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In new book, Clinton disavows Iraq vote and details differences with Obama on Syria

Hillary Clinton’s new memoir details differences with President Obama, but gives no indication of her plan for a 2016 run. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Hillary Rodham Clinton, using her strongest language yet to disavow her 2002 Senate vote authorizing military action in Iraq, writes in her forthcoming memoir that “I still got it wrong,” CBS News reported late Thursday.

The former secretary of state and potential 2016 presidential candidate also details her disagreement with President Obama over U.S. strategy in war-torn Syria, writing that she argued in favor of arming Syrian rebels while Obama decided otherwise.

Clinton also writes in “Hard Choices” about her role in the Obama administration’s early discussions about rescuing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban in 2009. She says she recognized that “opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war.”

Interspersed throughout the book are Clinton’s thoughts on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and her role in the “reset” of U.S.-Russia relations; the raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden; the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya; as well as her relationships with Obama, Vice President Biden and other administration officials.

Clinton’s memoir is not scheduled for release until Tuesday, when she launches a national book tour and sits for a series of network television interviews. But CBS purchased an early copy at a bookstore and published excerpts on its Web site Thursday. A Clinton spokesman declined to comment or verify the contents.

The political world has been eagerly awaiting Clinton’s book for clues about her 2016 intentions, but CBS reported that Clinton does not write much about her political future. On page 595, CBS reported, Clinton writes, “Will I run for president in 2016? The answer is, I haven’t decided yet.”

Clinton’s disavowal in the book of her Iraq vote is significant considering how much the vote dogged her with the Democratic Party’s antiwar activist base during the 2008 presidential primaries. Her language in the book is her strongest to date to distance herself from her earlier support for the war.

“Many Senators came to wish they had voted against the resolution. I was one of them,” Clinton writes, according to CBS. “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 become [sic] more painful.”

Clinton continues, “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.”

Throughout the 2008 campaign, Clinton struggled to strike the right tone rhetorically about Iraq and over time distanced herself from the vote, although she stopped short of saying she regretted casting it. Clinton’s chief rival, Barack Obama, opposed the Iraq war from the start; he gave a speech in 2002, when he was still an Illinois state senator, opposing military action in Iraq.

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.”

Clinton’s language in “Hard Choices” is nearly identical to the language another 2008 rival, then-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), used when he disavowed his vote to authorize military action in Iraq. Edwards began an op-ed about Iraq published in The Washington Post in 2005 with the sentence, “I was wrong.”

In her book, Clinton, who made several trips to Russia, describes Putin as “thin-skinned and autocratic, resenting criticism and eventually cracking down on dissent and debate.” She ruminates on her 2009 meeting with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, during which she gave him a red button labeled “reset” with the incorrect Russian translation. “It was not the finest hour for American linguistic skills,” she writes.

On Syria, Clinton writes that the civil war there has been a “wicked problem” and that U.S. officials saw no simple solution. She writes that she wanted to arm and train Syrian rebels, but that Obama’s “inclination was to stay the present course and not take the significant further step of arming rebels. No one likes to lose a debate, including me. But this was the President’s call and I respected his deliberations and decisions.”

Clinton writes about her evolving relationship with Obama, describing a secret meeting with her former rival before the 2008 Democratic National Convention. “We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date, taking a few sips of Chardonnay,” she writes. It was a time, she writes, to “clear the air.”

A few weeks later, however, Obama’s campaign asked Clinton to issue a statement attacking then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named her his running mate. She declined.

“I was not going to attack Palin just for being a woman appealing for support from other women,” Clinton writes. “I didn’t think it made political sense, and it didn’t feel right. So I said no.”

Dan Balz contributed to this report.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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