The Blog

Clinton vs. Clinton, on Iraq

The former president spoke at the Labour party conference in Blackpool yesterday--and reversed field on Iraq.

9:50 AM, Oct 3, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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AS STEPHEN HAYES pointed out a few weeks ago, there was once a time when Bill Clinton understood the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday, however, the former president delivered a long, rambling, 50 minute speech at the British Labour party conference in Blackpool, during which he criticized President Bush's drive for regime change in Iraq, and said that America would face "unwelcome consequences" if we acted alone. (If you want to read the full text of the speech, click here.)

It's worth looking back to Clinton's thoughts on Saddam and Iraq just a few years ago in 1998:

Bill Clinton, at the Pentagon, February 17, 1998:

Thank you very much. Thank you--please be seated. (Continued applause.) Thank you. Please be seated.

Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President for your remarks and your leadership. Thank you, Secretary Cohen for the superb job you have done here at the Pentagon and--on this most recent very difficult problem. Thank you, General Shelton, for being the right person at the right time. Thank you, General Ralston and the members of the joint chiefs--General Zinni, Secretary Albright, Secretary Slater, DCI Tenet, Mr. Bowles, Mr. Berger, Senator Robb--thank you for being here, and Congressman Skelton, thank you very much. And for your years of service to America and your passionate patriotism, both of you. And to the members of our armed forces and others who work here to protect our national security.

I have just received a very fine briefing from our military leadership on the status of our forces in the Persian Gulf. Before I left the Pentagon, I wanted to talk to you and all those whom you represent--the men and women of our military.

You, your friends and your colleagues are on the front lines of this crisis in Iraq. I want you and I want the American people to hear directly from me what is at stake for America in the Persian Gulf; what we are doing to protect the peace, the security, the freedom we cherish; why we have taken the position we have taken.

I was thinking, as I sat up here on the platform, of the slogan that the first lady gave me for her project on the millennium, which was remembering the past and imagining the future. Now, for that project, that means preserving the Star Spangled Banner and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and it means making an unprecedented commitment to medical research and to get the best of the new technology. But that's not a bad slogan for us when we deal with more sober, more difficult, more dangerous matters.

Those who have questioned the United States in this moment, I would argue are living only in the moment; they have neither remembered the past nor imagined the future. So first, let's just take a step back and consider why meeting the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is important to our security in the new era we are entering.

This is a time of tremendous promise for America. The superpower confrontation has ended; on every continent, democracy is securing for more and more people the basic freedoms we Americans have come to take for granted. Bit by bit, the information age is chipping away at the barriers--economic, political and social--that once kept people locked in and freedom and prosperity locked out.

But for all our promise, all our opportunity, people in this room know very well that this is not a time free from peril, especially as a result of reckless acts of outlaw nations and an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers and organized international criminals. We have to defend our future from these predators of the 21st century.

The feed on the free flow of information and technology. They actually take advantage of the freer movement of people, information and ideas. And they will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein's Iraq. His regime threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region and the security of all the rest of us. I want the American people to understand, first, the past: How did this crisis come about? And I want then to understand what we must do to protect the national interest, and indeed the interest of all freedom- loving people in the world.