Monday :: Feb 4, 2008

The October 2002 AUMF Iraq Resolution and November 2002 UN Resolution Against Iraq


by eriposte

After the Los Angeles debate last week, I was surprised to see this short comment by Josh Marshall at Talkingpointsmemo:

And even though it was gently, [Sen. Obama] kept hitting on this point of the authorization of the war. And it was very effective. There was just no really good answer for Clinton, though as I've said before many times I actually think there are decent arguments justifying the vote as not simply a vote for war.

"There was no really good answer for Clinton, though....." Well, let's just say that the portion in bold is one of the best kept secrets in the progressive blogosphere during this primary. It is particularly interesting to note this because when Sen. John Kerry was running for President, he used arguments very similar to what Sen. Clinton has been using and during that time he was actually defended by many in the progressive blogosphere. Now, things are a little bit different. (Sen. Clinton's explanation is more often than not met with derision or uncontrolled hatred or both).

Here's the issue. Sen. Clinton has been criticized by many progressives for claiming that she voted for the October 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq with a view of strengthening the inspections regime against Iraq and not with the idea of authorizing an unjustifiable and unilateral invasion of Iraq (as many critics allege). Now, there is no doubt that the resolution did authorize force against Iraq under certain conditions, but a review of the real history of what happened in the months preceding and following the AUMF makes it clear that Sen. Clinton has a very legitimate case, as did Sen. John Kerry when he was campaigning in 2004. You don't have to take my word for it.

In this post, I'm going to talk about some actual history of what happened at the time, behind the scenes, as recounted by Hans Blix - who was the Director General of the IAEA from 1981 to 1997 and the Executive Director of UNMOVIC from 2000 to 2003 in charge of the Iraq inspections team. Blix published a book "Disarming Iraq" in which he objectively recounted the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq as a high-level, third party, UN official who was closely involved both with US officials and Iraqi officials at the time. As you read the book you will notice that Blix tried his best to make the inspections work and he was not a supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. However, he repeatedly states in his book how important it was to establish a credible and unified threat of military force against Iraq to get Saddam to not just let inspectors back in but also agree to the stringent terms of the UN inspections regime without playing "cat-and-mouse" games with the inspectors and the UN. Indeed, Blix calls out how he specifically asked Colin Powell, in early Oct 2002, for help in getting a credible threat of force included in any resolution to make sure that Iraq would really comply with the UN inspections regime and not play games with the UN as they had historically done. I'm going to reproduce a few extracts from his book showing some of the chronology and I will follow that up with comments from other bloggers (from back in 2004) - to make it clear that it was a very legitimate argument that Democrats who voted for the resolution might have partly done so in order to make sure that the inspections regime against Iraq worked - the kind of inspections that Sen. Obama said he was very much for in his Oct 2002 speech. Put another way, without a credible and unified threat of force, Blix's view was that it was rather unlikely that Iraq would have really agreed to an unimpeded inspections process, even though his view was that the threat of force should not have carried over into an invasion in March 2003. This view is not significantly different from that of Sen. Kerry or Sen. Clinton.

This post is separated into the following sections for clarity. (Note that all emphasis in quoted portions is mine, unless otherwise stated.)

1. Sen. Clinton's speech in Oct 2002

2. Chronology and History from Hans Blix: Summer 2002 - November 2002

3. Claims by Other Leading Democrats (such as Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Kerry) regarding AUMF

4. What Some Progressive Bloggers Have Said

5. The Levin Amendment

6. Conclusions


1. Sen. Clinton's speech in Oct 2002

Sen. Clinton's entire speech when she voted in favor of the AUMF is here. It is entirely legitimate for those who criticize Sen. Clinton for this vote to take away the interpretation they want to take away and there's nothing I say here today that is likely going to change anyone's minds. However, it is important to reflect the historical record more accurately so that people who are not familiar with what happened have all the facts they need to make up their mind.

Sen. Clinton's speech reflects considerable nuance - and rightly so. She makes some categorical statements against pre-emptive invasion in the speech - so let me mention the related portions:

Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now, with any allies we can muster, in the belief that one more round of weapons inspections would not produce the required disarmament, and that deposing Saddam would be a positive good for the Iraqi people and would create the possibility of a secular democratic state in the Middle East, one which could perhaps move the entire region toward democratic reform.

This view has appeal to some, because it would assure disarmament; because it would right old wrongs after our abandonment of the Shiites and Kurds in 1991, and our support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980's when he was using chemical weapons and terrorizing his people; and because it would give the Iraqi people a chance to build a future in freedom.

However, this course is fraught with danger. We and our NATO allies did not depose Mr. Milosevic, who was responsible for more than a quarter of a million people being killed in the 1990s. Instead, by stopping his aggression in Bosnia and Kosovo, and keeping on the tough sanctions, we created the conditions in which his own people threw him out and led to his being in the dock being tried for war crimes as we speak.

If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia to attack Chechen rebels. India has mentioned the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Pakistan. And what if China were to perceive a threat from Taiwan?

So Mr. President, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, on the present facts is not a good option.

[...]

Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.

Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go way with delay will oppose any UN resolution calling for unrestricted inspections.

This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make -- any vote that may lead to war should be hard -- but I cast it with conviction.

[...]

My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for uni-lateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose -- all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world.


2. Chronology and History from Hans Blix: Summer 2002 - November 2002

I am going to list some pertinent extracts from Blix's book "Disarming Iraq". In a nutshell, Blix says that despite news in the U.S. media in summer 2002 that the Bush administration might be contemplating military action against Iraq, even as of late-August 2002, the Iraqi government was not co-operating fully and was unwilling to submit to a robust inspections process. After Bush's speech to the UN in September 2002, the Iraqi Government started to soften up. However, Blix was not convinced then that Iraq would submit to unfettered UN inspections on the UN's terms (without playing "cat-and-mouse" games), in the absence of a resolution that had a credible and unified threat of force behind it. He believed it was important to have a new UN resolution to enforce the inspections on Iraq and he specifically asked Colin Powell for help, in early October 2002, in establishing a credible threat of force in any resolution that might be drafted. Blix also affirms that the UN resolution itself implicitly carried a threat of force as a result, although it was worded diplomatically.

2.1 Summer 2002

Page 4:

The military force, whose buildup had begun in the summer of 2002 and had been an essential reason why Iraq had accepted the inspectors back....

Pages 11-12:

What would have happened if the U.S. Government had been willing to continue the traditional policy?

Without a military buildup by the U.S. in the summer of 2002, Iraq would probably have not accepted a resumption of inspections. However, if we assume this buildup and the return of inspectors, it is conceivable that a moderate continued buildup, continued inspections with no denials of access, and a guarantee of large-scale interviews with technical people in Iraq could have shown in time that there were no weapons of mass destruction. It would surely have been difficult to persuade both inspectors and the world, let alone the U.S., but if there had not been hopeful results by, say July 2003, when the 120-day period would have expired, it seems likely that a majority in the Security Council might have been ready to authorize armed action, which could have started with UN legitimacy after the summer heat - and revealed that there were no weapons.

For my part, I felt at the time that Iraq's inability or unwillingness to prove it had no weapons of mass destruction was a reason not to have confidence in the country and not to lift sanctions. However, since its level of cooperation was much better than it had rendered inspectors in earlier years, I did not think that inspections should be curtailed and declared a failure after only three and a half months - and used as a justification to go to war.

2.2 July-August 2002

Page 63:

Although the continued public discussion in the U.S. about possible armed action against Iraq must have worried the Iraqi side, we do not know how much of this was communicated to Saddam Hussein. In June, before the next round of the dialogue, there was no indication of a more flexible position [from Iraq]. Quite the contrary.

Page 64-65:

Views expressed in the media had hinted that there was a political global warming on the Iraq issue and that the talks in Vienna [with Iraq] could tip the scales toward war or peace. Hundreds of journalists were waiting downstairs with their cameras and microphones. When we concluded the Vienna talks on July 5, 2002, however, no progress had been made. Kofi Annan could not very well set a date for a new session and contribute to a false impression that the dialogue was going somewhere, as I had seen no readiness on the Iraqi part to discuss practical arrangements for inspections, I was also not willing to agree to and set a date for a further separate meeting of the "technical subcommittee."
[...]
...Ten days later, however, [Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri] sought to put a more positive spin on Vienna. Briefing ambassadors in Baghdad, he added to the rich lore of the old city by saying that in Vienna, "a breakthrough was achieved"...
[...]

Pages 66-67:

They [the Iraqis] were completely wrong. I felt they had stonewalled in Vienna and just persisted in a procedure that was unacceptable.
[...]
The tone seemed to become harder on inspections. In an interview in Baghdad on August 27, 2002, Iraq's vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, attributed the negative response from New York to the "new spy" - me - being directed by the U.S.
[...]
This would become a lost opportunity for Iraq. Had they accepted inspection pure and simple and gone through all the practical arrangements, they would have gooten a somewhat more lenient inspection regime than the one the Council decided on a few months later. From my point of view, this outcome was not a bad thing.

2.3 September 2002

Pages 74-75:

[After Bush's speech to the UN] On Sunday, September 15, Kofi Anna asked me to come down and see him at the UN. He told me that he expected the Iraqis to declare that they accepted the return of inspectors and wanted early discussions in Baghdad or Vienna about practical arrangements...We should go to Baghdad and offer Iraq the benefit of inspection only when they accepted the practical arrangements we needed: full and free access, landing rights and a host of other things.
[...]
Kofi Annan received Naji Sabri's official letter about the decision "to allow the return of the United Nations weapons inspectos to Iraq without conditions" on Monday afternoon, September 16....The Iraqi government was ready to discuss "the practical arrangements necessary for the immediate resumption of inspections".

Page 76:

The discussion of a new resolution on inspection continued in the corridors. The Iraqis made it known that they were against it and hinted that they might rescing their invitation for renewed inspections if the conditions were changed. What they particularly feared, I would guess, was a clause authorizing armed force in case of non-compliance, or some time limit within which the Security Council had to be satisfied that there were no unresolved disarmament issues left. Some states felt no new resolution was needed and that we could operate on the basis of existing ones. I was, personally, in favor of a new text, and I made no secret about it. It seemed reasonable to me that since we were starting afresh and in an atmosphere that was much more demanding of Iraq than that which had prevailed when Resolution 1284 had been adopted a year before, we should be given language we could use against any renewed cat-and-mouse play.

2.4 October 2002

Blix - along with other UN officials - came to Washington in early October 2002 to discuss the Security Council resolution with the Bush administration. He goes into some detail on this, but here is a relevant segment.

Page 81:

Colin Powell asked me to present my views on how the inspection regime could be strengthened. I welcomed the efforts being made and was pleased to offer some comments and suggestions:

  • The rights of the inspectors under the existing regime could not be said to be weak and should be confirmed.[...]
  • We welcomed new provisions that would help us to prevent a repetition of Iraq's cat-and-mouse play and lead to the acquisition of credible information.
    [...]
  • A consensus in the Security Council was vital. To operate inspections with half the Council for and the other half against would be bad.
  • A clause signaling forceful action in case of non-compliance would be valuable. Iraq did not move without forceful, sustained pressure, and it simply shrugged off economic sanctions.

What happened later in October 2002? Blix says the following in page 84:

Some said that the U.S. was only feigning interest in the UN and that its war plans were already made. Others said that the draft resolution was moving forward. I did not see that increasing military pressure and readiness for armed action necessarily excluded a desire for a peaceful solution. If that was what the U.S. wanted, strong inspections would be needed.
[...]

I walked over to the hotel from the UN and met Colin Powell alone for half an hour. He said that the U.S. was serious about wanting a solution without armed force and impressed on me how important it now was to beef up our inspection plans and machinery. The U.S. would help us in any way it could.

2.5 November 2002

Pages 89-90:

On November 8, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 by unanimous vote, the Syrain delegation having received last-minute authorization to vote in favor. The text declared in no uncertain terms that although Iraq was in breach of earlier resolutions it was being given one last opportunity. Iraq was requested to provide immediate, unconditional and active cooperation to the inspectors. Any further "material breach" would lead the Council "to consider the situation and the need for compliance" - diplomatic language for possible armed action.
[...]
...it was still a draconian resolution that would not have been accepted by any state that was not under direct threat of armed attack. For good measure, it declared that all the practical arrangements that I and Mohamed ElBaradei had listed in our joint letter to the Iraqi side would be binding on Iraq.

In summary, Hans Blix, certainly no fan of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, repeatedly explains that a credible threat of force against Iraq was critical to get inspectors back into Iraq under conditions that were set by the UN (not by Iraq). He says "I did not see that increasing military pressure and readiness for armed action necessarily excluded a desire for a peaceful solution" - which is no different from what Sen. Kerry and Sen. Clinton have stated repeatedly.


3. Claims by Other Leading Democrats (such as Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Kerry) regarding AUMF

There is no doubt that several Democrats voted against AUMF because they felt that it authorized war. Back in Oct 2002, I felt there was a significant probability of war because of the resolution but also that a strong inspections regime would not have been possible without AUMF and the UN resolution 1441 that followed it. In other words, the vote was one with considerable nuance that could not be explained as a simple yes-no position on an invasion of Iraq. (You could even say that it was the kind of vote that Sen. Obama likes to miss or vote present on.)

Mike Pridmore has a good diary at MyDD that discusses some of this and I'm going to borrow from his work here (NOTE: I know Ted Kennedy voted against AUMF but that is not the point here. The point is Kennedy himself acknowledged that it was legitimate to give Bush benefit of the doubt and that it was a legitimate argument that a Democrat might have voted in favor of this resolution without necessarily supporting an invasion of Iraq):

The biggest problem Barack has with the Iraq War Vote, the one that supposedly shows his superior judgment, is that his most high profile supporter, Oprah notwithstanding, is on the record supporting Hillary Clinton's position. On March 21 2004, Teddy Kennedy was on Meet the Press. First, Tim Russert pointed out that in 2002 Ted had clearly said that Bush was trustworthy on the issue (link):

MR. RUSSERT: Back in 2002, your tone towards the president and the war was much different. Let me show you. "In this serious time for America and many American families, no one should poison the public square by attacking the patriotism of opponents, or by assailing proponents as more interested in the cause of politics than in the merits of their cause. I reject this, as should we all. Let me say it plainly, I not only concede, but I am convinced that President Bush believes genuinely in the course he urges upon us. ...There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime is a serious danger, that he is [a] tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated." What happened? Why did you change your...

After making the incorrect assertion that President Bush and Congress were acting on the same information, Russert asked the $64,000 question: Was John Kerry wrong to vote authorization for war?:

So the president and the Congress was acting on the same information, and now you're saying the president lied when, in fact, your colleague, Senator Kerry, voted for war, voted for the authorization and said on the floor of the Senate, "Saddam has weapons of mass destruction."
---------------------------------------- ------
MR. RUSSERT: Was John Kerry wrong to vote authorization for war?

It is at that point that Kennedy started making pretty much the same case that Hillary is making now:

SEN. KENNEDY: Look, he has explained his position. If John Kerry had been president of the United States with that vote, we never, I don't believe, gone to war, certainly not at that time. He would have worked through the inspection system. He would have worked through the international kinds of system, and I don't personally believe that we would have gone to war. I think he was...

MR. RUSSERT: His vote was a mistake?

SEN. KENNEDY: His think--no. I think he was thinking about what he would want if he was president of the United States, and I think he would have probably wanted that power.


4. What Some Progressive Bloggers Have Said

As Mike also points out:

Ted Kennedy was not the only one who basically agreed with Hillary's position at the time. Bob Somerby, Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall (link) all seemed to be taking on the idea one hears most often from Obama supporters, that anyone paying attention should have known better than to trust George Bush at the time. In August 2004 this position was taken, among other places, in the New York Times (link):

Mr. Kerry, as almost everyone now knows, voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq, in a post-9/11 climate of fear and widespread conviction that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that might be used against the United States or its allies in the near future. Now that we know differently, some senators have said they regret their vote. Not Mr. Kerry. He affirmed once again last week that he believes he did the right thing. It was Mr. Bush who erred, he continued, by misusing the power he had been given.
[...]

Bob Somerby said (link)

Readers, get ready for some real brain-work! Here goes: Kerry says Bush should have had the authority to go to war, but then went to war prematurely. Wow! Have you finished scratching your heads about all the nuance involved in that statement? It's hard to believe that any grown person could pretend that this is complex or confusing. But that's the official RNC line -- Kerry is simply filled with nuance -- and obliging scribes are typing it up, pretending this claim makes good sense.

Kevin Drum said (link):

You can decide for yourself whether you like this position, but it's not hard to grasp. That's especially true for the press, since they know very well that there are lots and lots of liberal hawks and other former war supporters who have exactly the same position: pressuring Saddam was good, inspections were good, and eventually war might have been good too.

But Bush blew it: he failed to rally world opinion, he failed to get the Arab world on our side, he failed to let the inspections process run its course, and he failed to plan properly for the postwar occupation. The result is a loss of American power and prestige, a diminished chance of Iraq becoming a pluralistic democracy, and an al-Qaeda that's been given a second lease on life thanks to George Bush's Queeg-like obsession with Saddam Hussein.

Not so hard to understand at all.

Josh Marshall chimed in:

I think I've demurred from discussing or rather defending Kerry's position on this issue because I have an element of bias, since it is also my position. But as Kevin notes, whether or not you agree with that position, it is really not difficult to understand so long as you are not being willfully obtuse.
...In any case, all of this is merely a too-lengthy way of noting that giving the president the authority and the muscle to force the inspectors back into Iraq (i.e., giving him the authority to go to war if they were not allowed back in) simply cannot be equated with giving the president the go-ahead to game the process and go to war immediately even if they were allowed in.

I would encourage you to read Mike's entire post and this one as well which has more information on what John Kerry said.


5. The Levin Amendment

I also want to add some comments on the Levin amendment since Sen. Clinton is getting attacked on this as well. Sam Stein has an article up at The Huffington Post titled "War Opponents Dispute Clinton's Account of Levin Amendment":

I have the greatest respect for my friend and colleague, Senator Levin," she said. "The way that amendment was drafted suggested that the United States would subordinate whatever our judgment might be going forward to the United Nations Security Council. I don't think that was a good precedent. Therefore, I voted against it."

This, war opponents say, is a stretch. Indeed, the Levin amendment - which was defeated by a vote of 24 to 75 - allowed the government to pursue an invasion of Iraq even if the United Nations voted against such a course of action. Congress, the bill read, should "not adjourn" before it "promptly considers proposals related to Iraq if the United Nations fails to adopt such a resolution."

Levin himself said as much in an October speech on the Senate floor. "My resolution affirms that, under international law and the U.N. Charter, the United States has at all times the inherent right to use military force in self-defense, affirming the fact that there is no U.N. veto over U.S. military action," he said.

In my view, many "war opponents" will always dispute what Hillary Clinton says. However, I have read the Levin Amendment (available through this link) and Sen. Levin and some of these "war opponents" are wrong. The wording of the amendment was vague enough that it was very much subject to the exact interpretation that Sen. Clinton has outlined. First, if we set aside the self-defense clause for a second, there is no doubt that the amendment did not permit the U.S. government to attack Iraq without U.N. Security Council approval. Without such approval, the President would have had to return to Congress again to seek military force authorization. So, if the intent was to eventually give the President the ability to declare war regardless of UN authorization - through a follow-up Bill - then why tie up the President with this amendment relegating U.S. military decision-making to the U.N. Security Council, a Council that has members that don't exactly share our national security interests? Second, the wording in the amendment about "self-defense" was very much subject to interpretation. The amendment said that "under international law and the United Nations Charter, the United States has at all times the inherent right to use military force in self-defense" - since the wording referred to "international law and the United Nations charter" it is the most logical interpretation that even the notion of "self-defense" was something that the UN would have to define and approve. In short, it was and is entirely justifiable to interpret this amendment the way Sen. Clinton and some other Senators did (see below).

Indeed, Sen. Russell Feingold was one of those who voted against AUMF. As it turns out he voted against the Levin amendment just like Sen. Clinton did and his explanation was no different from Sen. Clinton's:

Today, Sen. Obama criticized Hillary for voting against the 2002 Levin amendment to the Iraq war resolution, claiming "the Levin Amendment simply suggested we should allow the inspectors to act."

Actually, that's not an accurate description of the provision. The Levin amendment specifically said that the "President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States" but only "pursuant to a resolution of the United Nation Security Counsel." [sic] This caused concern among many Senators, including staunchly anti-war Senators like Russ Feingold:

"Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise to briefly comment on Senator Levin's alternative proposal relating to Iraq. Some of my colleagues for whom I have tremendous respect have tried to address the fact that the administration's proposal is simply not good enough by emphasizing the desirability of a United Nations resolution, thus transforming this dangerous unilateral proposal into an internationally sanctioned multilateral mission. But while I recognize that international support is a crucial ingredient in any recipe for addressing the weapons of mass destruction threat in Iraq without undercutting the fight against terrorism, I will not and cannot support any effort to give the United Nations Security Council Congress's proxy in deciding whether or not to send American men and women into combat in Iraq. No Security Council vote can answer my questions about plans for securing WMD or American responsibilities in the wake of an invasion of Iraq. It is for this reason that I must oppose the proposal of the distinguished Senator from Michigan." [Congressional Record, S10257-58, 10/10/02]

The language of the Levin Amendment would have made it the law of the land that the President could not act without Security Council approval. That is a limitation on national sovereignty which Senator Clinton was unprepared to accept as a matter of principle, and in light of the situation we faced in 1999 when NATO acted to prevent a genocide in Kosovo without the approval of the Security Council, which was deadlocked. Defenders of the provision note that the Levin amendment said the matter could be referred back to Congress if the Security Council did not act. But that was a meaningless provision. Congress can always pass another law to supersede a previous one.

Other Senators who voted against the Levin amendment include Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), among others. Sen. Graham, like Sen. Feingold, voted against the AUMF.


6. Conclusions

Sen. Clinton's position on the AUMF was nuanced, as is evident from her speech in Oct 2002. She was emphatic at the time that her vote was not a vote to simply authorize war but to help secure a credible threat of force to enable a renewed and robust inspections regime in Iraq. Her position was not that different from the one taken by other Democrats at the time - such as Sen. John Kerry - who like her have expressed regret for trusting Bush on this vote. Needless to say, this does not in any way mean that there were no political overtones in their votes. However, even credible and independent observeres like Hans Blix have made it clear that it was much less likely that robust inspections would have been possible if there had not been a credible threat of force against Iraq at the time.

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