Hillary Clinton may have finally recanted on her 2002 Senate vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, but in the eyes of the die-hard antiwar activists who gathered Monday evening in front of the White House to protest another potential military conflict with the country, the former secretary of State can never apologize enough.
“We’re not going to forgive her, despite her best effort to whitewash her history,” said Brian Becker, the executive director of the antiwar ANSWER Coalition, which formed in the run-up to the Iraq War. “We consider Hillary Clinton to be almost a part of the neoconservative establishment.”
About 40 activists unfurled banners and beat drums in front of the White House as President Obama prepared to send 275 troops into Iraq to defend American interests against a potential assault on Baghdad from Islamist militants who have taken control of much of the country.
The protesters universally viewed Clinton’s disownership of her Iraq vote as motivated by potential presidential ambitions, rather than a genuine change of heart. That vote helped stop her last presidential campaign, and is already causing heartburn for a likely 2016 bid, now that Iraq is back in the news.
“Bottom line: You can always count on Hillary to say the most politically resonant thing of the moment,” said Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA officer turned antiwar protester who was arrested in 2011 (and he claims beaten) for protesting during a Clinton speech. “It’s bad enough to have that kind of person as secretary of State; do we really want her to be the president of the United States? I don’t think so. She’s a menace.”
As secretary of State, Clinton was often in the hawkish wing of President Obama’s Cabinet, supporting air strikes in Libya and arms deliveries to rebels in Syria. Robert Kagan, the veteran sage of interventionist foreign policy, recently gave a thumbs up to Clinton’s foreign policy, telling The New York Times that it’s “something that might have been called neocon.”
Eugene Puryear, a far-left activist who is running for an at-large seat on the District of Columbia Council, said there’s “absolutely no chance” he could support Clinton. Her latter-day admission that the vote was a mistake is “highly opportunistic … absurd and really offensive,” added Puryear, whose interest in politics started when he attended an anti-Iraq War march during high school.
Gerry Condon, the vice president of Veterans for Peace, was somewhat more sympathetic, saying he thought Clinton had “learned her lesson,” but said he could still never support her. “We would welcome her becoming a politician who actually supports diplomacy, but I’m not going to hold my breath,” he said.
The problem, these activists readily acknowledged, is that there’s no clear alternative for them. Some said they were interested in a potential bid from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., while others said they were resigned to vote for a third-party candidate.
Phyllis Bennis, of the progressive Institute for Policy Studies think tank, said that to capture the antiwar vote, any candidate would need to not only renounce the Iraq War, but oppose it’s legal foundation, the Authorization for the Military Use of Force, which Congress passed shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
“Without that, I don’t think any candidate could expect to get any support from the antiwar movement that helped get Obama into office,” she said after a brief speech at the rally.
Carlo ChavarrÃa, a 21-year-old rising senior at American University, said there’s no way he’d vote for Clinton in 2016. “She seems so progressive on other issues,” he said, but when it comes to foreign policy, “she’s a warmonger.”
Two other young attendees — Colleen Moore, a 20-year-old junior at Hobart William Smith College, and Ben Norton, a 22-year-old freelance writer who lives in Washington — agreed. “I will not support her,” Norton said.
The coalition of groups represented here, comfortable being at the fringes of politics, clearly feel emboldened after the U.S. scrapped potential air strikes against the Assad regime in Syria last fall. “It’s very sad that we have to be out again, and I think a lot of us are in shock that we are out here again, but let’s remember that we did stop an invasion of Syria!” CodePink cofounder Medea Benjamin said over a loudspeaker to cheers from the crowd.
“Is she the same Hillary?” Benjamin said with a laugh, as if the answer was obvious, when asked about the potential presidential candidate after the rally. “This is politics.”