Hillary Clinton’s Support for the Iraq War Was No Fluke  

Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is bad enough, but celebrating it is even worse. (Photo: Zimbio)

(Photo: Zimbio)

In March 2003, just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, about 100 CODEPINK women dressed in pink slips weaved in and out of congressional offices demanding to meet with representatives. Those representatives who pledged to oppose going to war with Iraq were given hugs and pink badges of courage; those hell-bent on taking the United States to war were given pink slips emblazoned with the words “YOU’RE FIRED.”

When we got to Hillary Clinton’s office, we sat down and refused to leave until we got a meeting with the New York senator. Within an hour, Clinton appeared. “I like pink tulips around this time of the year; they kind of remind ya that there may be a spring,” she began, looking out at the rows of women in pink. “Well, you guys look like a big bunch of big tulips!”

It got even more awkward after that.

Defending the Iraq War

Having just returned from Iraq, I relayed that the weapons inspectors in Baghdad told us there was no danger of weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi women we met were terrified about the pending war and desperate to stop it. “I admire your willingness to speak out on behalf of the women and children of Iraq,” Clinton replied, “but there is a very easy way to prevent anyone from being put into harm’s way and that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm and I have absolutely no belief that he will.”

We thought the easiest way to prevent harming women, children and other living things in Iraq was to stop a war of aggression, a war over weapons of mass destruction that UN inspectors on the ground couldn’t find — which were, in fact, never found, because they didn’t exist. Clinton, however, was steadfast in her commitment to war: She said it was our responsibility to disarm Saddam Hussein, and even defended George W. Bush’s unilateralism, citing her husband’s go-it-alone intervention in Kosovo.

Disgusted, CODEPINK cofounder Jodie Evans tore off her pink slip and handed it to Clinton, saying that her support for Bush’s invasion would lead to the death of many innocent people. Making the bogus connection between the September 11, 2001, attacks and Saddam Hussein, Clinton stormed out, saying, “I am the senator from New York. I will never put my people’s security at risk.”

But that’s just what she did, by supporting the Iraq war and draining our nation of over a trillion dollars. That money could have been used for supporting women and children here at home. It could have been rerouted to the social programs that have been systematically defunded over the last few decades of Clinton’s own political career. Not to mention the war ultimately snuffed out the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers — for absolutely no just cause.

Intervening in Libya, Surging in Afghanistan

If Clinton supported the Iraq war because she thought it politically expedient, she came to regret her stance when the war turned sour and Senator Barack Obama surged forward as the candidate opposed to that war during the presidential race in 2008.

But Clinton didn’t learn the main lesson from Iraq — to seek non- violent ways to solve conflicts. Indeed, when the Arab Spring came to Libya in 2010, Clinton was the Obama administration’s most forceful advocate for toppling Muammar Gaddafi. She even out-hawked Robert Gates, the defense secretary first appointed by George W. Bush, who was less than enthusiastic about going to war. Gates was reluctant to get bogged down in another Arab country, insisting that vital U.S. interests were not at stake But Clinton nevertheless favored intervention.

When Libyan rebels carried out an extrajudicial execution of their country’s former dictator, Clinton’s response was sociopathic: “We came, we saw, he died,” she laughed. That sent a message that the United States would look the other way at crimes committed by allies against its official enemies.

In a weird bit of rough justice, the political grief Clinton has suffered over the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that killed four Americans might never have occurred had Clinton not supported the U.S. intervention in Libya’s civil war. While Republicans have focused relentlessly on the terrible deaths of the U.S. diplomats, the larger disaster is the ensuing chaos that left Libya without a functioning government, overrun by feuding warlords and extremist militants. In 2015, the suffering of desperate refugees who flee civil unrest — many of whom drown in the Mediterranean Sea — is a direct consequence of that disastrous operation.

Libya was part of a pattern for Clinton.

On Afghanistan, she advocated a repeat of the surge in Iraq. When the top U.S. commander in Kabul, General Stanley McChrystal, asked Obama for 40,000 more troops to fight the Taliban in mid-2009, several top officials — including Vice President Joe Biden — objected, insisting that the public had lost patience with a conflict that had already dragged on too long. But Clinton backed McChrystal and wound up favoring even more surge troops than Defense Secretary Gates did. Obama ultimately sent another 30,000 American soldiers to Afghanistan.

Clinton’s State Department also provided cover for the expansion of the not-so-covert drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen. Clinton’s top legal adviser, Harold Koh, exploited his pre-government reputation as an advocate for human rights to declare in a 2010 speech that the government had the right not only to detain people without any charges at Guantanamo Bay, but also to kill them with unmanned aerial vehicles anywhere in the world.

Escalation in Syria

When it came to Syria, Obama’s top diplomat was a forceful advocate for military intervention in that nation’s civil war.

When Obama threatened air strikes in 2013 to punish the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, for example, Clinton publicly supported him, ignoring polls showing that more than 70 percent of Americans opposed military action. She described the planned U.S. attack on Syria as a limited strike to uphold a crucial global norm,” although one of the clearest global norms under the UN Charter is that a country should not attack another country except in self-defense.

Clinton advocated arming Syrian rebels long before the Obama administration agreed to do so. In 2012, she allied with CIA Director David Petraeus to promote a U.S.-supplied-and-trained proxy army in Syria. As a U.S. Army general, Petraeus spent enormous amounts of money training Iraqi and Afghan soldiers with little success, but that did not deter him and Clinton from seeking a similar project in Syria. Together, they campaigned for more direct and aggressive U.S. support for the rebels, a plan supported by leading Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. But few in the White House agreed, arguing that it would be difficult to appropriately vet fighters and ensure that weapons didn’t fall into the hands of extremists.

Clinton was disappointed when Obama rejected the proposal, but a similar plan for the U.S. to “vet and train moderate rebels” at a starting cost of $500 million was later approved. Some of the trained rebels were quickly routed and captured; others, more concerned with toppling Assad than fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) defected to the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. In September 2015, the head of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, told an incredulous Senate Armed Services Committee that the $500 million effort to train Syrian forces had resulted in a mere four or five fighters actively battling ISIS. Undeterred, Clinton said that as commander-in-chief, she would dramatically escalate the program.

In October 2015, Clinton broke with the Obama White House on Syria by calling for the creation of a no-fly zone “to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air, to try to provide some way to take stock of what’s happening, to try to stem the flow of refugees,” she said in a TV interview on the campaign trail.

While the Obama White House has approved air strikes against ISIS, it has resisted creating a no-fly zone on the grounds that the effective enforcement to prevent Assad’s planes from flying would require large amounts of U.S. resources and could pull the military further into an unpredictable conflict.

Clinton’s position is at odds not only with President Obama, but also with the position of Bernie Sanders, her main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders has warned that a unilateral U.S. no-fly zone in Syria could “get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region,” potentially making a complex and dangerous situation in Syria even worse.

Antagonizing Iran

Clinton did come out in support of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, but even that position comes with a heavy load of bellicose baggage.

Back in April 2008, Clinton warned that the U.S. could “totally obliterate” Iran in retaliation for a nuclear attack on Israel — prompting Obama to warn against “language that’s reflective of George Bush.” In 2009, as secretary of state, she was adamant that the U.S. keep open the option of attacking Iran over never-proven allegations it was seeking the nuclear weapons that Israel already has. She opposed talk of a “containment” policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail.

Even after the agreement was sealed, she struck a bullying tone: “I don’t believe Iran is our partner in this agreement,” Clinton insisted. “Iran is the subject of the agreement,” adding that she would not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon. “We should expect that Iran will want to test the next president. They will want to see how far they can bend the rules,” she said in a September 2015 speech at the Brookings Institution. “That won’t work if I’m in the White House.”

To bolster her tough stance, Clinton suggested deploying additional U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf region and recommended that Congress close any gaps in the existing sanctions to punish Iran for any current or future instances of human rights abuses and support for terror.

It’s true that the Iran nuclear agreement allowed for additional possible sanctions unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program, but it also required parties to avoid action “inconsistent with the letter, spirit and intent” of the deal. Clinton’s call for new sanctions violates the deal’s intent.

Enabling Netanyahu

Meanwhile, Clinton has positioned herself as more “pro-Israel” than President Obama.

She vows to bring the two nations closer together, promising to invite the right-wing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House within her first month in office. She has distanced herself from Obama’s feud with Netanyahu over the prime minister’s efforts to derail the Iran nuclear deal and his comments opposing the creation of a Palestinian state. Referring to Obama’s policy toward Netanyahu, Clinton said that such “tough love” is counterproductive because it invites other countries to delegitimize Israel. Clinton promised the people of Israel that if she were president, “you’ll never have to question whether we’re with you. The United States will always be with you.”

Clinton has also voiced her opposition to the Palestinian-led nonviolent campaign against the Israeli government called BDS — standing for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. In a letter to her hardline pro-Israel mega donor Haim Saban, she said BDS seeks to punish Israel and asked Saban’s advice on “how leaders and communities across America can work together to counter BDS.”

Missed Opportunities

As secretary of state, Clinton missed opportunity after opportunity to shine as the nation’s top diplomat.

In July 2010, she visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Standing at the site of the most militarized border in the world at a time of great tension between North and South Korea, she could have publicly recognized that the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting on the Korean peninsula was supposed to be followed up a few months later by a real peace treaty but never was. Clinton could have used this occasion to call for a peace treaty and a process of reconciliation between the two Koreas. Instead she characterized the decades-long U.S. military presence in Korea as a great success — a statement hard to reconcile with 60 years of continuous hostilities.

Clinton also failed miserably in her attempt to “reset” the U.S. relationship with Russia. Since leaving office, she has criticized the Obama administration for not doing more to contain Russia’s presence in Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. She put herself “in the category of people who wanted to do more in reaction to the annexation of Crimea,” insisting that the Russian government’s objective is “to stymie, to confront, to undermine American power whenever and wherever they can.”

It was only after Clinton resigned as secretary of state and was replaced by John Kerry that the State Department moved away from being merely an appendage of the Pentagon to one that truly sought creative, diplomatic solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts. President Obama’s two signature foreign policy achievements — the Iran deal and the groundbreaking opening with Cuba — came after Clinton left. These historic wins serve to highlight Clinton’s miserable track record in the position.

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When Clinton announced her second campaign for the presidency, she declared she was entering the race to be the champion for “everyday Americans.”

As a lawmaker and diplomat, however, Clinton has long championed military campaigns that have killed scores of “everyday” people abroad. As commander-in-chief, there’s no reason to believe she’d be any less a war hawk than she was as the senator who backed George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, or the secretary of state who encouraged Barack Obama to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

Clinton may well have been the administration’s most vociferous advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues — Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid — she took a more aggressive line than Defense Secretary Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

Little wonder that Clinton has won the support of many pundits who continually agitate for war. “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy,” Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, told the New York Times. “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue,” he said, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

Let’s call it what it is: more of the interventionist policies that destroyed Iraq, destabilized Libya, showered Yemen with cluster bombs and drones, and legitimized repressive regimes from Israel to Honduras.

A Hillary Clinton presidency would symbolically break the glass ceiling for women in the United States, but it would be unlikely to break through the military-industrial complex that has been keeping our nation in a perpetual state of war — killing people around the world, plenty of them women and children.

This essay appears in False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton, forthcoming June 14. 

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She is the author of eight books, including one about Saudi Arabia coming out in a few months.

  • puzzlelady

    Thank you, Medea, all this needed to be said to remind the American people that this woman should be tried for crimes against humanity along with George Bush, Bill Cheney and their cohort of war makers. Clinton is not worthy of leading this nation.

    • John Peterson

      Bill Cheney???

    • bohicasis

      Alas, no one in the USA can be brought up on charges on “crimes against humanity” as the US refused to join the ICC. They figured that out long ago

  • cinorjer

    Jesus, use hyperbole much? No, Hillary did not “leave a trail of devastation”. George W Bush left a trail of devastation. Hillary was Secretary of State, meaning she carried out the policies and wishes of the President when it came to our government offices overseas. She did NOT get to decide what those policies were. If you don’t like what our diplomats and foreign offices did during her tenure, the buck stops at the President.

    • http://natyliesbaldwin.com/ Natylie Baldwin

      Yes, the buck stops with the president or should, but Hillary Clinton hammered away at getting President Obama to go along with the most hawkish policies, including the Libya debacle. She also militarized the State Department. She is responsible for her pressure and influence on both the president and the department that she ran. And these actions are very good indications of what kind of president she would be.

      • AlanMacDonald

        Yes, Natylie.

        The ‘blood lust’ in Killary’s viper-like gaze when she laughed and said, “We came, we saw, he died” is terrifying. This woman in the role of Empress of the Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE is even more so — with her direct control as opposed to having to work around a bomber of only passive enthusiasm, like Obomba, who at least used his charming deceit to answer, like the Land Shark in the old SNL skit, “We’re NOT there for Empire” — as Chevy Chase said in his Shark costume at Gilda Radner’s door, “It’s NOT the Land Shark”

        • Malcolm Scott

          Sad that this thread has died out. 7 months later, and all the liberals and millenial college kids believe her lies.

          • AlanMacDonald

            Yes, Malcolm, the ‘public memory’ in the U.S. is now only 2 weeks in duration, and 140 characters in length.

          • Malcolm Scott

            Keep up the good fight.

          • AlanMacDonald

            Thanks, Malcolm, I will.

            “Give me Liberty from EMPIRE, or Give me Death”

      • Malcolm Scott

        “militarized the state dept”……good phrase.
        Hopefully some of the smug Progressive dupes who think they are peaceniks will investigate…

  • hangemall123

    It is frightening to think this woman may become our next president. Scary to the nth degree.

  • penucquem

    “When Obama threatened air strikes in 2013 to punish the Assad regime’s
    use of chemical weapons, for example, Clinton publicly supported him,
    ignoring polls showing that more than 70 percent of Americans opposed
    military action”

    Dead wrong on the ‘Assad did it’ point. It was Turkey’s MIT (intelligence services) provided the sarin components to al-Nusra (al-Qaida in Syria) with the intention to draw the USA [openly] into the conflict.

    http://www.todayszaman.com/national_chp-deputies-govt-rejects-probe-into-turkeys-role-in-syrian-chemical-attack_402180.html

    ^ I can’t promise how long the link will be good, Erdogan’s government took over the publisher (Turkey’s largest) last week, precisely to stop stories like this –

    regards

    Ronald Thomas West

  • AlanMacDonald

    Bernie again failed to come out fighting and savage Killary for her paramount responsibility in causing America’s decline by “acting like a global Empire abroad”.

    I hate to be a Paine, but all Bernie had to do was to fire a non-violent “shout heard round the world” and nail her neoliberal-con militarist ass to the wall, by stating that he would wage a “Political Revolution against Empire” that she has treasonously prosecuted in turning our former country over to a Disguised Global Capitalist Empire —- which is causing, as Hannah Arendt warned, “Empire abroad entailing economic tyranny at home”.

    Bernie could have wrapped her up neatly in one big package of driving the ‘foreign policy’ of “acting like a global Empire abroad” — which has directly beggared and bankrupted the whole society of we 99% at home!

    Bernie could have KO’ed her in the 8th by just tagging her with a left hook to the EMPIRE.

    Well, if it’s going to be a prolonged fight in the ring against Killary, Bernie can at least point to the flaws and failures of her ‘foreign policy’ that does not serve the interests of Americans nor peace in our world, any better than her imperial ‘domestic policy’ of economic tyranny at home, because
    our country is being pushed by the same corrupted politics to “act like a global Empire abroad”.

    Even the most trusted elder anchorman and author of “Greatest Generation”, Tom Brokaw, on
    “Meet
    the Press” shocked Chuck Toadie and other deceitful pundits at the ‘Round Table’ when he explained, “When Trump and Cruz are talking about three year old orphans and refugees [from Syria to Europe], what we’re really talking about is three year old orphans and refugees, caused by American policy”.

    Such truth telling by older and politically experienced people like Bernie, Tom, and the late Walter
    Cronkite is what has radically changed, even Revolutionized, the political landscape as it did half a century ago when such truthful shocks caused LBJ not to run and admit, “If I’ve lost Cronkite,
    I’ve lost the middle-class”

    • penucquem

      I expect ‘Bernie the sheepdog’ label is correct…

      http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article44162.htm

      …or he’d behave like another breed altogether –

      • AlanMacDonald

        Vastly out-dated information 5/15, to the question George Steponisdick posed to try to lure Bernie into disqualifying himself and committing what amounts to ‘a Campaign suicide pac”before he even started his campaign of what now has become a very powerful campaign of “Political Revolution against Empire” —- which can no longer be smothered in the cradle!

        Get serious, “penucquem” — a phony name, which while being a ‘cover up name’ and making you essentially invisible and anonymous (like true trolls) at least does not lead to the universal ID of the seriously trolling bottom feeders, with their snarky secret non-identity and the Trump-like message “Just deal with it”— which indicates that nobody honest here can even see all their inane and stupid attempts to destroy real internet freedom of discourse among real PEOPLE, as opposed to FBI/CIA/NSA Machines like the IBM quantum computing ‘Watson’ AI system in Utah, eh?

        The ‘militarist-sector’ of the Disguised Global Capitalist Empire — whose motto is “Destroying the Internet from the Inside”

    • Malcolm Scott

      Bernie was bought off or terrified.

  • Justin Quinn
  • bohicasis

    What i want to know , for clarity, how did HRC do anything if she was no longer sec of state as of 2013. This article references her in 2015. clarification anyone?