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Hard Choices and Taking the Easy Way Out

Peter Beinart must already know the answer to this question about Clinton’s Iraq war vote, but he asks it anyway:

How could someone renowned for doing her homework have failed to do so on the most important vote of her Senate career?

Beinart wonders why Clinton didn’t review the classified National Intelligence Estimate prior to voting to authorize the invasion, but it’s not clear why she would have wanted to bother. Most Iraq war hawks relied on what they claimed “everyone” knew about Iraq’s capabilities and Hussein’s intentions, and they interpreted all evidence, no matter how ambiguous it may have been, as proof that an invasion was justified. Clinton was no different. She belonged to the hawkish wing of her party, and the authorization vote came just four years after her husband had signed the Iraq Liberation Act. As Beinart must remember, being in favor of the the invasion was what supposedly distinguished “responsible” Democrats from the rest of their party, so there wasn’t much pressure for pro-war Democrats to do their “homework.” Doing the “homework” would have only prompted unwanted questions and unwelcome skepticism.

For someone in Clinton’s position in 2002, there was nothing easier than to fall in line with other liberal hawks and vote yes. There was no incentive for her to “do her homework” and probably not much interest, because it was taken for granted among all “serious” people in Washington that Iraq still had WMD programs and that Hussein had to be removed from power. This is what makes Clinton’s preferred phrase of “hard choices” so laughable: on the most significant foreign policy vote she cast as a member of Congress, Clinton took the easiest way out.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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