Hillary Clinton: U.S. military assistance to Iraqi government must have specific conditions

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday evening that any military assistance provided by the United States to the Iraqi government must come with specific conditions and assurances.

She was sharply critical of the Iraqi government and specifically Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has requested U.S. assistance in stopping an extremist insurgency that threatens to topple the nation.

“You don’t have a government that can inspire loyalty even among its army and certainly not among its disparate groups,” Clinton said.

Clinton described the current Iraqi government as “dysfunctional, unrepresentative and authoritarian.” The negotiation of conditions for military assistance will be a “delicate and difficult task . . . because we certainly don’t want to fight their fight,” she said.

“There’s no reason that I know of that we would ever sacrifice a single American life for that,” she added.

Clinton made the remarks before a large audience at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium as part of the publicity tour for “Hard Choices,” her new memoir that was released last week.

The comments during a question-and-answer session with former Clinton speechwriter Lissa Muscatine came one day after Clinton told the BBC that the United States should not provide military assistance to Iraq, including airstrikes, “at this time.”

President Obama indicated Friday that any U.S. action will not come immediately. The United States “is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” he said.

The rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq has again thrust that country to the forefront of the U.S. foreign policy debate.

Almost a decade after the United States first invaded, U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, a move that some have argued led to the current turmoil. In recent weeks, an Islamist extremist group inspired by al-Qaeda has seized several cities and is marching toward the Iraqi capital Baghdad, prompting calls for air strikes or other military action by U.S. forces.

Clinton’s decision to vote to authorize President George W. Bush to pursue military action in Iraq was a major focal point in her failed 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination for president, with then-Sen. Obama using it as a wedge issue between the two candidates.

Clinton has since called her 2002 Senate vote a mistake. In the book, she goes further to express regret about the decision.

Clinton, who went on to serve as secretary of state under Obama, wrote:

“[M]any Senators came to wish they had voted against the resolution. I was one of them. As the war dragged on, with every letter I sent to a family in New York who had lost a son or daughter, a father or mother, my mistake became more painful.”

She adds later: “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

As she positions herself to mount another presidential bid in 2016 — in which she is already considered a front-runner — Clinton appears to use “Hard Choices” to finally close the debate on the Iraq war vote.

However, with Iraq at risk of falling under the control of insurgents, the country might again become the major point of foreign policy debate during the upcoming presidential contest, with the focus on Clinton’s vote to authorize the war as well as her role as Obama’s secretary of state in the decision to withdraw troops years later.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, when the war in Iraq was growing more unpopular, Clinton’s decision to vote for it was portrayed as an example of poor judgment by her rivals, especially Obama, who was an Illinois state senator at the time of the war authorization and had spoken out against it.

In a late 2006 interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Clinton said, “Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn’t have been a vote.” She added, “And I certainly wouldn’t have voted that way.”

A few months later, addressing a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, Clinton said, “If I had been president in October of 2002, I would not have started this war. . . . If we in Congress don’t end this war before January 2009, as president, I will.”

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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