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October 27, 2007

Words Have Meaning

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Team Clinton sends out Madeline Albright to repeat the 'vote for diplomacy' meme, though now something that Chuck Hagel thinks will "escalate the danger of a military confrontation" has been renamed "robust diplomacy", which is somehow supposed to be better than the namby-pamby diplomacy favored some unnamed strawman. Let's turn the mic over to publius of Obsidian Wings:

Second, Clinton’s Iran vote is a big deal. As a matter of common sense, there’s no reason to vote for any foreign policy resolution entitled “Kyl-Lieberman.” More substantively, she’s not voting in a vacuum. She knows exactly what the effects of these actions are -- and how they make military action far more likely. It’s true of course that she -- wisely -- co-sponsored Webb’s Iran legislation. But I classify that under “hedging her panders.” Depending on what crowd she’s speaking to, she can pull out either the Kyl-Lieberman or the Webb card.

I honestly don’t know what Hillary Clinton personally thinks about this stuff. And, frankly, I don’t care. The problem with Hillary is not what she thinks. The problem is her willingness to support more war-oriented foreign policy to avoid looking like a Woodstock hippy. She did it in 2002 -- and she’s just gone and done it again. And it's something to be sincerely concerned about.

The relevant question is not what Clinton thinks Kyl-Lieberman means. Even if she thinks it's a vote for diplomacy, that only matters if the Bush adminstration agrees. And there have been no indications that this is the case, beyond David Brooks's reading of the President's body language and op-eds from Fred Hiatt's shop. As John Edwards said in a statement, "if you give this president an inch, he will take a mile—and launch a war", which is precisely the problem with voting for Kyl-Lieberman. If Clinton really wanted to show some leadership, she ought to do something to prevent that unlikely-but-not-impossible scenario; say, by seeing to it that the Webb Amendment becomes law as soon as humanly possible.

October 27, 2007 | Permalink


Excellent post, Nicholas.

She is beginning to get Orwellian (or should we say Bushian) in her use of language. Yes, words have their meaning and her vote for Kyl-Lieberman has real consequences: it enables Bush to march toward war and it reveals Clinton to be an interventionist. Does it matter to dead Americans or dead Iraquis or dead Iranians that she is a liberal interventionist or a neo-con? The suffering, the blood, the death, is all the same.

Posted by: Tom Wells | Oct 27, 2007 4:21:57 PM

I think the Kyl-Lieberman vote is a great prism for primary voters to view the top three Democrats, Hillary's vote was too calculating and shows her obsessive worry over protecting her right flank. Obama offered no leadership at the time and has seemed disenguous after co-sponsoring a similar measure in the spring. Edwards was the one whose taken the right lesson from the Bush years coming out first in opposition to the vote and providing the real contrast with Clinton.

Posted by: AJ | Oct 27, 2007 4:33:02 PM

After seven years, you would think that people would learn that there is nothing that can really affect Bush's decision to go to war or not, and whether there is a war or not. Clinton's vote on Kyl-Lieberman was no more important or determinative than her votes in 2002. And Clinton understands this, even if you don't.

So since all these votes on foreign policy matters or defense appropriations/supplementals are substantially irrelevant, they are in essence "free votes" that can be taken for political calculation.

Clinton has apparently determined that the anti-war contingent presents no danger to her election chances. Considering the immense moral weight the anti-war contingent has put on these purely symbolic votes, and despite all evidence and even their own admission that nothing will stop the Chimp, their delusional attitude that Congressional actions on the war(s) are somehow interesting or important, I don't blame her.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 27, 2007 4:37:50 PM

I don't know bob. The first step in "success by showing backbone" is, well, showing backbone. It's only then that you start to reap potential political rewards from showing backbone and thus get yourself into a position to constrain the Chimp.

The alternative is sit back, buy some popcorn and just watch the Chimp go for it. Isn't it better to try?

Posted by: Meh | Oct 27, 2007 4:44:40 PM

The Webb amendment will now never be signed by Bush if it even passes the senate.

That should have been the first piece of legislation to go through. Clinton went along with Lieberman, the liar and now expects us to think there is nothing wrong with that.

I really concur with your point that what is important is Bush's view of what this means not Clinton's view. Her job was to consider what his view and use of this would be like.

Posted by: pioneer | Oct 27, 2007 4:53:19 PM

"Isn't it better to try?"

Naomi Wolf over at Firedoglake programs the first incremental steps toward general strikes and revolution. (Not bothering to link here.) At first it looked purely symbolic and ineffective until I read Rosa Luxemberg's pamphlet on Mass Strikes at MIA. Wolf may know what she is doing.

But if you have the System stuck so far up your butt that you think the back-and-forth is your own initiative, I guess you depend on your elected representatives to stop before they move on to your brothers, sisters, kids. Or at least, in the case of pretty-pleasing symbolic votes, use a little lube.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 27, 2007 4:57:17 PM

To bob macmanus. In what way are the votes for appropriations irrelevant? It is the only way Bush can keep funding the war. These are hugely significant and the fact that the Democrats keep giving Bush the funds is very demoralizing. If you are saying that the Democratic leadership doesn't care what the majority in the country want, that seems to be true. However if this is clearly pointed out, then Clinton's votes become significant and offer a choice of leadership to people voting in the primaries and the election. As long as people don't understand the nature of these votes, they don't know what they are voting for.

Posted by: pioneer | Oct 27, 2007 4:58:56 PM

"It is the only way Bush can keep funding the war."

wrong. Cheney would love to revisit impoundment (among other options) with a much more friendly court, and I hope & believe Congress understands this. But I am trolling. Carry on.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 27, 2007 5:18:22 PM

This insistence on changing everything that happens in the modern political arena to something out of 1984 is really sad. Look, the far left are not the only people dissatisfied with the state of the country. Even if you disagree with other parts of the party, or America, on what should be done does not mean that everything can reduced to some conspiracy.

Bob is right, if the Bush adminstration wants to launch airstrikes on Iran then he will with or without a bill. If you really think attacking Iran is a bad idea and you really think Bush is going to do it, you people should focus your time and effort on passing the Webb amendment rather than all this time debating unverfiable claims about "secret implications" of what the Kyl-Lieberman amendment might mean.

Posted by: Phil | Oct 27, 2007 6:12:22 PM

bob mcmanus...

i certainly know that i cant match political wits with you...but this is just my opinion.
by voting as she has, regarding iraq and iran, i think hillary has displayed poor leadership for the democrats. and to me, that matters.
also, the health care fiasco showed a lack of inclusiveness and an arrogance in her use of power.
more things i dont like about her.
i really dont think she can bring people together.
maybe her votes are like moves in a tactical chessgame that i dont understand, but her voting pattern doesnt represent me.
therefore, i dont want to vote for her.
and i wish i could be enthusiastically campaigning for al gore or jim webb.
i feel no enthusiasm or inspired confidence for any of the political candidates, and i find that very upsetting when our country is in so much trouble.

Posted by: jacqueline | Oct 27, 2007 6:21:41 PM

There is also the question of whether or not the talking point holds any water ... whether labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group is, on its own merit as a symbolic act, a step toward or away from diplomacy.

According to European analysts reported on by the LA Times, no so much:

"The idea that there is a clear separation between the population and the Revolutionary Guard is completely false," said Thierry Colville of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris.

"There has been an eight-year war with 500,000 dead in Iran," he said, referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "It looks like the U.S. has forgotten this war, which legitimized the Guard."

Understanding that this kind of posturing is not hermetically sealed within US borders may have been part of the reason that top four Democrats and top two Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against this resolution.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Oct 27, 2007 7:33:41 PM

I am with Bob and Phil - if Bush bombs Iraq, the Lieberman bill will be used as windowdressing - but he can use anything as window dressing. Remember, Bush only needs to address his deadender supporters, now comfortably at 25 percent. He's done it all this year and the last year and the year before that. He's a uniter - of the road rage testosterone army - rather than a divider.

Iran's Maginot line is the price of oil per barrel. The white house is probably noting, at the moment, that 92 dollars per barrel isn't shocking anyone, or weighing on the stock market. I'm sure Dick Cheney has pointed this out. Of course, Cheney's buy now pay later policy pretty much led to the political collapse of the GOP in 2006, but the Dems have demonstrated since then a systematic inability to use power to please their base - although they have certainly pleased their d.c. consultants.

So many in the liberal blogosphere have expressed smug satisfaction that, unlike the 60s radicals, who spit on the troops and did the mean face to the establishment, the new anti-war movement is so respectful to the troops, and so pleased with the establishment, that they have to be loved by everybody. And they have been really polite. They simply haven't accomplished anything.

Posted by: roger | Oct 27, 2007 9:10:16 PM

The relevant question is not what Clinton thinks Kyl-Lieberman means. Even if she thinks it's a vote for diplomacy, that only matters if the Bush adminstration agrees.

What an odd assertion for a post entitled "Words Have Meaning." Surely, what the words in Kyl-Lieberman mean is not up to Bush any more than it is up to Clinton. They mean what they mean.

As to what political effect they may or may not have--which is what is really at issue here--that comes down, as does everything in politics, to a contest of power, in a field shaped by institutional rules. And in that respect, the words in this legislation are not likely to have any effect at all. If Bush wins the power contest over Iran with them, he would also have won it without them. If he could have been stopped without them, he can be stopped with them. They neither add nor subtract substantially enough from the power of either side to work its will, to be decisive in the contest.

If Bush chooses to launch a war with Iran, he may well cite Kyl-Lieberman as part of his justification. That will be a transparently false claim--the legislation as passed gives him no such authority. Would Bush feel himself in the slightest measure restrained if this legislation did not exist? Hardly. If he wishes a war with Iran, he will find no shortage of pretexts, all equally bogus. That they are bogus does not mean they will not work.

If he launches a war with Iran claiming that Kyl-Lieberman gave him authority to do so, the response will have to be just as it would have to be for any other pretext he chooses to seize upon: invocation of Congressional war powers, immediate cutoff of funding for further offensive operations, articles of impeachment. With or without Kyl-Lieberman, such a response may well fail politically, but it will be the only hope, nontheless. Our system affords no other, not at least until January of 2009. The constitutional crisis will be upon us, and there won't be anywhere for the Congress to hide.

The Webb legislation is another matter entirely. Its words will, if passed, have the power to stop any Bush drive for war with Iran in its tracks. I do not know if such legislation can pass, but I am sure it has a better chance than the sort of ex post facto effort just described.

Kyl-Lieberman is a sideshow. If you want an example of a Clinton pander (an inconsequential gesture made primarily for political advantage), that's where you'll find it. The Webb amendment is no pander. It is, at present, the one and only chance, to avoid the possibility of having to halt a war with Iran after that war is already under way. It is, by far, the most consequential measure the 110th Congress will consider.

Posted by: Amileoj | Oct 27, 2007 11:07:22 PM

'It was not a vote for war.'
Hillary Clinton, September 2008
just after the US has bombed Iran

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