Hard-Core Antiwar Left Not Ready to Forgive Hillary Clinton

For some activists who cut their teeth opposing the Iraq War, Clinton will always be a “warmonger.”

Anti-war groups hold a demonstration against a US intervention in Iraq in front of the White House in Washington on June 16, 2014. 
National Journal
June 17, 2014, 11:57 a.m.

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 Chav­ar­ría, 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.”

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