From NBC's Mark Murray
As we mentioned earlier, top advisers for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama clashed last night at what was supposed to be a tame discussion at Harvard on the presidential contest. What triggered it was Clinton pollster Mark Penn's response to a question about her 2002 war authorization vote. Penn, as the Washington Post notes, used the question to attack Obama, arguing that the Illinois senator had said in 2004 that he even wasn't sure how he would have voted on the resolution had he been in the Senate in '02. "Obama said he didn't know exactly how he would have voted in Congress because he didn't have the full intelligence," Penn said.
An examination of what Obama exactly said in 2004, however, suggests that Penn was employing a tactic the Bush-Cheney campaign used to their benefit in the 2004 presidential campaign: the selective quote. It's something, of course, that all campaigns use to whack their opponents. But Team Bush did it better than most.
Most notably, they jumped all over Kerry's remark in the first presidential debate that he would employ a "global test" when weighing a pre-emptive strike against another country. In fact, they launched this TV ad right after he said it: "The Kerry doctrine: A global test. So we must seek permission from foreign governments before protecting America? So America will be forced to wait while threats gather?"
But a close look at Kerry's remark made it clear he wasn't suggesting that at all. Here is what he said in that debate: "The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control. No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it … you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."
So what did Obama say in 2004 that led to Penn's charge that Obama acknowledged he isn't sure how he would have voted on the war resolution? Here is the exchange, from a 2004 Meet the Press appearance, the Clinton campaign has passed around. You be the judge:
MR. RUSSERT: You also said this: "...I also know that Saddam possesses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history." The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said he was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so right as a state legislator in Illinois and they're on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees in Washington?
STATE SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. And what is absolutely clear is that John Kerry said, "If we go into war, let's make sure that we do it right. Let's make sure that our troops are supported. Let's make sure that we have the kind of coalition that's necessary to succeed." And the execution of what was a difficult choice to make was something that all of us have to be concerned about. And moving forward, the only way that we're going to be able to succeed is if, I think, we have an administration led by John Kerry that's going to allow us to consolidate the relationships with our allies that bring about investment in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?
STATE SEN. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.
MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?
STATE SEN. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn't there and what is absolutely clear as we move forward is that if we don't have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we're going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed in Iraq.