Only One Democrat Is Trying to Get to the Left of Hillary Clinton on Syria

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 5 2013 1:34 PM

Only One Democrat Is Trying to Get to the Left of Hillary Clinton on Syria

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Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley doesn't expressly oppose intervention in Syria, but he's not necessarily for it either.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton would be president today if not for her 2002 vote to authorize military force in Iraq. This isn't the trickiest of hypotheticals—had she not voted that way, there would have been no breathing room on her left for Barack Obama, who'd given a well-timed anti-war speech from a park in Chicago. We know why Clinton, and John Kerry, and John Edwards voted that way, and the first of the two maintain that they didn't really vote for the entire debacle that followed, but what looked like an easy call after the victory in Afghanistan became, over the years, a hobbling mistake. (Edwards apologized for the vote.)

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

This week, after some prodding, Clinton sort of took a position on intervening in Syria. She's for it, per an adviser who remains frustratingly anonymous. (Are the Clintonworld flacks fourth-dimensional sprites? Do they vanish or lose their power if they let themselves be quoted by name?) So ... does that open a door for some 2016 rival to challenger her on what, right now, is a position opposed by more than half the country and half of congressional Democrats?

Let's check!

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Howard Dean, who has said Hillary Clinton will face a rival in 2016: supports airstrikes.

Russ Feingold, sometimes bandied about as a progressive white knight: no public position, as right now he's an envoy on African issues for the Obama administration.

Andrew Cuomo: Says only that "hyper-partisanship" shouldn't skew the debate. "This is a truly serious, phenomenally serious, topic. You’re talking about a loss of life. You’re talking about possibly putting Americans’ lives in harm’s way. So the process and the fact that government works and works well is critical here." Not quite an anti-war clarion call.

Joe Biden: I think we know what he thinks.

Martin O'Malley: Aha, here we go! O'Malley has "questions" about Syria, and wants the president to explain why our brave men and women should be asked to serve, etc. "I think all of us need a clear understanding of what it is exactly this mission would hope to accomplish—and why should we believe that the sort of strike being advocated would accomplish it. That's what I'm, along with other Americans, hoping to better understand in the course of this congressional debate."

But that's it for now. The early reports that "the anti-war left" was totally absent from the Syria debate were obviously overheated, but apart from O'Malley no one currently seen as a 2016 candidate is sounding critical.

(Mea culpa on the headline, as I realize that opposing strikes is not just a "left" position.)

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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