In Eugene, Ore., Saturday. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., attempted to change the measure by which anyone might assess who criticized the Iraq war first, her or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., by saying those keeping records should start in January 2005, when Obama joined the Senate. (A measure that conveniently avoids her October 2002 vote to authorize use of force against Iraq at a time that Obama was speaking out against the war.) She claimed that using that measure, she criticized the war in Iraq before Obama did.
But Clinton’s claim was false.
Clinton on Saturday told Oregonians, "when Sen. Obama came to the Senate he and I have voted exactly the same except for one vote. And that happens to be the facts. We both voted against early deadlines. I actually starting criticizing the war in Iraq before he did."
It’s an odd way to measure opposition to the war — comparing who gave the first criticism of the war in Iraq starting in January 2005, ignoring Obama’s opposition to the war throughout 2003 and 2004. (And Clinton’s vote for it.)
But even if one were to employ this "Start Counting in January 2005" measurement, Clinton did not criticize the war in Iraq first.
Scrambling to support their boss’s claim, Clinton campaign officials pointed to a paper statement Clinton issued on Jan. 26, 2005, explaining her vote to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.
"The Administration and Defense Department’s Iraq policy has been, by any reasonable measure, riddled with errors, misstatements and misjudgments," the January 2005 Clinton statement said. "From the beginning of the Iraqi war, we were inadequately prepared for the aftermath of the invasion with too few troops and an inadequate plan to stabilize Iraq."
But Obama offered criticisms of the war in Iraq eight days before that, directly to Rice, in his very first meeting as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 18.
Obama pushed Rice on her answers to previous questioners regarding the effectiveness of Iraqi troops, and he criticized the administration for conveying a never-ending commitment to a US troop presence in Iraq.
"I am concerned about this notion that was pursued by Senator Biden and others that we’ve made significant progress in training troops," Obama told Rice "Because it seems to me that in your response to Senator Alexander that we will not be able to get our troops out absent the Iraqi forces being able to secure their own country, or at least this administration would not be willing to define success in the absence of such security. I never got quite a clear answer to Senator Biden’s question as to how many troops — Iraqi troops — don’t just have a uniform and aren’t just drawing a paycheck, but are effective enough and committed enough that we would willingly have our own troops fighting side-by- side with them. The number of 120,000 you gave, I suspect, does not meet those fairly stringent criteria that Senator Biden was alluding to. I just want to make sure, on the record, that you give me some sense of where we’re at now."
Obama concluded his brief q&a by saying "if our measure is bring our troops home and success is measured by whether Iraqis can secure their own circumstances, and if our best troops in the world are having trouble controlling the situation with 150,000 or so, it sounds like we’ve got a long way to go. And I think part of what the American people are going to need is some certainty, not an absolute timetable, but a little more certainty than is being provided, because right now, it appears to be an entirely open-ended commitment."
The misrepresentation of the record is symbolic of the re-writing of history Clinton has attempted on her record regarding the war in Iraq.
Because the larger context is more important. And Clinton’s written criticism of the war in a press statement in January 2005 received little attention compared to the press surrounding her trip to Iraq the next month, in February 2005.
Upon returning she argued that setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops would aid the enemy.
“I don’t think it’s useful to set a deadline because I think it sends a signal to the terrorists and the insurgents that they just have to wait us out,” she said.
Describing her trip to Iraq, she said, "It’s regrettable that the security needs have increased so much. On the other hand, I think you can look at the country as a whole and see that there are many parts of Iraq that are functioning quite well."
She also interpreted a series of suicide bomb attacks as an indication that the insurgency was failing.
“The concerted effort to disrupt the elections was an abject failure," she said. "Not one polling place was shut down or overrun. The fact that you have these suicide bombers now, wreaking such hatred and violence while people pray, is to me, an indication of their failure.”
In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press on Feb. 20, 2005, Clinton said that withdrawing some troops or setting a date for withdrawal would be a "mistake."
"I don’t believe we should tie our hands or the hands of the new Iraqi government," Clinton said. "We don’t want to send a signal to the insurgents, to the terrorists that we are going to be out of here at some, you know, date certain."
"We have just finished meeting with the current prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the finance minister, and in our meetings, we posed the question to each of them as to whether they believed that we should set a firm deadline for the withdrawal of American troops," Clinton said. "To a person, and they are of different political parties in this election, but each of them said that would be a big mistake, that we needed to make clear that there is a transition now going on to the Iraqi government. When it is formed, which we hope will be shortly, it will assume responsibility for much of the security, with the assistance and cooperation of the coalition forces, primarily U.S. forces."
Clinton said that "what the American people need to know is, number one, we are very proud of our young men and women who are here," and second, "there can be no doubt that it is not in America’s interests for the Iraqi government, the experiment in freedom and democracy, to fail. So I hope that Americans understand that and that we will have as united a front as is possible in our country at this time to keep our troops safe, make sure they have everything they need and try to support this new Iraqi government."
She soon told New York Daily News editors and reporters that it was important for Democrats to combat the idea that they’re soft on national security issues like Iraq.
"If you can’t persuade a majority of people that you’re going to be strong and tough where we need to protect America and our [national] interests, you can’t cross the [electoral] threshold," she said.
That same month, while Clinton was talking up the need for Democrats to project strength, and claiming a withdrawal deadline would be sending a signal to the terrorists, Obama was meeting with his constituents, sounding quite skeptical about the war and reiterating his opposition to the decision to go to war to begin with.
The Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph reported that during a town hall meeting, asked about the Iraq war, "Obama said poor planning by the Bush administration has left Iraq woefully incapable of handling its own security. He expressed hope that more intensive training will be provided for Iraqi forces, saying such measures could allow most American troops to return home next year. While Obama said the recent Iraqi election is an encouraging sign for democracy, he questioned Bush’s rationale for the Iraq invasion. ’I didn’t see the weapons of mass destruction at the time, I didn’t think there was an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.’"
Clinton made this latest questionable claim the same day that she came under fire for repeatedly telling a story that turned out not to be true about a poor pregnant woman losing her baby and her own life after being denied hospital treatment because she couldn’t afford a $100 fee. The New York Times discovered that the woman in question was never denied treatment, and that she did have insurance. “We implore the Clinton campaign to immediately desist from repeating this story,” said a representative of the hospital.
The Clinton campaign said that the senator had been told the story by a sheriff’s deputy, and had not been able to fully check its accuracy. "We did try but were not able to fully vet it,” Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee said. “If the hospital claims it did not happen that way, we respect that."
This latest incident also comes less than two weeks after Clinton had to back off a description of a plane landing during a 1996 trip to Bosnia that she had claimed was under sniper fire. Video evidence surfaced proving that claim false and Clinton admitted that she "misspoke."