal from the country.
Clinton and Obama voted and acted no different than legions of other Democratic senators who once they backed the Iraq war resolution said or did virtually nothing to stop the death machine once it started rolling and kept rolling during the subsequent years. In time that would change, and as Bush sunk in the polls, and the outrage over the war grew war, the Democrats that caved to Bush on the war became tigers in knocking him and the war.
By then Clinton began to openly express doubt about where the war was going and why we were there. She demanded timetables to get out and told supporters and critics that she never intended to vote for a war but for inspections, negotiations and political pressure on Hussein. She pulled no punches in lambasting the Bush administration for "misusing" the resolution to wage war. The fact then is that Clinton voted for the Iraq war resolution based on distortions, deceptions and flat out lies. The fiction is that she voted for a full blown military assault on Iraq. This makes Clinton at best and worst a willing, naïve and misinformed accomplice along with many other Democrats to Bush's hideous deception on Iraq. This does not make her an Iraq war hawk. But that's the noisy refrain she'll have to endlessly hear through the campaign.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is Trump and the GOP: Race Baiting to the White House (Amazon Kindle) He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network