Stephen Zunes responds to Hillary Clinton’s statements explaining her Iraq War vote as well as Bernie Sanders’ plan to mobilize countries like Saudi Arabia to take on ISIS
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. The Democratic primary race is heating up in the days before the key New Hampshire primary. On Wednesday, Secretary Hillary Clinton was challenged about her vote in support of the Iraq war when she was a senator. Let’s take a listen to her response. HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I did make a mistake, and I admitted that I made a mistake. And in large measure that mistake really arose from the, the Bush administration’s approach to what they thought they could accomplish in Iraq. The very explicit appeal that President Bush made before announcing the invasion, that getting that vote would be a strong piece of leverage in order to finish the inspections. And he made that comment. And the UN inspector, Hans Blix, said, give us the time, we will find out. Give us the hammer over their head, namely the vote, and we will be able to find out what they still have in terms of WMD. DESVARIEUX: But how much of what Secretary Clinton just said was actually true? Now joining us to fact check Secretary Clinton is our guest, Stephen Zunes. He’s a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco. Thank you so much for joining us, Stephen. STEPHEN ZUNES: Pleasure to be with you. DESVARIEUX: So Stephen, you just heard the clip we played from last night. CNN even fact checked what Secretary Clinton had to say, and said what she said was false. Can you just break down for us, why is what she just said a false statement? ZUNES: Well, first of all, Hans Blix, who was the head of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, on [inaud.], did not endorse that resolution. He did say that the United Nations, in passing new resolutions on the inspection regime, should back up that with the threat of force. Indeed, UN Security Council Resolution 1441 did use very strong language that implied that they would consider, the United Nations Security Council would consider the use of military force if Iraq did not comply. But that was the UN. This was not, he was not asking the United States to threaten that unilaterally. Furthermore, there were a number of resolutions authorizing force before the, the U.S. Senate. One was the Levin Amendment, sponsored by Senator Carl Levin in Michigan, which would have authorized force, but only if Saddam Hussein refused to cooperate with the inspectors and the United Nations found him, therefore, in material breach and authorized force. Hillary Clinton voted against that resolution. Instead, she voted for a Republican-sponsored measure which essentially gave President Bush the unprecedented authority to launch a war against Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing. And when he did launch that war, in March five months later, UN inspectors had been in the country for months, and had unfettered access. The Iraqi regime was cooperating completely. And Bush invaded anyway. And Hillary Clinton didn’t mention a single word in opposition. She didn’t say, oh wait, this is just to give the inspectors, you know, give you leverage to get the inspectors back in. since they’re back in you shouldn’t be doing this. no. she supported the decision to invade 100%, even after the, long after the inspectors had returned and were engaged in unfettered inspections, and weren’t finding anything. ZUNES: Yeah. And this isn’t the first time Secretary Clinton has had to defend her Iraq vote. Let’s talk about how what she just said compares or contrasts with her justification for the vote back in 2002. Let’s take a listen to what she had to say back then. HILLARY CLINTON: In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapon stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security. This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Any vote that might lead to war should be hard. But I cast it with conviction. DESVARIEUX: She cast it with conviction, and we all know how the story goes. There were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. So what do you make of Clinton’s argument back then about why she decided to vote for the Iraq war? ZUNES: Totally disingenuous. Virtually all the data that was made available for members of Congress at that time has been declassified. I have read it. And it is very, very weak. Indeed, leading up to the war I was among a number of strategic analysts that provided her office with detailed, empirical research that challenge the Bush administration’s claims. The idea these, the UN inspectors were saying all these things is baloney. The International Atomic Energy Agency, in fact, explicitly said there’s absolutely no evidence that Iraq had a nuclear program anymore. The chief [inaud.] weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, had testified that while he couldn’t rule out Iraq having some old warheads, you know, from decades earlier lying around somewhere, that they didn’t have any offensive military capability. They’d achieved, for all intents and purposes, at least qualitative disarmament. Meanwhile, virtually nobody took seriously the idea that the decidedly secular regime of Saddam Hussein, the Baathist regime there, was in any way collaborating or supporting or giving sanctuary to the Salafi extremists al-Qaeda, who considered Saddam an infidel, an apostate, and a traitor to Islam. And the Department of Defense, so Hillary Clinton, actually, was the only Democratic senator to make that particular claim. So–and it also, also since been revealed she didn’t even read the [inaud.] national intelligence estimate, which actually cast doubt on some of the Bush administration’s claims. So this idea that there’s somehow this consensus, that everybody thought they had weapons of mass destruction, these missiles and the support for al-Qaeda and nuclear program, is baloney. The independent arms control analysts were saying, no, this is ridiculous, don’t believe this stuff. But she instead decided to side with the administration. DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s fast forward to today. As we know, Clinton is running to become the Democratic nominee. Last night in the town hall she was challenged on her, quote, interventionist foreign policy during CNN’s Democratic town hall. So I want to get your take on what she had to say. Let’s just quickly take a listen to that clip. SPEAKER: As senator and as Secretary of State, you have a history of interventionist foreign policy that is troubling to many Democratic voters, including myself. As a voter who is opposed to the United States being the world’s policemen, can you assure me that as president you would not expand our military involvement abroad? HILLARY CLINTON: No, I can’t, Michael. I mean, I, I’d like to be able to say I could. But here’s what I can say: I have learned and have been, you know, really in the crucible of making a lot of hard decisions over the last years. And military force must always be a last resort, not a first choice. That is one of the biggest differences between me and the Republicans. DESVARIEUX: So Stephen, what do you make of her arguments? ZUNES: Well, there’s this idea that the United States needs to be increasingly interventionist in the region. I mean, President Obama’s bombed seven countries in the greater Middle East since he came to office, and she’s criticized him for not bombing enough. She was the most outspoken hawk within the top echelons of foreign policy decision making when she was Secretary of State, pushing for the intervention in Libya, which obviously didn’t go very well. She was not that supportive of diplomatic outreach to Iran to try to resolve the nuclear standoff. She’s, you know, criticized Obama for not intervening in Syria enough, implying that somehow led to the rise of ISIS when virtually everybody recognizes that the rise of ISIS was a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion-occupation of Iraq that Senator Clinton supported and Barack Obama opposed, in part because, as he explicitly said, it would stir up extremist Islamist groups. So we’ve seen everything from her support for the right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel, and including the defense of war crimes that Senator Sanders and the Obama administration have condemned. I mean, she’s definitely one of the more hawkish members of the Democratic party leadership, and it’s ironic at a time when polls show Democrats are more skeptical of intervention than ever that she is now the frontrunner for the party’s nomination for president. DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And we can’t talk about Clinton without talking about Sanders. How does Clinton’s foreign policy stance compare to Sanders’ position? And he–and let’s lay out some of that position. He says he would mobilize countries like Saudi Arabia to take one ISIS, and Saudi Arabia would be, essentially, working with other regional countries like Iran. Most people know this, Iran and Saudi Arabia, they’re not quite good friends. So if Saudi Arabia, which has been documented to have been providing aid to extremists in Syria, how could they actually be the ones to help fight ISIS? Do you feel like Bernie’s platform is sort of missing the boat here in bringing a viable foreign policy plan that is in the interests of everyday people in Syria and across the region? ZUNES: I’m very skeptical, actually, of Senator Sanders’ idea of mobilizing these autocratic Arab dictatorships. They, indeed, are part of the problem. They’re part of what has stirred up this kind of extremist activity. But at least he’s saying this should be a regional matter, and not one for the United States to take the lead and intervening, as Senator Clinton has been doing. There’s no real good answer to what to do about this monster that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has created. And indeed, I am skeptical of what Senator Sanders says. But I find Senator Clinton, especially if you look at her history on these issues, the far more dangerous of the two. DESVARIEUX: Okay, but folks would say, you know, nobody is talking about political solution. There is some viable options here. Let’s get Russia to the table, Russia who’s supporting the Assad regime. Let’s stop making this condition of any sort of negotiations that Assad must go. Just some basic–maybe even a ceasefire, can we even start there? Why is no one even really talking about these possible solutions? ZUNES: Well, as the old saying goes, if the only thing in your toolbox is a hammer pretty soon everything starts looking like a nail. Given our incredibly bloated military budget that is used primarily for foreign intervention, we have neglected the very important diplomatic work, and we have failed to recognize that the more the United States is on the Middle East, the more the United States has intervened in the Middle East, the less secure we become. And we have failed to recognize that reality. DESVARIEUX: All right, Stephen Zunes. Thank you so much for joining us. ZUNES: My pleasure. DESVARIEUX: All right. And we will be discussing this topic and many more campaign issues in New Hampshire. We’ll be bringing you live coverage of primaries starting on Monday, February 8. So please be sure to watch and donate so we can keep bringing you the Real News. Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.