Words of War: Clinton Camp Muddies Obama's Anti-War Stance but Record Is Clear

The campaign team of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. -- most notably her husband -- has expressed frustration in recent days over how the media has portrayed the respective views of Sen. Clinton and her rival Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on voting to go to war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

Clinton Camp Spins Obama Record

Clinton's vote to authorize the use of force has emerged as a campaign issue among many anti-war liberals who want her to say her vote was a mistake. Obama was not in the Senate at the time but constantly reminds voters that he opposed the war from the beginning.


Last week at a Manhattan fundraiser, former President Clinton reportedly complained about The New York Times' coverage of his wife, saying the paper of record is attacking his wife because she refuses to apologize for her October 2002 vote, while, according to the former president, Obama expressed confusion back then about how he would vote had he been in the Senate at the time.

Clinton noted an excerpt from an interview Obama gave the Times in July 2004, "What would I have done? I don't know."

Earlier this week at a forum at Harvard University, Clinton pollster Mark Penn cited the same Times quotation.

The full context of those remarks include Obama saying that he's "not privy to Senate intelligence reports," and that "what I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made."

Allies of the Clinton campaign deny that anyone is trying to accuse Obama of not having opposed the war.

The issue raised by the former President and Penn, they say, is that Obama's rhetoric has changed on how he speaks about those who were in the Senate and cast the 2002 vote to go to war.

Asked by National Public Radio about the pro-war votes of the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominess, Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John Edwards, D-N.C., Obama said, "I don't consider that to have been an easy decision, and certainly, I wasn't in the position to actually cast a vote on it. I think that there is room for disagreement in that initial decision."

"The important thing here is that Obama has been 100% consistent in his opposition to the war, and now he has a responsible plan to end the conflict," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "Even when you look at the statements he's made about others who supported the war, it's clear that he's in sharp opposition to the war."

ABC News Review Shows Consistent Anti-War Message

And in fact, a review of comments Obama made in 2002 and 2003 -- in video obtained by ABC News -- makes it clear that the junior senator from Illinois, then a mere state senator, stood out during a time as opposing the war quite firmly when the war was overwhelmingly popular.

At an anti-war rally on October 2, 2002, Obama said, "I don't oppose war in all circumstances. When I look out on this crowd today, I know there is no shortage of patriots or patriotism. What I do oppose is a dumb war."

On the local Chicago talk show "Public Affairs With Jeff Berkowitz" on November 25, 2002, just weeks after the Senate voted, Obama said, "If it had come to me in an up or down vote as it came, I think I would have agreed with our senior Sen. Dick Durbin and voted 'Nay.'"

Obama continued to explain, "The reason is not that I don't think we should have aggressive inspections," but that, were he a senator, what he would have been "concerned about was a carte blanche to the administration for a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes that I'm not sure sets a good precedent."

The then-state senator criticized the notion of "rushing headlong into a war unilaterally," saying that approach would be "a mistake" and arguing "we have to give those inspections a chance."

He looked ahead to the future if the United States invaded Iraq and wondered "what's our long-term commitment there? How much is it going to cost? What does it mean for us to rebuild Iraq? How do we stabilize and make sure this country doesn't splinter into factions between the Shias and the Kurds and the Sunnis?"

A few months later, on July 24, 2003, when the war was still quite popular and as Obama began his campaign for the U.S. Senate, the senator again told "Public Affairs With Jeff Berkowitz" that "my analysis said that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat and that if we acted multilaterally, it would be better for our long-term security because we would be able to have a multinational coalition and force that could have contained Saddam Hussein, conducted vigorous inspections, and if we ultimately had to overthrow him, we would have built an international coalition that could have moved forward."

Obama told the local audience, "Some people may disagree with me on this, but what absolutely we can't have out of our United States senator from Illinois is somebody who waffles on the issue and somebody who ducks the issue , and puts their finger out to the wind and waits to find out how the wind is blowing before they make a statement that, well, 'We had concerns about the war.' Everybody had concerns about the war. The question was, how would you have voted on a specific resolution giving George Bush carte blanche."

For many Democratic voters, that indeed is the question. And it seems fairly clear where Obama was at the time, however much others try to fuzz up the record.