Through the Iraq Looking Glass

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

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Hillary Clinton: Well, I hope the fact-checkers are turning up the volume and really working hard. Donald supported the invasion of Iraq.

Donald Trump: Wrong.

Mrs. Clinton: That is absolutely proved over and over again.

Mr. Trump: Wrong. Wrong.

Mrs. Clinton: He actually advocated for the actions we took in Libya and urged that Gadhafi be taken out. . . .

* * *

So that exchange, from last night’s debate, is where we’ve come to in respect of Iraq — the two contenders in the presidential election each blaming the other for agreeing with them. To capture its full drama would take someone like the absurdist French playwright Eugene Ionesco (now gone to that great irony in the sky, alas).

This newspaper supported the war at the start, the middle, the end, and still does. We don’t have a clear idea of whether Mr. Trump was with us at the start. We do know that Mrs. Clinton said she was with us and voted that way. Why she would want to tar Mr. Trump with the mistake of agreeing with her, well, it is just one of those mysteries.

Perhaps it is that Mrs. Clinton wants people to believe that Mr. Trump was just as gullible as she has concluded she was. Then again, too, that takes a willing suspension of disbelief. Plus, it would set them both up for the fidelity question. What kind of commander in chief precipitates our GIs into a foreign expedition and then, in the middle of the fight, heads for the hills?

That’s what Mrs. Clinton and Senator-cum-secretary Kerry did. They supported the war only to abandon the cause once the fight grew more desperate than they’d anticipated. This is where President Bush found his finest hour, winning the surge when everyone else was waffling. It worked, securing for Iraq a taste of victory that presaged well for post-war years like those we had at Germany and Japan.

Then came Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries. That was what we like to call the Looking Glass Primary, the one in which the Democrats fell through the mirror and Mr. Obama seized what appeared to be the high ground by arguing that Iraq, though we’d just won it, was the wrong war. This all came to a head in the debate at Orangeburg, South Carolina.

That was the debate in which Mrs. Clinton said that “if I knew then what I know now, I would not have voted” for the war. It was also the debate in which she threatened our allies in these words: “If this president does not get us out of Iraq, when I’m president I will.” Of course the party of appeasement didn’t believe her (because she voted for the war), so it nominated Mr. Obama.

Now Mrs. Clinton seems to be worried that if Mr. Trump gets away with his suggestion that he was against the war at the beginning the way Mr. Obama was, maybe some of the Bernie Sanders Democrats will turn around and vote for Mr. Trump. The Mad Hatter couldn’t be more neurotic than she seems to be on this head.

Which no doubt stems from the fact that the early retreat from Iraq that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama promised at Orangeburg and that Mr. Obama actually carried out, with her support, set the stage for the current crisis, the advance of the Islamic State. This — the vacuum Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton left in the Iraq theater — was well-marked by Mr. Trump in last night’s debate.

Whether Mr. Trump was right on the Iraq war at the start (meaning for it, as Mrs. Clinton suggests) or wrong on the war at the start (as Mr. Trump insists he was), he is right on the war now (though Mrs. Clinton thinks he is wrong). That he recognizes that Mrs. Clinton is now wrong on the war underscores the idea that he has finally got it right. So now Mrs. Clinton is angry at him for supporting her on the war in Libya (until she abandoned it). Go figure.

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