The gloves come off on Iraq

On the fifth anniversary of the war vote, Obama and Edwards hit Clinton hard.

Published October 10, 2007 6:02PM (EDT)

Five years ago tonight, 77 U.S. senators voted to authorize George W. Bush to use military force "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" in order to "(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

Among them, of course, was Hillary Clinton -- a fact Barack Obama and John Edwards wouldn't mind you remembering on today's anniversary.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Obama says that Clinton was "too willing to give the president a blank check" in 2002.

At the time of her vote, Clinton said that she wasn't voting to let Bush "rush to war," and that she was taking him "at his word" that he would "seek to avoid war, if at all possible." Earlier this year, she said that her vote "was clearly intended to demonstrate support for going to the United Nations to put inspectors into Iraq."

Obama's response: That's "a little bit of revisionist history." "I think everybody in Washington and people in New Hampshire and 'round the country understood this was a vote for war," he tells the AP. "The question is: Does she apply different judgment today?"

In a statement posted on his Web site, Edwards makes much the same point. Like Clinton, Edwards voted for the use-of-force authorization in 2002. Unlike Clinton, he has apologized for his vote and said that he was "wrong" to have cast it.

"Now," he says, "we are again facing another challenge: Whether to let the president go to war with yet another country, Iran." Noting Clinton's vote last month in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment on Iran, Edwards says: "Sen. Clinton and I learned two very different lessons from the Iraq war. I learned that if you give President Bush even an inch of authority, he will use it to sanction a war."

Edwards also hits Clinton, as he has before, for refusing to pledge that she'd get all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of her first term in office. "She refuses to commit to a specific timeline for withdrawal and has made it clear that she will continue 'combat missions' in Iraq," Edwards says. "These missions would just be excuses to justify continuing George Bush's failed strategy in Iraq."

Clinton may have hoped to deflect criticism about her Iraq vote today by orchestrating, over the weekend, the announcement that George McGovern will be supporting her; as John Nichols writes in the Nation, McGovern says that it was "a mistake" to vote for the war, but that there aren't many "mistake-free candidates" in the world and that Clinton has a "pretty good" position on the war now. Now that the anniversary is upon us, the Clinton campaign is dismissing criticism of her vote as the handiwork of a desperate candidate. As the AP reports, Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand criticized Obama today for "abandoning the politics of hope and embracing the same old attack politics" in the hope that he'll start doing better in the polls. "Attacks on other Democrats won't bring about the change we need, but electing Senator Clinton will," she said.

We don't know if Clinton herself will do anything to commemorate the anniversary of her vote today. But at a campaign stop in Iowa Tuesday night, she vowed to end the war as president -- just not as quickly as most Democratic voters might like.

"You know," she said, "sometimes people say to me, 'Well, how soon you gonna get everybody out? How soon are they gonna get home?' And the answer is, as soon as we can. Because the problem is we don't know what we're going to inherit from the Bush-Cheney administration. As soon as I get there, I will call my secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my security advisors, and we will immediately set in motion a plan to bring our troops home. I think it's important that we recognize there are no good solutions here."

By Tim Grieve

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

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton Iraq War John Edwards War Room