Explanation Not Apology

David Sarasohn at the Oregonian is a surprisingly liberal voice to see regularly in a major paper. He’s been a frequent contributor to The Nation, usually on the issue of hunger in America, and makes a startlingly sane contrast to many of the in-house and syndicated editorials. Still, a couple of weeks back he wrote about how people who had been against the Iraq war didn’t seem to want to cut Hillary Clinton a break, despite her acknowledgement that she shouldn’t have trusted George Bush.

Since they haven’t run my letter in the past couple of weeks, I think they’re probably not going to.

To the Editor:

David Sarasohn is mistaken when he says that people who disagreed with Senator Hillary Clinton want an apology from her to confirm their “rightness.” An apology or admission of mistake is, as Mr. Sarasohn suggests, worthless.

What the American public deserves from Senator Clinton is an explanation of why she was in the minority of Democratic members of Congress who were gullible enough to be taken in by the administration’s phony claims of weapons of mass destruction or, if she wasn’t convinced by those arguments, why she approved of the Iraq war resolution regardless.

Sixty percent of the Democratic members of the House and Senate did not accept the administration’s case on Iraqi WMDs. Five of the nine Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — who presumably had as much access as anyone in the legislative branch of government to classified data on Iraq — voted against the resolution. That group included Senator Ron Wyden.

Yet Senator Clinton voted for the resolution, as did Senator John Edwards, who claimed in a New Yorker interview last month that he wasn’t fooled by the administration; he relied on information from his position on the Intelligence committee as well as “former Clinton Administration people.” None of which explains what convinced him or Senator Clinton to vote differently from most of their colleagues. None of which explains why they made the wrong decision.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that, as a November 2001 Village Voice article pointed out, members of the Democratic Leadership Council — of which Senators Clinton, Edwards, Lieberman, Biden, and Kerry were all members — might have been politically positioning themselves to the right of President Bush by advocating for a war in Iraq as much as a year before the Iraq war resolution.

Senator Clinton is running for a position in which she will be forced to make the type of decisions she made on Iraq over and over again. She and the other Democratic candidates who voted for the Iraq war resolution will need to be able to evaluate intelligence reports and present their case to Congress and the American people. Most of her Democratic colleagues didn’t make the mistake she did on Iraq. How can anyone trust her not to make the same kind of error in judgment — either as a Senator or as President — unless she’s capable of realizing it was a mistake and the reason she was taken in when so many others were not?