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Posted at 7:30 AM ET, 12/ 9/2007

Most Revealing Fibs: Hillary Clinton

By Michael Dobbs

Posing for a portrait in Clear Lake, Iowa.

"Hillary will begin immediate phased withdrawal [from Iraq] with a definite timetable to bring our troops home."
--Clinton campaign leaflet, New Hampshire.

"The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief...If you look at all the evidence that's been presented, overall civilian deaths have risen."

--Sen. Clinton, addressing General David Petraeus during his Senate testimony on Iraq, September 10, 2007.

Hillary Clinton is known for her focused, highly disciplined style of campaigning. She prepares exceptionally carefully for speeches and debates and makes fewer factual errors than some of her rivals. The mistakes that she does make are often the result of a poll-driven approach to politics, to appeal to as many voters as possible by fudging her position. She wants to win over hard core Democratic voters in the early primary states without limiting her freedom of maneuver should she become president.

A prime example is her rhetoric on Iraq.

Clinton has made a flat promise that the United States will "get out of Iraq" while she is president. She says she has a plan to "end the war" and "a definite timetable to bring our troops home." On closer examination, it turns out that all these promises are so carefully hedged as to be virtually meaningless. There is no "definite timetable" to bring the troops home or end the war. She has said she "wants" to begin troop withdrawals in the first 60 days of her presidency-but has also talked about leaving a "vastly reduced residual force" in the country for "a limited period of time."

Clinton's pledge to "end the war" contains so much fine print that it is hardly a pledge at all, more a general aspiration. She has described several "vital U.S. national security interests" in that country, including fighting al-Qaeda, protecting the U.S. embassy, training Iraqi troops, protecting the Kurds, and countering the influence of Iran. She has refused to commit herself to pulling all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of a second presidential term.

The desire to have it both ways extends to a refusal to say whether the surge initiated by President Bush earlier this year has in fact succeeded in reducing the violence in Iraq. When General David Petraeus testified before Congress in September, he insisted that the level of violence had come down significantly. Clinton said that his data required "the willing suspension of disbelief." While some of Petraeus's statistics are open to challenge, his claims about a general reduction in violence have been borne out over subsequent months. It now looks as if Petraeus was broadly right on this issue at least-and Clinton was wrong.

A couple of other occasions where Clinton's rhetoric has run ahead of reality:

  • The claim that her health care plan is truly "universal," unlike the plan of her rival, Barack Obama, which will leave out 15 million Americans. I wrote about this here.

  • The suggestion that she and her husband have no influence over the release of the Clinton presidential papers. See my post here.

  • The Pinocchio Test

    It is still too early to rank the candidates in terms of their overall truthfulness. I have handed out Pinocchios to all the candidates for individual statements that seem at variance with the facts, but will give them a pass this week. Let me know your thoughts on how Clinton compares with her rivals.

    By Michael Dobbs  | December 9, 2007; 7:30 AM ET
    Categories:  Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, Health, Iraq  
    Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Fact Checker Fact Checks The Post
    Next: Most Revealing Fibs: Mitt Romney


    This planned series is a mistake. Don't do this.

    Posted by: david | December 9, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

    The fact is no one knows what she is going to do because everything she has said and done for the past 10 years has been calculated to win the presidency. Try to find one example that you could say she showed political courage and spoke/voted her convictions. Like her carefully hedged comments on the Iraq war, we have no idea what she is actually planning on doing! If she somehow gets elected, which is looking less and less likely, it would be a free for all. I'd rather vote for someone who I had some disagreements with but at least I knew they meant what they said.

    Posted by: coalesce | December 9, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

    on one side is a party that lied to justify the iraq invasion.the party is anti-immigrant.its senators read speeches from 1910 the senate floor attacking immigrants. it manipulates religion.some are calling it a religious fascist panders to people's worst instincts,and is fomenting hatred of agnostics, people of other religions, and minorities. it promises to promote democracy,and promotes dictatorsip. it promises to fight terror,only to worsen the threat of a terror attack.they are devious, manipulative and ruthless. if jesus ran against them they'll either nail him to the cross again or run swift boat ads and beat him.

    then there is the other party that has lost in 2000 and 2004 because half of america wants to live in zero ad.

    most of the candidates score zero on foreign policy.

    clinton looks the smartest, most detail oriented, eloquent,competent and most presidential.competent=likeable in the long run.

    but what is in it for us in the deal ?

    Posted by: bored | December 10, 2007 2:35 AM | Report abuse

    I currently read your blog when a new one pops up on your RSS feeds. This means that I read a lot of them while they are still in "too early to decide" "needs more review" "what do you think" mode. Is there some way that you can create a feed of updates or a page that list stories by their update date.

    Posted by: Joshua | December 10, 2007 4:33 AM | Report abuse

    I think Hillary has already proven she is not a good choice for President. Just remember she has already had her own scandals with her billinga as a lawyer, she had the Whitehouse email fiasco when she was First Lady, she left the Whitehouse with valuable items that didn't belong to her and their administration left the offices in shambles that cost taxpayers a lot of extra money to put things right. I think ANYBODY BUT Hillary is the best choice!!

    Posted by: dancermommd | December 10, 2007 7:23 AM | Report abuse

    Please stick to fact-checking particular assertions and positions rather than whole campaigns. I don't want this to be some kind of "truthiness" meter.

    Posted by: Vaxalon | December 10, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

    david: on what basis do you think this series is a mistake?

    Posted by: deladeus | December 10, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

    If you listen to the one consistent theme Hillary has it is socialism/communism. Take profits from oil companys and redistribute the wealth, universal health care etc. And it does not take a village to raise children, it takes responsable parents. Russia found out that communism fails because people lose their ambition and their goals.

    Posted by: Anonymous | December 10, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

    Everything Hillary says is a lie. We certainly can't expect anything truthful about Republicans from a flaming left-wing liberal rag like the Washington Compost. I use it to paper train the puppy.

    Posted by: Anonymous | December 10, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

    I am a bit torn by your focus on her position on Iraq here. I think focusing on a campaign promise is contrary to your stated goal of "fact checking". Is her promise to get out of Iraq a "fact" which you can "check" before she's even elected? Iraq is a very nuanced issue, and I'm not sure its helpful to boil it down to a "fact or not" comparison. In fact, I would give points to Hillary for even attempting to delve into the nuances, rather than provide simplistic "out in x days" rhetoric that some of the candidates are using. That rhetoric is much more likely to end up being a "non fact" should they be elected president.

    Also, Clinton's comments to General Petraeus were made in September and did not have the benefit of our current hindsight. But, what analysis you give rests on the more recent facts. It's disingenuous, then, to discuss her comments as seeking to "have it both ways". General Petraeus may have been proved right, but did the facts at the time of the hearing support that? Given the heavy criticism of those stats by all comers at the time, I don't think Clinton's comments were out of line.

    I certainly have concerns about Hillary's shifting and hedging, but I'm not sure you've given strong arguments here.

    Your other analyses in this series are more on target and most welcome. Thanks for your work.

    Posted by: Richard Baker | December 11, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

    "The mistakes that she does make are often the result of a poll-driven approach to politics, to appeal to as many voters as possible by fudging her position."

    This is a baseless smear. It is also entirely a matter of Mr Dobbs' opinion. It has no place in a "fact check" column

    Posted by: zukermand | December 12, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

    Hillary seems to get bashed by the media least of all the candidates. Is it because the media prefers Hillary or because she does not have any clear-cut stances to bash. I believe it is the latter. The only thing going for her is name recognition. I read a stat that said more people are voting for her because of Bill than because of her. That is no way to choose a president.

    Posted by: Stillwater | December 12, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

    The thing that I find a deal-breaker with Mrs. Clinton is that she simply doesn't do her homework, her huffy, unrelentling claims to the contrary notwithstanding. In 1993, through a fatal combination of arrogance and political naivete, she singlehandedly set back universal health care in this country another twenty-five years or more by dropping the ball on that most important issue. And her belated admission that she did not actually read in 2003 the ninety-page pre-invasion intelligence report on Iraq specifically prepared for her and the rest of the Senate (she now says she was "briefed" by a staffer) speaks, no, screams, volumes about her cosmetically neat, but in fact sloppy, political and statesman abilities. Haven't we had enough of lazy, incurious folk populating the White House?

    Posted by: Pettyfogger | December 13, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

    'Ipso-facto Check' is a better series title, Mr Dobbs, aka 'Gipetto'.

    As david posted, this series is a mistake. Please don't continue it.

    Posted by: chauncykat | December 16, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

    YOU SAY: >She says she has a plan to "end the war" and "a definite timetable to bring our troops home.">>

    You make it sound as though she has said she has already a secret but definite timetable beyond "during the first sixty days" and before the end of 2013. What you call "hedging," I call plain common sense. It would be dumb -- barring a certain knowledge of intervening events -- to commit to an inflexible timetable. Hillary Clinton is many things, but DUMB is not one of them.

    You yourself may prefer YES/NO answers to complex questions, but a refusal to reduce every problem to a dichotomy is NOT prevarication. (Are you still kicking your dog?)

    Your kind of "analysis" is what left Gore with the indelible stigma of "inventing the internet" and Bill Clinton with "the lie" that he "didn't inhale" marijuana (he TRIED but COULDN'T because of asthma-like symptoms).

    You, sir, do not appear qualified to be the arbiter of truthiness.

    Posted by: VillyVal | January 16, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

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