Bill, Hillary and Iraq

Did the former president "throw elbows" when asked about Democrats who gave Bush authority for war?

Tim Grieve
May 26, 2006 9:03PM (UTC)

We didn't think much of this week's New York Times piece on the state of Bill and Hillary's marriage, but Washington Post politics blogger Chis Cillizza has found some more interesting news to report concerning the relationship of the former president and the senator who might become one.

At a meeting of a group of wealthy political donors last weekend, Cillizza says, Bill Clinton got a little testy when one member of the group -- later identified as Oakland, Calif., civil rights attorney Guy Saperstein -- asked him why more Democrats hadn't come forward to say that they made a mistake in voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The question hits close to home for Clinton: His wife voted for the use-of-force authorization back in October 2002, and she has steered clear of some of her colleagues' calls for a timetable leading to the withdrawal of U.S. troops.


We don't know exactly what was said during the Saperstein-Clinton exchange, but it apparently grew ugly enough that Clinton subsequently "transmitted" an apology to Saperstein. In a letter back to the president, Saperstein says that the apology wasn't necessary -- "Iraq is a contentious issue, and it is no surprise that elbows occasionally will be thrown" -- but that the questions he raised must be addressed.

Saperstein says he asked Clinton if it's credible for him or anyone else to argue today that "the problems of a war in Iraq, and/or discerning President Bush's true intentions in seeking the Iraq resolution, were not knowable in October 2002." He says that Clinton responded by saying that Democrats need to look forward, not back, on Iraq.

Saperstein doesn't disagree, but he also says it's fair for Democrats to remember how members of Congress voted on Iraq in considering whether they have the leadership skills necessary to serve as president. "I am not suggesting we should judge anyone solely on one vote, but this was the single most important vote anyone currently in Congress ever made, and we all will be paying for it for many years, maybe our entire lifetimes," Saperstein writes. After describing the toll the war has taken on America, both at home and abroad, Saperstein asks: "Are voters supposed to forget how we got into this mess, its long-term costs, or not measure leadership by who got it wrong?"


For the record, only one of the Democrats thought to be eyeing a run for the White House in 2008 -- Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold -- was among the 23 senators who voted against the use-of-force resolution in 2002.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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