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Friday, February 01, 2008

California Debate

I did not see all of the California debate, but I saw a large part of it. On Iraq, it seems clear that Barack Obama has a much stronger argument than does Hillary Clinton.

Here's Obama:
I want to get our troops home safely, and I want us as a country to have this mission completed honorably. But the notion that somehow we have succeeded as a consequence of the recent reductions in violence means that we have set the bar so low it's buried in the sand at this point. (Cheers, applause.)

We -- and I said this before -- we went from intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government to spikes and horrific levels of violence and a dysfunctional government, and now two years later we're back to intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government. And in the meantime, we have spent billions of dollars, lost thousands of lives; thousands more have been maimed and injured as a consequence and are going to have difficulty putting their lives back together again.

So, understand that this has undermined our security. In the meantime, Afghanistan has slid into more chaos than existed before we went into Iraq.

I am happy to have that argument. I also think it is going to be important, though, for the Democrats -- you know, Senator Clinton mentioned the issue of gravitas and judgment. I think it is much easier for us to have the argument when we have a nominee who says, "I always thought this was a bad idea, this was a bad strategy."

(Applause.) It was not just a problem of execution -- it was not just a problem of execution.

I mean, they screwed up the execution of it in all sorts of ways. And I think even Senator McCain has acknowledged that.

The question is, can we make an argument that this was a conceptually flawed mission from the start, and that we need better judgment when we decide to send our young men and women into war, that we are making absolutely certain that it is because there is a imminent threat, that American interests are going to be protected, that we have a plan to succeed and to exit, that we are going to train our troops properly and equip them properly and put them on proper rotations and treat them properly when they come home?

And that is an argument that I think we are going to have a easier time making if they can't turn around and say, but hold on a second; you supported this. And that's part of the reason why I think that I would be the strongest nominee on this argument of national security.
Clinton gave a long answer and much of it was good, but I think this part gets her in trouble -- as it did Senator John Kerry in 2004:
I think what no one could have fully appreciated is how obsessed this president was with this particular mission. And unfortunately, I and others who warned at the time, who said let the inspectors finish their work, you know, do not wage a preemptive war, use diplomacy, were just talking to a brick wall.

...I believe that it is abundantly clear that the case that was outlined on behalf of going to the resolution -- not going to war, but going to the resolution -- was a credible case. I was told personally by the White House that they would use the resolution to put the inspectors in. I worked with Senator Levin to make sure we gave them all the intelligence so that we would know what's there.

Some people now think that this was a very clear, open-and-shut case. We bombed them for days in 1998 because Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors. We had evidence that they had a lot of bad stuff for a very long time, which we discovered after the first Gulf War.

Knowing that he was a megalomaniac, knowing he would not want to compete for attention with Osama bin Laden, there were legitimate concerns about what he might do.

So I think I made a reasoned judgment.

Unfortunately the person who actually got to execute the policy did not.
And then Obama goes for the jugular:
OBAMA: I don't want to belabor this because I know we're running out of time, and I'm sure you guys want to move on to some other stuff. But I do have to just say this.

The legislation, the authorization, had the title An Authorization to Use Military Force, U.S. Military Force, in Iraq. I think everybody, the day after that vote was taken, understood, this was a vote potentially to go to war. (Applause.) I think people were very clear about that, if you look at the headlines.
Iraq is going to be a major issue in the 2008 presidential election, so this is really important.

I wrote a large number of blog posts trying to defend Kerry's identical behavior and similar arguments -- and the points Clinton is trying to make simply didn't have traction in 2004.

Four years later, the attempt to defend coercive diplomacy sounds tone deaf.

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