Articles and Analysis


Unspinning Howard Wolfson*

Topics: 2008 , Iraq , The 2008 Race

Earlier today on Hardball, MSNBC's Chris Matthews had the following exchange with Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign (my transcript below the video):

Matthews: How would you describe [Sen. Clinton's] position in voting to authorize the war in Iraq believing we weren't going to war, that Bush really didn't intend to go to war. Was that naive?

Wolfson: Look, she's taken responsibility for the vote. She's been asked about this...

Mathews: Wouldn't you call that naive to believe...

Wolfson: No...

Matthews: ...that we're not going to war when everybody thought we were going to war? I thought we were going to war.

Wolfson: I guess 80 percent of the country was naive then.

Matthews: They didn't think Bush would take us to war?

Wolfson: I think people were, believed George Bush was going to do what he said he was going to do, which was to try diplomacy. And he didn't.

Matthews: Anybody who didn't think we were going to war, in the months leading up to the war in Iraq, wasn't paying attention.

Did 80% of Americans believe that President Bush would "try diplomacy" in an effort to avoid a war with Iraq?

Not exactly.

I checked the Iraq archives at the Polling Report. Most of the questions asked in late 2002 focused on whether and under what conditions Americans would support going to war. However, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey of 1,017 adults conducted November 22-24, 2002 (a month after the vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq), showed that a majority of Americans believed President Bush had "already decided" to invade Iraq:

Which comes closer to your view about President Bush? [Rotate:] Bush has already decided to invade Iraq and has agreed to UN inspections mainly to gain international support for that action. OR, Bush has not yet decided whether to invade Iraq and has agreed to UN inspections mainly to determine if an invasion of Iraq were necessary.

58% - Bush has already decided to invade
38% - Bush has not yet decided whether to invade
4% - No opinion

A bit of context on the timing: The U.S. Senate passed the resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq on October 11, 2002 (with Senator Clinton voting in favor). President Bush signed it into law on October 16. Three weeks later, on November 8, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441 urging Iraq to "comply with its disarmament obligations" or face "serious consequences." Iraq agreed to the resolution on November 13, and under its terms, U.N. weapons inspectors were set to return to Iraq on November 27 after a four year absence to conduct onsite inspections in search of weapons of mass destruction.

Gallup fielded its survey on November 22-24, just days before the return of the U.N. inspectors, a time when one might expect optimism regarding the use of diplomacy to resolve the conflict. Yet even then, 58% of Americans believed the President had "already decided to invade Iraq."

*With apologizes to Frank Newport, who has made "unspinning" questionable assertions about public opinion on Sunday morning talk shows a regular staple of his Gallup Guru blog.



Very nice. That guy totally needed to be hunspun



I for one, thought that Bush wasn't going to invade at the time because the UN wouldn't have voted for it. I thought he was using a Bullying tactic which forced Saddam to comply to inspections. Instead Bush by-passed the UN and invaded pre-emptively.



I linked to your commentary from TPMCafe. Thanks for this. Hillary's team seems increasingly desperate in their efforts to spin away the significance of her Iraq war vote. It is encouraging to see someone call them on it based on hard facts.

Hillary's vote showed a monumental lack of judgment with historic consequences. You simply cannot overlook a failure to recognize the potential for calamity in the record of a presidential candidate. Twenty-three of her Senate colleagues looked at the same "evidence" and heard the same lies, yet had the good judgment and courage to vote against giving George W. Bush authority to initiate an elective war. With all of her claimed "experience" and "sophistication" on foreign affairs, it contented for little when she faced that vote and decided to enable the worst policy decision in American history. Strong qualifications for President and the leader of the world.



It should be noted that John Edwards co-sponsored the war authorization bill.



Jesus!!! In 1938 a group of Germans plotted to kill Hitler. About to start the final stages of their plan, Neville Chamberlain (the appeaser of Great Britain) visited and "talked" to the Fuhrer and cut out a "deal". The German dissidents aborted their mission. We all know how that one came out.

When FDR promised to see the war to absolute and complete victory, he didn't have the equipment to take on Hitler, he was just plain confident in our strength in numbers. It was a great gamble and we won. Look at the Battle of the Bulge: if it wasn't for Patton realistic and methodical analysis of intelligence, and McCaulliffe's stand in Bastogne, we would've fought that war till the late forty's.

A country goes to war because it is necessary to counter serious threats to its security or that of its allies. You never enter into a war knowing the outcome in advance, you enter into it with a strategy to win, but no guarantee.

Hillary, as many others, thought that the country had to prepare itself for possible military action. Authorization was proper. NO ONE thought that this Administration was so incompetent in managing the war and post-war situation. After all, many of them were there in '91. That's what really went wrong. Our expectations about people who seemed experienced (went to Harvard or Yale), but turned out to be just stupid ideologues full of hope and a desire for change. It was ideology, on politics and on policy, that got us into this mess.

Hillary has no ideology or preconceptions about how to conduct foreign policy... she is a pragmatist and that's what we need. Not another hope-driven president, but a realistic and practical one. I for one do not think that Hillary's justification is right politically, she has a better one. The vote on the war came in October 11... What leverage would the US have had in the UN if there was no vote? Would the inspectors had the same shot at getting back into Iraq through naked "diplomacy"? Iran is proof that without proper leverage, there isn't must chance at just talking.

Plus almost the whole world agreed that Saddam had weapons, including the French... The facts at the time, not the prognosis of pundits, pointed towards a real threat, albeit not that imminent. Congress gave the authority, Bush ultimately decided to send the UN packing and get us into the war. He has to bare complete responsibility. And by the way, what does it matter that Hillary has not bow to the country and ask for forgiveness? She didn't send our boys to die over there, Bush did. Our guys did their duty and won the war, but Bush chose to leave them there to try and safe his big ideological push.

When you regret doing something, you say so and try to atone for your past actions. That is what she is doing, is not it?



Tony - you are joking, right? Hilary, atone? When has she admitted that she has made a mistake - ANYWHERE? Foreign or domestic? I'm not trying to be inflammatory, but many people "knew" or suspected, that GWB was going to invade Iraq come hell or highwater, and the Dems who voted for the AUMF did so for political cover, just as they did in the first Gulf War. Furthermore, those who read the NIE and who were not blinded by partisan loyalty, eg Sen. Graham, knew that the Administration was lying to the American public. HRC had the opportunity and the responsibility to take the time to read 90 pages and come to an unbiased decision. She CHOSE NOT TO, and now tries to obscurate the issue - I hope she does not succeed.



I may be mistaken but didn't the neocons during the Clinton administration try to get Clinton to go after Iraq in some way? I think that she, of all people, should have been aware of Bush's intentions considering the people around him.


Is there any data on the claim that the country believed Bush would actually try diplomacy? If I understand polling correctly, it's easy to find inconsistencies in responses to slightly differently worded questions. Quite a lot of those 58% may have thought he would but that it was obviously going to turn out that invading was necessary. If that's the case, your "unspin" might be incorrect.


Till Eulenspiegel:

visitor - And yet Edwards doesn't have anyone on Hardball trying to lie his way out of that support. Edwards has repeatedly acknowledged and apologized for his mistake. Clinton has not, and instead offers absurd excuses like this.


Alan in SF:

If Hillary didn't know we were going to war when she voted for the AUMF, she's admitting to being incredibly stupid and having horrible judgment. I say we believe her.


Cal D:

I posted a comment on TPM saying someone should point out to Mark Blumenthal that late November comes a month and a half after early October, when the vote on the AUMF Iraq resolution took place. Also that there was also a mid-term election in the intervening period wherein all Republicans were out whipping up all the bloodlust they could, to try and portray Dem's as wimps and win themselves more seats in Congress, which they did. Then I thought maybe I should be the one to do the pointing. I have too much respect for you to be talking behind your back.

Let's take a walk down memory lane though. Recall that throughout September of 2002 and into early October, the Bushies were all acting their most statesmanlike. There were invitations to the Rose Garden and overatures of bipartisanship. They trotted out Colin Powell and pretended to let him have a voice in foreign policy. Bush had been reigned in after having initially made some rash statements over the summer. There was speculation of an intervention by the elder Bush after Junior paid a visit to Kennebunkport then subsequently cooled his rhetoric and started making nice with the UN, prompting sighs of relief from many quarters.

Of course once they had their resolution in hand things changed. They soon abandoned all pretense, started cranking the rhetoric back up, hating on the UN again and beating the drums for war. Republicans were running up and down the campaign trail having a grand old time calling anyone with disagreed with them or even counseled caution a traitor and worse. They retook the Senate and picked up seats in the house in the mid-terms and yeah, by mid-November it was pretty clear what they had in mind.

Unfortunatley no one seems to have asked before the vote in October, whether people thought Bush had made up his mind to go to war. So we can only speculate on that. What we do know from polls taken in September and early October is that significant majorities:

- Supported military action to remove Hussein with UN approval
- Favored organizing an international force to remove Hussein
- Opposed going into Iraq without UN approval
- Opposed invading without international support
- Favored holding off if the Iraq agreed to let in UN weapons inspectors

It seems reasonable to infer from this that most people had an expectation that diplomacy, both with Iraq and with our allies, would play an important role in the process of dealing with Iraq, whether or not they believed that process might ultimately end in war.


Jim Sharp:

Any elected representative of "we the people" without the sense to know that when W's lips move, he lies, should NEVER, EVER, EVER serve as President.
It can be spun and unspun but any vote in support of Bush's war was either too politically gutless/CYA or just too fundamentally dumb to serve in the Oval Office.
Period. Botom line. Acid Test. The End.

A Texan Who Knows The Evil Because It was Spawned Here.


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