Jake Tapper baselessly claimed that an "inherent contradiction" exists between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's statements prior to her 2002 vote to authorize the use of force against Iraq and her recent explanation of that vote. Tapper's report suggested that Clinton had not advocated further U.N. inspections in Iraq before an invasion, but she did so in the same 2002 interview from which Tapper quoted.
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On the February 12 edition of ABC's Nightline, senior national correspondent Jake Tapper baselessly claimed that an "inherent contradiction" exists between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) statements prior to her vote for the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and her recent explanation of that vote. Specifically, Tapper juxtaposed Clinton's comment during a September 15, 2002, interview that she could "support an action against Saddam Hussein because I think it's in the long-term interest of our national security," with this February 11, 2007, statement: "I gave [President Bush] authority to send inspectors back in to determine the truth. And I said this is not a vote to authorize pre-emptive war." In fact, Clinton did specifically argue in favor of inspections during the very interview from which Tapper quoted. Further, in a Senate floor speech before the 2002 vote, Clinton stated explicitly that she expected the White House to push for "complete, unlimited inspections" and that she did not view her support for the measure as "a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption or for unilateralism."
Tapper asserted that Clinton has contradicted herself on Iraq during a segment comparing the "campaign styles" of Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). From Tapper's report, which appeared on the February 12 edition of ABC's Nightline:
TAPPER: Clinton assails the war she voted for to appeal to anti-war liberals.
CLINTON: It is, without a doubt, one of the most painful challenges that we have faced in our country because of the arrogance and incompetence of our administration in Washington.
TAPPER: While Obama seems more centrist than his record and views would indicate, Clinton is clearly running to the left. This is what she said about her vote to authorize use of force in Iraq one month before she cast it in 2002.
CLINTON: I can support the president. I can support an action against Saddam Hussein because I think it's in the long-term interest of our national security.
TAPPER: This is what she tells Democratic audiences today.
CLINTON: I gave him authority to send inspectors back in to determine the truth. And I said this is not a vote to authorize pre-emptive war.
TAPPER: With that inherent contradiction, Clinton faced some tough questions this weekend.
As presented by Tapper, the quote from the 2002 edition of Meet the Press, without more context, leaves the impression that Clinton unequivocally supported pre-emptive military action against Iraq. That impression is false. Tapper juxtaposed that with the 2007 quote -- "I gave him authority to send inspectors back in to determine the truth. And I said this is not a vote to authorize pre-emptive war" -- pronouncing her statements inherently contradictory.
But as the full Meet the Press interview and her explanation of the vote show, Clinton did voice several assumptions regarding how the Bush administration would proceed, including that full inspections would occur and that the United States would not engage in "any new doctrine of pre-emption." At the beginning of the Meet the Press interview, Clinton made clear that she believed that it was important that inspectors be sent to Iraq and that "it's important to continue down the United Nations' track, to do everything possible to get as much international support and buy-in as we can." From the interview:
CLINTON: I doubt it. But I do appreciate greatly the president going to the United Nations, making the case, which is really the United Nations' case. And I listened carefully to Secretary [of State Colin] Powell. It's apparent that he's working very hard with the Security Council to come up with a resolution that will set forth an ultimatum, perhaps demand the reintroduction of inspectors and set forth an authorization for force in the event that that doesn't happen.
TIM RUSSERT (host): You would prefer one resolution with those three components?
CLINTON: Well, I'm going to leave that to the secretary and his negotiators. Obviously, that would make it cleaner and faster for everyone, and I hope that's what can come from it. But I know he's working as hard as he can.
CLINTON: I do think that it's important to continue down the United Nations' track, to do everything possible to get as much international support and buy-in as we can. I think that's important for the ultimate objective, but then we're going to wait to see how this unfolds over the next several of weeks.
CLINTON: Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now, with any allies we can muster, in the belief that one more round of weapons inspections would not produce the required disarmament and that deposing Saddam would be a positive good for the Iraqi people and would create the possibility of a secular, democratic state in the Middle East, one which could, perhaps, move the entire region toward democratic reform. ... However, this course is fraught with danger ... If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us ... So, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, is not a good option.
Clinton advocated that the Bush administration seek a U.N. resolution calling for "complete, unlimited inspections," adding that if Saddam ultimately did not comply with the strict U.N. measure, "we can attack him with far more support and legitimacy":
CLINTON: While there is no perfect approach to this thorny dilemma, and while people of good faith and high intelligence can reach diametrically opposing conclusions, I believe the best course is to go to the United Nations for a strong resolution that scraps the 1998 restrictions on inspections and calls for complete, unlimited inspections, with cooperation expected and demanded from Iraq. ... If we get the resolution the President seeks, and Saddam complies, disarmament can proceed and the threat can be eliminated ... If we get the resolution and Saddam does not comply, we can attack him with far more support and legitimacy than we would have otherwise.
Clinton went on to acknowledge that the Iraq resolution was "not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first," but stated that she trusted Bush would gain a U.N. resolution requiring full inspections before proceeding with military action:
CLINTON: Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a United Nations resolution and seek to avoid war, if possible.
Finally -- just as she claimed in the 2007 statement included in the ABC report -- Clinton clarified that her vote in favor of the Iraq resolution did not represent support "for any new doctrine of pre-emption or for unilateralism":
CLINTON: This is a difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Any vote that may lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction. ... My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption or for unilateralism or for the arrogance of American power or purpose, all of which carry grave dangers for our Nation, the rule of international law, and the peace and security of people throughout the world.