In her book Hillary’s Choice, Gail Sheehy reports that Mrs. Clinton pressed the president to initiate military action in Kosovo in 1999. When Mr. Clinton worried that such action could have undesirable effects, including the prospect of even more civilian casualties, Hillary persisted, arguing that the risks of inaction were greater than the risks of action.
In her floor speech before the Iraq war vote, more than three years after she urged her husband on to act in Kosovo, Sen. Clinton pointed approvingly to his decision, and drew parallels to the Bush administration’s rationale for removing Saddam from power. You can apply those same justifications to any number of unsavory regimes around the world today.
But should we? The costs of intervening in the Balkans were extraordinarily low compared to those of invading Iraq. Relying exclusively on air power, the U.S. ultimately succeeded in forcing the Serbs to desist in their campaign against the Albanian Kosovars. The bombing campaign lasted less than three months, and resulted in zero American combat fatalities. By contrast, we’re now four years into Iraq, with 3,200 American troops dead, more than $400 billion spent, and no end in sight.
Has the Iraq experience shaken Sen. Clinton’s faith? Have our multiple failures in Iraq instilled a newfound appreciation for the unintended consequences that inevitably flow from all wars, even those fought with the best of intentions? We simply don’t know. And what do the rest of the Democrats in office think? If past history is any guide, many Democrats will renew their enthusiasm for military intervention once one of their own is back in the Oval Office.
If all Hillary has learned from the Iraq war is that the Bush administration botched the execution, if she remains convinced that the ideas that fueled the war were sound, then we could see even more foreign wars under a future President Clinton than we have under her predecessors. That can’t be much comfort to Americans anxious for a new direction in U.S. foreign policy.
Considering how so many Democratic rank-and-file are willing to pull out of Iraq and let the chips fall where they may, I’ve wondered how they now feel about Bill Clinton’s nation-building and military efforts in Haiti, the Balkans, etc. The Iraq war vote argument is about the past; Hillary Clinton might find herself facing a much tougher reception if she were asked to lay out her beliefs on using military force abroad in the future, with specific examples.