On the Clinton war counterfactual, I think it’s worth distinguishing between a weaker and a stronger version:
- Did Clinton see desposing a secular dictatorship that posed no significant threat to the United States and (in by far the most likely outcome) replacing it with an Islamist quasi-state at a ruinious cost in lives and resources as part of a reasonable range of options for reacting to 9/11? The overwhelming bulk of the evidence suggests that she did, and given this there has to be at least some risk that she would have made a similar blunder. More importantly, seeing the war as even defensible represents a disastrous failure in judgment.
- If Clinton were president, is it likely that she would have chosen that particular course as opposed to other options she thought reasonable? This is unknowable, but my guess is no. At the very least, I don’t think it can be inferred with any certainty from her support from the war after Bush had decided to wage it.
As Matt says, the third option is that she recognized the stupidity of the war and voted for it for cynical political reasons. Given the extent to which the case for Clinton over Obama rests on her alleged Machiavellian political skills, however, this isn’t much of a defense. Surely any Machiavellian worth her salt would have seen that while it might be politically necessary for a red-state Democrat facing a tough re-election fight in 2002 or even 2004 to back a bad war, it would not be an asset in the 2008 Democratic primary. And this is why I don’t believe that Clinton was actually against the war; the political case only makes any sense if you think the war was a reasonably good risk. And supporting the war doesn’t only hurt her in the primary, but makes her not-very-well-positioned to attack the war party in the general.