Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hollywood and Hillary and War

Greg Sargent (TPM Cafe):
"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband.
Maureen Dowd (NY Times):
Obama’s Big Screen Test (BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.)Hillary is not David Geffen’s dreamgirl.

“Whoever is the nominee is going to win, so the stakes are very high,” says Mr. Geffen, the Hollywood mogul and sultan of “Dreamgirls,” as he sits by a crackling fire beneath a Jasper Johns flag and a matched pair of de Koonings in the house that Jack Warner built (which old-time Hollywood stars joked was the house that God would have built). “Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.
“Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”

Barack Obama has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O’Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue. Instead of the Tarleton twins, the Illinois senator is flirting with the Dreamworks trio: Mr. Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave him a party last night that raised $1.3 million and Hillary’s hackles.

She didn’t stand outside the gates to the Geffen mansion, where glitterati wolfed down Wolfgang Puck savories, singing the Jennifer Hudson protest anthem “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” But she’s not exactly Little Miss Sunshine, either. Hillary loyalists have hissed at defecting donors to remember the good old days of jumping on the Lincoln Bedroom bed.

“Hillary is livid that Obama’s getting the first big fund-raiser here,” one friend of hers said.

Who can pay attention to the Oscar battle between “The Queen” and “Dreamgirls” when you’ve got a political battle between a Queen and a Dreamboy?

Terry McAuliffe and First Groupie Bill have tried to hoard the best A.T.M. machine in politics for the Missus, but there’s some Clinton fatigue among fatigued Clinton donors, who fret that Bill will “pull the focus” and shelve his wife’s campaign.

“I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,” Mr. Geffen says, adding that if Republicans are digging up dirt, they’ll wait until Hillary’s the nominee to use it. “I think they believe she’s the easiest to defeat.”

She is overproduced and overscripted. “It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t,” Mr. Geffen says. “She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”

The babble here is not about “Babel”; it’s about the battle of the billionaires. Not only have Ron Burkle and David Geffen been vying to buy The Los Angeles Times — they have been vying to raise money for competing candidates. Mr. Burkle, a supermarket magnate, is close to the Clintons, and is helping Hillary parry Barry Obama by arranging a fund-raiser for her in March, with a contribution from Mr. Spielberg.

Did Mr. Spielberg get in trouble with the Clintons for helping Senator Obama? “Yes,” Mr. Geffen replies, slyly. Can Obambi stand up to Clinton Inc.? “I hope so,” he says, “because that machine is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective.”

Once, David Geffen and Bill Clinton were tight as ticks. Mr. Geffen helped raise some $18 million for Bill and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom twice. Bill chilled at Chateau Geffen. Now, the Dreamworks co-chairman calls the former president “a reckless guy” who “gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country.”

They fell out in 2000, when Mr. Clinton gave a pardon to Marc Rich after rebuffing Mr. Geffen’s request for one for Leonard Peltier. “Marc Rich getting pardoned? An oil-profiteer expatriate who left the country rather than pay taxes or face justice?” Mr. Geffen says. “Yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in. Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

The mogul knows it’s easy to mock Hollywood — “people with Priuses and private planes” — and agrees with George Clooney that it’s probably not helpful for stars to campaign for candidates, given the caricatures of Hollywood.

I ask what he will say if he ever runs into Bill Clinton again. “ ‘Hi,’ ” he replies. And will he be upset if Hillary wins and he never gets to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom again?

“No,” he says with a puckish smile. “It’s not as nice as my bedroom.”
Robert Scheer:
Let’s face it: No matter how much many of us who oppose the war in Iraq would also love to elect a female president, Hillary Clinton is not a peace candidate. She is an unrepentant hawk, à la Joe Lieberman. She believed invading Iraq was a good idea, all available evidence to the contrary, and she has, once again, made it clear that she still does.
“If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast a vote [to authorize the war] or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from,” she said in New Hampshire last week, confusing contempt for antiwar Americans—now a majority—with the courage of her indefensible conviction that she bears no responsibility for the humanitarian, economic and military disaster our occupation has wrought.

As a candidate for ’08, Hillary clearly calculates that her war chest, star power, gender and pro-choice positions will be sufficient for her to triumph in the primaries, while being “tough,” pro-military and “supporting our president” will secure her flank in the general election against those who would paint her as that horrible beast, “a liberal.”

A winning strategy? That remains to be seen. It certainly does not bode well for the future of the nation, however, should it be. Consider the parallel case of President Lyndon Johnson, who can be heard on tapes of his White House conversations ruminating that he never believed in the Vietnam War and pursued it only to deny Barry Goldwater and the Republicans a winning campaign issue.

In fact, whether out of such callous political calculations or sincere beliefs, mindless militarism has been a bipartisan majority position in Washington for a half-century, and counting. With the end of the Cold War, its acolytes went searching for a new enemy to serve as a foil. When one emerged, those with aspirations to the presidency fell in line quite easily.

“Now, I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt,” New York Sen. Clinton stated in her October 2002 speech when voting to authorize a war the White House had already decided to launch for bogus reasons, and which Clinton dutifully endorsed. “In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members ... .”

That none of this was true is now airily dismissed by Clinton as the result of her being mislead by “false intelligence.” Yet Clinton had to be aware that the case for Saddam’s WMD and ties to al-Qaida was weak, when not obviously misrepresented. Surely she was in contact with the intelligence and diplomatic sources from her husband’s administration who were telling anyone who would listen that the Bush team was obsessed with invading Iraq.

Leaving aside the absurdity that Democratic senators such as Clinton and ’04 presidential candidate John Kerry didn’t have the access and means to do the same basic fact-checking of Bush administration claims that independent journalists, intelligence analysts and published skeptics such as ex-arms inspector Scott Ritter undertook, how is that they could have ignored the historical evidence that occupying Iraq with the vague goal of “fostering democracy” was a phenomenally dangerous endeavor? Had Clinton caught the “fever” for invading Iraq that Secretary of State Colin Powell attributed to Vice President Dick Cheney?

If not, Clinton certainly forgot her role as a senator to balance the power of the president, instead blindly following his lead: “I will take the president at his word that he will try hard to pass a U.N. resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible,” she said. Yet, when the president clearly broke his word five months later, blindsiding the U.N. inspectors on the ground in Iraq who had found no evidence of WMD, Clinton simply cheered him on.

No, Congress failed to take seriously the obligation built into its constitutionally mandated exclusive power to declare war, and Sen. Clinton’s refusal to admit that is not a minor issue. This paired with her strident support, ever since the invasion of Iraq, for a huge increase in the standing army to fight other wars, including a possible confrontation with Iran, shows a fondness in Clinton for war and bullying adventurism that vastly overshadows her sensible stances on many domestic issues. As Barry Goldwater supporters stated in kicking off the Republican revolution, what we need is a choice, not an echo.
Joe Conason:
Easy victories can be dangerous to the politicians who achieve them, a lesson that Hillary Rodham Clinton may be learning as she seeks her party’s presidential nomination. Coasting to re-election last fall has done her as much harm as good—because until now, she was never forced to confront her own equivocal positioning on Iraq.
Neither the weak antiwar candidate whom she ignored in the Senate primary last year nor the cloddish conservative Republican whom she trounced in the general election could test her. While the national consensus against the war hardened, she hesitated. If her opposition had been more effective, she would be better off now.

Clinton complains that opponents who accuse her of vacillation are distorting her record. She says that her enthusiasm for invading Iraq has been exaggerated, but she still tries to show toughness by refusing to admit error. She says that the president should bring the troops home before he leaves office in January 2009, without acknowledging that she had previously opposed any date certain for withdrawal.

Today, she says that she wouldn’t have voted to authorize the use of force had she known in September 2002 what we all know now about the mythical arsenal of mass destruction. Two years ago, she said that she felt “no regrets” about casting that same vote. And yet she remains reluctant to confess—as former Sen. John Edwards finally did concerning his vote—that she was wrong.

In fairness, it is true that as long ago as March 2003 Clinton voiced her preference for “coercive inspection” rather than preemptive war. When the moment of the invasion arrived, she released a supportive statement that mentioned a forlorn yearning for “more international support.”

None of her murmured dissents, however, approached the fervor of the floor speech she made this month. “If I had been president in October of 2002, I would have never asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq,” she declared, “and I certainly would never have started this war.”

Like most Americans, Clinton has changed her mind. Unfortunately for her, Sen. Barack Obama didn’t have to change his mind. As her campaign rival, he is understandably emphasizing that fact. “Even at the time, it was possible to make judgments that this would not work out well,” he noted recently.

Then again, at the time very few people cared what Obama said about the war, because he was an Illinois state senator and only an aspiring contender for the U.S. Senate. He didn’t have to cast an actual vote to authorize the use of military force. He cannot now suggest that anyone who voted for that resolution is unfit to be president. In 2004, after all, he delivered a stirring speech seconding the presidential nomination of Sen. John Kerry, who also voted to authorize the war—and who failed to explain that decision adequately during his stumbling campaign.

The most convincing explanation is simple and happens to be true. When the president asked for the authorization, he told America he would use that power to “keep the peace.” He said the authorization would force Saddam Hussein to permit the U.N. weapons inspectors to return to Iraq and fulfill the pertinent resolutions. He promised that he would invade only as “a last resort.”

Those false promises persuaded Clinton to support the resolution. She endorsed the potential use of force because she wanted the inspectors to return to Iraq—as she has said many times. She then watched President Bush terminate the inspections unilaterally, violating his pledge to seek a peaceful resolution. Trusting him was a mistake that she should no longer be unwilling to admit.

She would have fewer difficulties as a presidential candidate if she had effectively addressed that error last year. Instead, she listened to the same circle of strategists who stupidly warned her not to oppose the war too vocally, lest she appear “weak.”

Is Clinton strong enough to reject that kind of bad advice in the future?

She might begin to demonstrate that strength not only by opposing the escalation of the war effort in Iraq but by speaking out against the provocation of a military conflict with Iran. She should lead the Democratic Party in demanding that the president reverse course and accept the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, including diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.

She can play an important role in preventing another foreign-policy disaster. She can prove that experience matters—by showing what she has learned from hers.
Matt Stoller is first out of the comment gate with "The Hollywood Primary."

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