Gordon, Hillary, North Korea and March 2003

Steve Novick

Senators who voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002 generally offer one of two explanations. Let's call them the Gordon Explanation and the Hillary Explanation.

The Gordon Explanation is: "I voted for it because I thought they had weapons of mass destruction." The Hillary Explanation is: "I didn't vote for a unilateral preemptive war at all - I voted to give the President authority that I thought he would use wisely in a context of continued inspections, U.N. authorization, etc."

Problem is, neither explanation is credible. The Gordon Explanation isn't credible because of North Korea. The Hillary Explanation isn't credible because of what didn't happen in March 2003.

It is self-evident that anyone who voted to invade Iraq because he thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction would have spent most of the past three years demanding that the United States invade North Korea. We've known that North Korea had an active nuclear program since at least April 2003. North Korea was part of the "Axis of Evil." They don't make nuttier dictatorships than North Korea's. And until recently, there was no particular reason to think they would make nice with us. So if one of your foreign policy principles is, "we should invade countries ruled by dangerous dictators with weapons of mass destruction," you should have been demanding the invasion of North Korea all along.

But I am not aware of a single Senator who supported the invasion of Iraq who has demanded the invasion of North Korea. So I can only conclude that they did NOT, really, vote to invade Iraq because of any fear of weapons of mass destruction.

It is also self-evident what anyone who did not view her 2002 Iraq vote as a vote for a unilateral, preemptive war would have done in March 2003. Before the first shot was fired, she would have risen in the Senate to say: "This is not what I voted for. I never voted to approve a unilateral, preemptive war."

But I am not aware of a single Senator who voted for the 2002 Iraq resolution who did that, either. So I can only conclude that they did not, really, at the time the war started, view their 2002 vote only as a vote to give the President negotiating leverage. They must have accepted the idea that they had voted to authorize a war.

I don't know why those Senators really voted for the Iraq resolution. But they didn't really vote for it because they were worried about weapons of mass destruction. And they can't explain their votes by saying they weren't really voting for a war.

  • General Turgidson (unverified)

    A bit reductive and crude don't you think?

    Because our country's elected officials have not proposed to invade North Korea is not exactly evidence that the decision to head into Iraq was not motivated by concerns about WMD.

    Over the past few years there has probably been a very real concern about such weapons in North Korea, but war has never been a practical consideration. Given the unique geopolitical concerns that war in the Korean Peninsula would present, it seems safer to say that war in the East Asian theater has been avoided not because WMD aren't an issue, but because of a belief that war there would simply not be prudent. In other words, the regime in Pyongyang may be off its rocker, but that's not to say that an invasion is the next logical step for Smith et al.

    There is certainly a more real sense of mutually assured destruction as far as North Korea is concerned, and that changes any strategic decision.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)


  • Hawthorne (unverified)


    You are SO smart. Quit with this now while you are ahead.

  • Captain Renault (unverified)

    I'm shocked, shocked to find politics in the halls of congress.

    Steve, this is silly, even though I like you just fine and think you'd make a great senator.

    Even the most delusional of idiot presidents would never think they could invade North Korea. You're being a little ridiculous if you think that the context doesn't inform what Senators say.

    I guess you could argue that the Senators should have said, "we're nervous about Iraq, and we know we can take their sorry asses out, so I vote yes", but I think you'll find a general reluctance to include the explicit commentary on a prospective opponent's state of military weakness.

  • BOHICA (unverified)

    I look at it this way. Hillary and Edwards were both Senators with two years in that body. Smith is Smith. If I was a freshman Senator, I might look to the elder statesmen who have been there for a while for guidance. Senators like Robert Byrd or Bob Graham of Florida. Maybe listen to Russ Fiengold, Patrick Leahy or Carl Levin, all wise and serious men. Listen to their reasons for voting against the resolution.

    Bob Graham was on the Intelligence committee the same as Edwards. What did he know that the Son of a mill worker didn't? Why did Paul Wellstone and Edward Kennedy vote nay?

    These are questions that the candidates should answer.

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    A bit reductive and crude don't you think?

    Quit with this now while you are ahead.

    That echoes my first two thoughts after reading this post.

    I hope this is just political posturing on your part and not an accurate reflection of your abilities.

    We don't need more of this kind of "thinking" in the Senate. It's bad enough we have to live with it in the White House.

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    Doretta, Captain, General - Geeze do you people not understand sarcasm?

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    Captain Renault (here are your winnings, sir) wrote: I guess you could argue that the Senators should have said, "we're nervous about Iraq, and we know we can take their sorry asses out, so I vote yes", but I think you'll find a general reluctance to include the explicit commentary on a prospective opponent's state of military weakness.

    Actually, what the President of the Senate said was, IIRC, "We will be greeted as liberators."

    I agree that Steve's analysis is slightly reductive, but it's certainly in the ballpark. Both Smith and Clinton undoubtedly went through slightly more complex and nuanced thought processes than Steve credits above, both of which included a large measure of plain old-fashioned political posturing, but the bottom line is that none of that excuses them or those who voted with them. I personally believe that Smith's vote was more about cynical exploitation of a perceived political advantage, and Clinton's was more about fear of being pounded from the right as unpatriotic or weak on national defense.

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    Yes, John, I do understand sarcasm. Apparently, however, you don't.

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    Great retort.

    Understand that?

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    OK, people. To the issues, please.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    I'm with Chuck Butcher on this one - polls. They all took their respective polls. Hillary and Edwards in their districts and Rolodex of donors and Smith in the White House and the Republican party. If ever there was a call for profiles in courage, this was it, and they all failed. Instead, they thought of their own political survival and future ambitions and sold our troops and the nation down the Potomac, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

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    Seems to me like one of the central points of Cheney's 1% doctrine is that if you think that "they" might get nukes somehow someday, you need to invade 'em now.

    The corollary being that once they actually have nukes like Pakistan or N Korea, it's too late to invade.

    The problem being that this scenario assumes that "we" get to be the deciders regarding who is to be treated with respect and who is to be bullied. Recent history seems to show that "we" are definitely not the brightest bulb in the chandelier when faced with this question.


    Hillary has fallen into a trap that I'm always worried about in my own activism. She is basing her public statements on where the voters were rather than where they are now. When over 60% of the US public has turned, you'd do well to change your position, especially if you have no actual core beliefs beyond believing that you need to be the next president.

  • Random guy (unverified)

    The General says: "There is certainly a more real sense of mutually assured destruction as far as North Korea is concerned..."

    Umm... yeah, no kidding. Because North Korea has real, and not imaginary, weapons of mass destruction.

    When the President says that the Iraq situation has the potential to turn into a "mushroom cloud," then he predicated that action on a perceived threat of destruction. And that means that the Senators were either: 1) bamboozled into believing that a North-Koreaesque situation existed in Iraq or 2) they were complict in trying to bait-and-switch the American public with fake rationales for war.

  • Zak J. (unverified)

    Polls, not principles, have been driving our Iraqi adventure from day one.

    If the war were going well we wouldn't even be having this conversation; the politicians who voted to authorize force would be touting their vision and hawkish credentials in every stump speech they made.

    I'm no Lieberman fan, but at least he's made the distinction between supporting the cause for war and concern over its appallingly bad execution. That's where Bush & Cheney are still controlling the framework of the debate (even on leftwing blogs) with another of their false dichotomies: we are restircting the debate to their arguments that you are either for the war and the way they have waged it or you are in favor of immediate withdrawal and revisionist history concerning your Congressional voting record. That's rubbish.

    There's a third option, one I'm surprised so few senators have staked out: to be favor of successfully waging this war, but to oppose against the greed, theft, waste, deceit, lies, torture, murder, alienation of allies, erosion of domestic civil liberties and overall stupidity that have been the hallmarks of its execution.

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    We invaded because we know Iraq DIDN'T have WMDs (a fraudulent concept in and of itself, there is either nukes or no nukes and we know he was incapable of nukes). WMDs is a fictional term that means nothing.

    That said, we knew he didn't have them in 2002/2003 and we were concerned that he might really have them in 91/92. That is the virtually unspoken but core reason why Bush Sr. DIDN'T turn north in the during Desert Storm. Protestations about "keeping the coalition together" and the difficulties that a long term occupation would entail are the surface dressing at most.

    If we had real legitimate beliefs that Iraq had WMDs we would not have invaded, because Iraq would have used them, on Tel-Aviv, on our troops (which were NOT equipped and expecting to deal with with any serious CBN warfare).

    WMDs was the biggest FUD marketing message (that defines precisely nothing) in order to sell the war, but it was never a legitimate concern.

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    Your reasoning is a little simplistic and leaves out several other important geopolitical variables.

    1) Iraq has oil, N Korea doesn't. Whether you like it or not, or agree or not, the US is currently very dependent on oil and has a strategic interest in making sure oil flows smoothly out of the Persian Gulf. Meaning we want stability and friendly regimes there.

    2) Iraq is located in the middle east, which is an important region geopolitically for several reasons, including oil and Israel. N Korea is not in a location that is as important geopolitically.

    3) Iraq does not have a superpower on its border. N. Korea is right next to China. China would probably not tolerate the US invading N. Korea right in its front yard.

    So I would argue that it is a mistake to assume that N. Korea and Iraq present basically identical countries with an identical set of problems and issues, and whatever policy response we pursue for one must also be pursued with the other.

    While it was definitely a mistake to go to war with Iraq, the bigger mistake has been in the lack of planning for and inept management of the occupation after Saddam was removed from power.

    The diplomatic efforts, sanctions regime, and inspections imposed on Iraq throughout the 90's certainly wasn't working, and wasn't about to start working. Saddam was getting away with ignoring UN resolutions without consequence, so something different had to be done.

    Still, Iraq and Saddam were reasonably contained at the time so going to war with Iraq was clearly not necessary or the best option.

    Senators voted for the war because at the time the vast majority of people supported the president and his case for the war, and they wanted to be on the right side of public opinion. Plus I'm sure many of them believed the faulty intelligence information. At the time, it took a lot more courage politically to vote against the war than to vote for it. Now that public opinion has shifted, politicians again want to be with the majority.

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    FYI, Weapons of Mass Destruction includes chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear weapons.

    We knew Saddam had chemical and biological weapons.

  • Zak J. (unverified)

    Senators voted for the war because at the time the vast majority of people supported the president and his case for the war, and they wanted to be on the right side of public opinion. Plus I'm sure many of them believed the faulty intelligence information. At the time, it took a lot more courage politically to vote against the war than to vote for it. Now that public opinion has shifted, politicians again want to be with the majority.

    That's it in a nutshell, zman.

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    "We knew Saddam had chemical and biological weapons."

    If by that you mean we knew he had decade-old, poorly made and in any case no longer useful chemical weapons, that's true. I do not know of any evidence that Saddam had bio weapons, however.

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    Posted by: zman | Feb 28, 2007 1:40:49 PM

    Sorry but that's BS. Chemical weapons and biological weapons are called WMDs, but it is a bullshit term which means NOTHING. The only thing that can be classified a WMD is a nuke or very large conventional explosives. Anyone who seriously entertain chemical weapons or biological weapons as being a weapon of mass destruction is an idiot (and yes I realize that is going on 99% of the population and political hacks in the country on both sides of the aisle).


    Ask ANY person in the military who has gone through CBN training which they would rather have dropped down their chimney, a 50 gallon drum of nerve agent or anthrax, or a 500 lbs. conventional bomb. Chances are better than 50/50 they will and can survive the first 2, you would have to do DNA to positively ID the victim anything remaining in the later.

    What, some 7000 people exposed to Sarin gas in an enclosed, indoor environment (subway station) in Tokyo a few years back and how many people died... 4 you say?

    If that had been a 100 lbs of plain old sticks of dynamite that ANY FARMER has on hand for removing tree stumps and the like, and you could kill hundreds.

    The US military has flushed decades and billions of dollars trying to create weaponized versions of CB weapons that work, and none of them are effective compared to conventional explosives, much less something like an air-fuel bomb which is a conventional weapon.

    Chemical weapons and biological weapons are not WMDs, no matter how many dip-shits repeat this nearly universal, yet fraudulent abuse of the term (which in realty means nothing when applied to anything other than nukes). Reality and the laws of physics, chemistry and basic science disprove the notion they are anything but.

    You could let of a 1000 gallon drum of nerve agent in Pioneer square, and you wouldn't kill or harm as many people as as a rented Ryder truck filled with fertilizer (ask the people of OKC).

    Sorry, but the entire notion that almost everyone has bought into about WMDs (which is nothing ore than a phantom scare word) is enough to make me spit nails. It confirms the adage about nobody ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the public. What infuriates me is that people that do (or should) know better use it as the ultimate FUD (fear uncertaintiy & doubt) term for a political power calculus (and that goes for both sides of the aisle).

    It's bullshit. Pure, unadulterated bullshit.

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    Posted by: torridjoe | Feb 28, 2007 2:06:52 PM]

    Agreed. And even if Saddam had current "state of the art" chemical weapons and weaponized biological agents, so what?

    They are militarily ineffective.

    You can and will kill more people with conventional high explosives than you ever will with CB weapons. It is simply a fraudulent, made up term. Either you are talking about nukes, or conventional weapons. CB weapons is a boogeyman used to scare people into not thinking. Give me a wet tool and a quick glance at which way the wind is blowing (literally) over a cargo van filled with fertilizer any damn day of the year. Chances are I will walk away (well, run actually) from a chemical nerve agent attack.

    Sorry for somewhat highjacking the topic of this thread here (mea culpa to Steve, Kari and everyone else here) but my patience for idiots who don't know a damn thing about what they are talking about on this issue (and I included almost every politician on this issue, and they are ubiquitous despite whether the letter following their name is a D or an R) is gone. Utterly gone.

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    To be clear: I agree that Iraq having oil is a possible explanation for the invasion. My point is that the "reductive" argument given FOR invasion -- "well, a dangerous dictator has weapons of mass destruction" -- which WAS exactly how the war was sold, cannot be taken as a full, convincing argument when advanced by people who did not call for invading North Korea. If the real explanation is that they have oil, Senators should be called upon to give that explanation. If the reasoning is "We should attack dangerous dictatorships with weapons of mass destruction unless China is nearby," that's inconsistent with the Iraq reasoning that "we don't really care what anyone else thinks, we're invading countries with weapons of mass destruction."

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    Mea culpa. Upthread I strongly (and inccorrectly) asserted by implication that only 4 people died in the Tokyo subway Sarin attack. 12 people died out of over 7,000 exposed.

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    It seems that when anyone these days is talking about Iraq, foreign policy and terrorism the discussion crumbles because people resort to the logic of "you don't know what you're talking about" or "you don't understand."

    I admit, I do it too.

    However we can read and watch all of the news and commentary but will never have a true understanding of what happened/is happening.

    I think the best we can do in this sphere, at this time, is to focus on local issues and how national and international issues shape local issues. I'm not trying to minimize the importance of Iraq, foreign policy and terrorism but throwing cheap shots in the form of blog comments on a state-based blog doesn't get you anywhere.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Polls, not principles, have been driving our Iraqi adventure from day one.

    It all depends on what you mean by "day one." "Day one" could mean the date on the letter written by the neocons at the Project for a New American Century when very few people knew about their plans to invade Iraq in their pursuit to take over the world. If you are talking about when this option was dropped in Congress's lap and polls began considering the subject, then this statement is correct.

    Another point that we must remember is that Robert Byrd of WV and reputed authority on the Constitution in the Senate lectured the Senate, and for that matter the House and the nation, that writing a blank check for Bush to go to war was contrary to the Constitution. So Hillary, Smith and all others who voted for this sellout showed their indifference to the Constitution that they took an oath to defend. More recently, Smith demonstrated his continued contempt for the Constitution when he agreed to the Military Commissions Act and elimination of habeas corpus.

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    Posted by: Bill Bodden | Feb 28, 2007 3:57:34 PM

    Ding Ding Ding.. and we have a winner.

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    "...that's inconsistent...

    Since when are politicians logically consistent about anything? No one was ever elected to any office by having logically consistent policies on all issues.

    Both the Republican and Democratic party platforms have many logical inconsistencies, where they take one line of reasoning on one issue, yet another on another issue. Or one set of prinicples on one issue, and another on a different issue. This isn't new. It's called populism.

    When it comes to geopolitics, it's all about something called Realpolitik.

  • General Turgidson (unverified)

    zman raises a neat point.

    Perceptions of inconsistency and flip-flopping really aren't too far removed from actual thoughtfulness and careful consideration. Of course, if the 2004 election serves up a useful example, selling your opponent's seeming ambivalence to the public is a winning strategy: the public at large is only interested in positions and platforms, not any kind of intellectual processing. Could John Kerry ever explain himself, and in a clarifying, effective, sound-bite manner?

    Steve's article here portrays Smith as inconsistent but not inconsiderate. Guess which one will sell?

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    I like the way you laid out your explaination of WMD's and how you debunk the myth that they are really a threat. It's true that the term is really all about fear and making the public think they are at risk.


    I like your piece and one of these days I'd love to sit down and talk with you for a few minutes and pick your brain. I'm not sure the contrast of comparing Iraq to Korea though. I have been living in Korea for the last three years. The one thing I can say for sure is that the BS coming from the Bush Administration about North Korea is totally blown out of proportion. People tend to think Kim Jong Ill is crazy, but he's not. He is manipulative and a ruthless dictator for sure. I don't think North Korea is as big of a threat as people think he is. One reason is that China has a great deal of influence over NK, as witnessed recently after NK detonated a nuclear device (which was a small one at that).

    My wife's father is from Kaesong (which is now part of North Korea) and fought in the Korean War. I have become very interested in learning about the country and what is going on there.

    Anyway, sorry to get so far off topic. Please don't nuke me Kari! (ok, bad joke)

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    Perceptions of inconsistency and flip-flopping really aren't too far removed from actual thoughtfulness and careful consideration.

    Not to mention that if you modify your positions in any way based on what your constituents want you are a wishy-washy poll-driven flip-flopper and if you don't you are arrogantly ignoring the will of the people who elected you.

  • Ron Morgan (unverified)

    Bush's intention to invade Iraq was perfectly transparent, whatever mild protestations he may have offered to the contrary, he aimed the full force of the United States military and intelligence services toward that end. He endorsed a sea-change in policy in the National Security assessment of 2003 outlining the principle of preemptive war. I don't recall Hillary jumping up on the floor of the Senate or standing in front of a bank of cameras and protesting this flouting of international conventions and laws. Although she was a junior senator at that point, she had a unique perspective on the reach and limits of presidential powers, and has been on both the giving and receiving end of scores of policy briefs and wonk-tel. At that the time I was disgusted in general with the Democratic response to Bush's power grabs, but not surprised. Why not? Because although they decry Bush's imperial rule-by-diktat, I believe they wouldn't think it would be so bad if only they were the ones writing the presidential rulings and findings. I think that every Democratic candidate running for president needs to be asked:

    Will you restore the rights of habeas corpus violated by the Military Commissions Act?

    Will you reverse the policy of preemptive war outlined in the Bush regime's National Security Assessments?

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    I don't recall Hillary jumping up on the floor of the Senate or standing in front of a bank of cameras and protesting this flouting of international conventions and laws.

    This brings up another point that shoots down the if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now claims. The war on Iraq as initiated and practiced by the Bush Administration was in violaton of treaties and international conventions and laws to which the United States was a signatory. Anyone in the Senate, at least, should have been aware of that. Either they didn't care and were playing politics with other people's lives or they were incompetent. As for the House, there has long been a tendency to elect most representatives with parochial viewpoints so you can't expect too much out of them.

  • Barney Gorter (unverified)

    I am apologizing in advance for the rant I am about to begin. Every modern military conflict except for World War I and II has had serious economic undertones. Iraq is no different. The volume of oil that Saddam had under his control was unacceptable to the multinational, mega-corporate oil industry. The ruse of "national interest" has been used many times to seduce the American public in justifying the use of our military to protect corporate interests.

    We have become a nation perceived as valuing profits over people. We have demonstrated an unwillingness to be a cooperative partner in what is going on throughout the world. We have failed to accept the paradigm that other societies are catching up to us in technology and are now able to play on the world stage as our equals.

    There are those among us who are unable to accept that races other than white are as capable and that white people are in the minority. This wrongheaded view of the world persists amongst those in power. We must wrest the reins of power from these idiots before the world is destroyed.

    We must refocus our energies on the survival of the species. If we are truly the leaders of the world, we must lead by example. The example we are currently setting is that of the "bully," who doesn't think his stuff sticks.

  • Susan Abe (unverified)
    <h2>So, Barney, why except WWI and WWII?</h2>

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