Yes, We Have No Flip-Flop

Franklin Foer at TNR reviews Clark’s famous flip-flop on voting for the use of force resolution. [Subscription required.]

He’s more impressed with Clark than with his journalistic tormentors or his campaign rivals:

When President Bush presented the resolution to Congress, he didn’t sell it as a blank check for force. He sold it as a mechanism for convincing the United Nations of American resolve. “If you want to keep the peace, you’ve got to have the authorization to use force,” he told reporters in September 2002. With hindsight, it appears that the president made this argument disingenuously. At the time, however, there was a clear logic to his position. If the American Congress dragged its feet, France and Russia would have dragged their feet and stopped inspectors from returning to Iraq. And even most doves could then see the need for having inspectors check up on Saddam’s compliance with U.N. resolutions.

In fact, when voting for this resolution, most congressional Democrats, including John Kerry, used precisely the same language as Clark. They claimed that they weren’t endorsing a unilateralist war. As Tom Daschle argued, “I am not confident that they will not see it as a green light, which is why I admonished the administration to remember this is the first step.” Clark may be na├»ve for sharing this stance, and it may reveal him to be less of a dove than many liberals imagined, but it doesn’t make him a flip-flopper. It’s not a contradiction to be for a resolution and against a war.

Of course, last week, Clark was presented with a very tempting opportunity. When asked these questions about the resolution, he could have easily declared his opposition. This would have made for easy pot shots against his congressional rivals and might have instantly swiped a portion of the antiwar left from Howard Dean. Instead, he frankly stated a position that gives him no short-term political advantage. And over the next few months, if he’s lucky, this straight-forwardness might make a compelling contrast to the demagoguery of certain candidates from small New England states who are too easily “shocked.”

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com