Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Clinton got a decidedly mixed reaction Wednesday morning at the Take Back America conference in Washington when she blamed the Iraqi government for the chaos in that country.
“The American military has done its job. Look at what they accomplished: they got rid of Saddam Hussein, they gave the Iraqis a chance for free and fair elections…. The American military has succeeded. It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions,” she declared.
This sparked a raucous reaction in the crowd of mostly self-proclaimed progressives, with much booing and heckling, and Clinton’s sign-toting supporters cheering.
For a few moments the two waves of sounds battled each other, as Clinton waited.
Then, alluding to her being booed at this same event last year, she said sardonically, “I love coming here every year.”
Charles Anderson, a retired social worker form Santa Rosa, Calif., said after the speech, “I was against her because of her vote on the war and I thought she did a good job in the speech to get around her prior support. I was very much against the war even before it started. I was very disappointed in her.”
As for her comment blaming the Iraqis, Anderson said, “I didn’t like that at all. They have no control over the situation.”
Shifting blame to the Iraqis? Jane Dugdale, a retired ESL teacher and self-styled “grandma activist” from Bryn Mawr, Pa. called the decision to invade Iraq “a horrendous, horrible, illegal mistake” and “to try to blame it on a broken country that we broke is a bit hard to take. It shifted the blame where it shouldn’t have been. I guess she wanted to take the focus off the fact that she voted to go in.”
She added that Clinton “crafted her words about Iraq to get applause. She said ‘bring our soldiers home,’ but she didn’t talk about what she has also said about leaving quite of few of them there (in Iraq). I think that’s where the boos came from.”
Clinton told the crowd she voted against the recent spending bill for Iraq but did not mention her vote in 2002 to authorize war.
Progressives are a significant force in the Democratic primaries, and Clinton’s vote in 2002 seems to weigh more heavily for some activists than for others.
Some interviewed at the conclave seemed to be looking forward, not back, to 2002.
Four years ago it was Democratic nominee John Kerry who had to grapple with the question of why he’d voted to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq.
Twenty-two Democratic senators voted against it.
This year Clinton, likewise, has her 'yes' vote to explain.
Others who also voted 'yes' Clinton' s rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, also voted 'yes' in 2002.
For some at the Take Back America event, the 2002 Iraq vote no longer has great weight.
Ellen Barocas, from Cedar Grove N.J. said before Clinton spoke, “At the time we were duped, and I do not hold Sen. Clinton responsible for knowing something that maybe other people didn’t. I’ll look at other issues that she’s campaigning on. It’s a non-issue at this point, now we’re moving forward.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D- Calif., addressing the group on Monday declared, ”We should vote on de-authorizing the war,” an idea that Clinton has endorsed.
“It would give a good opportunity to those who voted to authorize the invasion and occupation to set the record straight and atone for that mistake,” Lee said. “Wouldn’t that be great?”
Lee’s comment won her knowing laughs and applause from the audience.
In the Take Back America crowd, some expressed fear that the next president will be confronted with war in Iran, as well as one in Iraq.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D- Calif., who spoke on a panel discussion on national security, accused Bush of preparing for military action against Iran.
“It’s bigger than big, it’s frightening, and we had a vote in the House on ‘do we insist that the president come to the Congress before he takes any actions against Iran?’ It was voted down — so pay attention,” she warned.
“There's no point in bringing our troops out of Iraq on a Monday if they are going to end up in Iran on a Tuesday,” chimed in Woolsey’s fellow panelist Mel Goodman, a former CIA analyst and author of the book “Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives are Putting the World at Risk.”
“Iran’s actions against the British sailors and holding Americans in jail did not come out of a vacuum. We are conducting special operations in Iran. We are conducting covert action in Iran. You have a president who has talked about a $75 million appropriation for democratization in Iran,” — a reference that drew derisive laughter from the audience.
Clinton omitted the topic of Iran in her speech Wednesday, but she said Tuesday in her appearance before the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, “There is considerable evidence that weaponry and fighters are crossing the border (into Iraq) not just from Iran but from Syria and from other countries, as well. So we do have to try to choke off the weapons coming in and the fighters crossing the borders.”
But she didn’t call for military action, instead talking about “intensive outreach and diplomacy right now with Iran, and that is one area that I'm pleased that President Bush and Secretary Rice have moved toward.”