No, Hillary didn’t “support the surge”

Of the top three Democratic contenders, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be my fourth or fifth choice. I think she’s the Democratic candidate most likely to allow the Republican to win in an otherwise impossible year, because she will mobilize a Republican base which would otherwise stay home in droves. Worse than that, having her at the top of the ticket would make it much harder to win the extra House, and especially Senate, seats that a Democratic President would need to govern effectively.

I’m also unethusiastic about the prospect of another four or eight years of government by Friends of Bill; with the important exception of the economic team, the Clinton Administration was not, in my view, a very impressive operation substantively, and for the Democratic Party it was an unmitigated disaster politically. Bill Clinton, like George W. Bush, spent two terms as President converting a majority party into a minority party. We can only hope that the Bush effect will be more lasting than the Clinton effect.

John Edwards, by contrast, seems to me like an extremely strong candidate, very unlikely to lose because he would be very hard to demonize. And I like his strong anti-poverty line. (How he’d do as President is less clear to me.)

In any case, since Obama is my candidate, as a tactical matter I’m delighted to see Edwards sniping at Clinton, as long as he doesn’t say anything that the Republicans could quote in the general election.

All of that said, I’m going to call “foul” on David Bonior, Edwards’s spokesman, for Bonior’s attack on Clinton’s latest comments about Iraq. She simply didn’t say what Bonior says she said.

Here’s Clinton, speaking to the VFW:

I have met with our brave men and women serving in Iraq, and I have seen first hand the sacrifices they are making. And when the history of the Iraq War is written, I want future generations to know that our troops did everything our country asked of them, everything their commanders asked of them, everything their comrades expected of them, everything they expected of themselves.

They were asked to get rid of Saddam Hussein and bring him to justice, and they did. They were asked to provide the Iraqi people with free elections so they could elect their own government, and they did. They were asked to give the Iraqi government the space and time they needed to do what only the Iraqis can do to stabilize their own country.

There is a vigorous debate in our own nation, and probably among many of you, about the right way forward in Iraq. I know we may disagree about whether there is or isn’t a military solution to this war.

Having been there, having studied it and having seen the heroism and the accomplishments of our troops, I do not believe that we alone can impose a military solution. And I do not think the Iraqis are ready to do what they have to do for themselves yet.

Therefore, I think it is unacceptable for our troops to be caught in the crossfire of a sectarian civil war while the Iraqi government is on vacation. I think it is time the Iraqi government took responsibility for themselves and their country, because the American people and our American military cannot want freedom and stability for the Iraqis more than they want it for themselves.

As we move forward in these next months awaiting a report from General Petraeus, we have some very hard decisions to make. I’m not sure there are any good options. But one decision I know we will make is to continue to honor the service of our own American troops and to make sure that they are given the respect that they so richly have earned.

Some of us will disagree. I think the best way of honoring their service is by beginning to bring them home and making sure that when they come home that we have everything ready for them.


We’ve begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar province, it’s working.

We’re just years too late changing our tactics. We can’t ever let that happen again. We can’t be fighting the last war. We have to be preparing to fight the new war.

That’s all she said about Iraq.

Now here’s what Bonior said in response, in a press release posted on the Edwards website:

Senator Hillary Clinton’s view that the president’s Iraq policy is ‘working’ is another instance of a Washington politician trying to have it both ways. You cannot be for the President’s strategy in Iraq but against the war. The American people deserve straight talk and real answers on Iraq, not double-speak, triangulation, or political positioning.

Our military’s hard-won progress in Al-Anbar province should not distract us from the fact that pouring more military resources into Iraq is no substitute for the comprehensive national political solution that will ultimately resolve the situation in Iraq. President Bush’s failed strategy has led to increased terrorism in Iraq, as we saw with the bombing of the Iraqi Parliament months ago in the Green Zone and the recent horrendous bombings in northwest Iraq that killed over 250 people. And despite the surge, the Al-Maliki government is disintegrating before our eyes. Even worse, President Bush’s mistakes in Iraq have only helped make terrorism worse in the world. As the National Intelligence Estimate recently found, Al Qaeda is as strong now as it was before 9/11.

As Senator Clinton has observed, words have consequences — and she was right. Suggesting that the surge is working completely misrepresents the facts about Iraq. By cherry-picking one instance to validate a failed Bush strategy, it risks undermining the effort in the Congress to end this war.

“Cherry-picking”? Yes, I’d say so. But by David Bonior, not by Hillary Clinton. (Whoever writes the front-page teaser headlines for the Huffington Post did the same thing: Clinton: New Iraq Tactics “Working”; the inside headline gets it right: Clinton: Iraq Tactics “Working. We’re Just Years Too Late”…. And I see Bill Richardson is piling on, too.)

No doubt the temptation was hard to resist; the war is HRC’s potential Achilles heel among Democratic primary voters, and if she were really waffling about supporting the surge that would represent Edwards’s, and Obama’s, best chance to cut into her lead and dissolve the aura of inevitability that Mark Penn and Karl Rove are trying to hard to cast over her. Nonetheless, that temptation should have been resisted. It’s not true that HRC endorsed the surge, and saying was as unfair as HRC’s own attacks on Obama.

Footnote Bonior’s comments play into a developing media narrative that Democrats are getting soft in their opposition to the war because they think the surge might actually be working. The Chicago Sun-Times, for example, headlined Obama: Troop surge may work on a story which actually said:

Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday the recent increase in American troops in Iraq may well have helped tamp down violence, but he insisted there is no military solution to the country’s problems and U.S. forces should be redeployed soon.

Obama spoke a day after his main Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, made similar comments.

Obama said, ”If we put 30,000 additional troops into Baghdad, it will quell some of the violence short term. I don’t think there is any doubt about that.”

But that won’t solve Iraq’s critical political problems, he said.

”All of our top military commanders recognize that there is no military solution in Iraq,” Obama told a VFW convention in Kansas City.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: