Hillary's Reading Habits

Yes, the two new books on Hillary Clinton go into lurid detail about her marriage to Bill and the Arkansas years. Yes, they portray her as less-than-human, veering from ambitious to paranoid and back again. But the real bombshell in the battle of the books is about Iraq. According to Don Van Natta of The New York Times and his coauthor Jeff Gerth, a former Times reporter, Clinton failed to read the all-important National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq before casting her fateful vote on the war in 2002.

Clinton's aides spent Friday arguing three things. First: the books are not newsworthy. Second: the senator was extensively briefed on the NIE before casting her vote. And third: lots of other senators didn't read it, either.

Maybe so. But until now the senator has brushed off Democratic criticism of her vote--and her refusal to call it a mistake--by saying that she takes responsibility for her vote, while President Bush is responsible for the conduct of the war. How responsible is she for her vote if she didn't read the key document that justified it?

It's possible that her briefings were extensive. But no briefing would likely have been as extensive as the NIE itself, with its carefully crafted caveats that told a more complete story of the Iraq intel. In the run-up to the war, the administration repeatedly cited the threat of Saddam Hussein giving his weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. The full NIE pointed out that would only happen if Iraq were invaded and faced destruction.

The NIE was only 90 pages long. Most of the senators who bothered to look at it read just the five-page executive summary.

On any other issue, at any other time, this might be considered a trivial misdemeanor. But in the middle of a heated Democratic primary, where the party base is steamed about the war, Clinton's failure to read the NIE gave her enemies an opening to work with. After all, it's hard to argue that President Bush misinformed you about the war if you didn't take the trouble to inform yourself.