Pro-War Dems Favored the War

I’m continually surprised by the number of people who refuse to people that leading Democratic Party advocates of the Iraq War were, in fact, advocates of the Iraq War. Petey, for example, wrote in comments “My recollection was that Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke and Joe Biden were backing a policy of threatening force to get UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq, not the policy of invading Iraq for the sake of invading Iraq followed by the administration.” If, however, these fine individuals disapproved of Bush’s policy of invading Iraq despite the inspectors’ presence in Iraq, how come none of them said so?Joe Biden, an honorable and decent man who did indeed attempt (and fail) to set the war policy on a more rational course, said on March 17 that “[b]y refusing to disarm, a defiant Saddam has made the fateful choice between war and peace. Let us make sure that in winning the war, we also win the peace.” This is endorsement of the war. Derek Chollet, a smart guy, a top advisor to John Edwards, and the author of an excellent book on The Road to the Dayton Accords reviewed Samantha Power’s book, saw in it “an indispensable part of the case that George W. Bush and his team are now making about the threat from Saddam” (Power, who wrote the book, disagreed before and after the war, and went on in the penultimate paragraph of his review to laud Bush’s doctrine of preemption and “hand-wringing in liberal circles” over it.

Richard Holbrooke, who by all accounts was a very effective hard-charging diplomat during the Clinton years, appeared on March 21, 2003 at The University of Michigan and the appearance was thus summarized:

Despite praise for the current efforts in Iraq by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he said it was a mistake for them to seek a second U.N. resolution. Both houses of Congress, he said, gave Bush full authority to go forward with military action by an overwhelming majority. Both leaders’ insistence on achieving the second resolution, he said, tangled the United States in a diplomatic mess that it could have avoided.

One can go on and on like this.

It’s no doubt the case that many Democratic Party politicians backed the war out of political cowardice. It’s also probably the case that some Democratic Party politicians backed the authorizing resolution in the hopes that this would pressure Iraq to agree to rigorous inspections and that would avoid war.

That said, substantial swathes of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy establishment backed the war because they thought waging preventive war on Iraq was a good idea. Kenneth Pollack, who ran Iraq policy at the NSC for Bill Clinton, actually wrote an instructive book on this that you may have heard of. The argument of Pollack’s book was that the Clinton administration’s Iraq policy was slowly but surely unraveling, that invading Iraq was a superior alternative to watching it unravel, and that the events of 9/11 had made an invasion policy more politically sellable than it had been in the nineties, so bombs away.

As it happens, I think the Iraq policy the Clinton administration did, in fact, pursue was a pretty good one (leftier people will disgaree). However, important members of the Clinton administration — Pollack and Holbrooke most clearly, but seemingly Madeleine Albright and Clinton himself somewhat more diffidently — came to the conclusion that it was a second-best alternative to preventive war that they were forced to adopt by political realities.