February 15, 2007

The Evolving Clinton Position On Military Force

Eli Lake makes an important point in today's New York Sun about Hillary Clinton's zeal to restrict the military options of President Bush against Iran. When Hillary pronounced that Bush would have to come to Congress before launching any sort of attack against another country, specifically Iran, she seems to have forgotten the precedent set by her own husband eight years ago, and defended by her in October 2002:

"It would be a mistake of historical proportion if the administration thought that the 2002 resolution authorizing force against Iraq was a blank check for the use of force against Iran without further congressional authorization," Mrs. Clinton said. "Nor should the president think that the 2001 resolution authorizing force after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in any way authorizes force against Iran. If the administration believes that any, any use of force against Iran is necessary, the president must come to Congress to seek that authority."

That position is at odds with President Clinton's unilateral decision to bomb Serb military targets beginning on March 26, 1999, when America and NATO launched a war to stop Slobodan Milosevic from cleansing the province of Kosovo of ethnic Albanians.

Twenty-six members of Congress later sued the Clinton administration on the grounds that the bombing campaign constituted a violation of the War Powers Act. Mr. Clinton's Justice Department argued at the time that the War Powers Act not only gave the president the authority to drop the bombs on Belgrade — over two congressional votes rejecting a declaration of war on Yugoslavia — but that he was not required to seek congressional approval because Congress had appropriated the funding to launch the air offensive.

Mrs. Clinton defended the Kosovo campaign in a speech on October 10, 2002, before casting her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq. "We and our NATO allies did not depose Mr. Milosevic, who was responsible for more than a quarter of a million people being killed in the 1990s. Instead, by stopping his aggression in Bosnia and Kosovo, and keeping on the tough sanctions, we created the conditions in which his own people threw him out and led to his being in the dock being tried for war crimes as we speak," she said in the 2002 speech. Milosevic died in prison in the Hague in 2006.

Personally, I think an attack on Iran would be a mistake at this time, and the White House has given indications that it agrees. However, if Iran has conducted military operations in Iraq and provided materiel, intelligence, and training that resulted in the deaths of American soldiers, then the US has the obligation to recognize that Iran has joined the present war as a combatant -- and to secure the theater to protect our soldiers. The President has to have that kind of authority during wartime, or else anyone could join in the battle in support of our enemies, knowing that it would take Congress weeks to authorize a response, if they ever got around to it.

And bear in mind that the conditions between 1999 and 2007 are completely different -- and argue against Hillary's new position. In 1999, Clinton attacked Yugoslavia despite Congress having rejected a declaration of war -- twice. The US had no ground involvement in Kosovo at the time, and the only attacks from Yugoslavia on American forces were normal air defense volleys. This wasn't a case where an attack came as a consequence of an attack on American forces engaged on a front, but a case where Clinton wanted to accelerate pressure on Slobodan Milosevic by expanding the scope of the war.

I might also point out that Kosovo, Bosnia, and the entire Balkans conflict was another example of a civil war going back for centuries into which the Democrats had no problem jumping, even though it had little to do with any strategic American interests. Now we hear all about how Iraq is a civil war and that means we should cease working for democracy and liberty in a region where we have vital national interests. That standard seems to have changed with the Clintons, too.

If Hillary wants to stand on convention at this point, she will have to explain why two Congressional rejections of the use of force in Kosovo did not present a legal impediment to her husband. She gave a hint as to her answer, which is an ends-justifying-means point that has nothing to do with the Constitutionality of a military strike in a war that certainly provides more justification for one than anything ever did in Kosovo.


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Video: Hillary on Iraq, then and nowIan Schwartz Hannity put together a nice video montage exposing Hillary Clinton’s position on Iraq in 2002 to her position today. Last month I linked to Rush’s audio montage on Hillary’s hypocrisy. [Read More]