HOLBROOKE AND IRAQ….As he was leaving his job of UN ambassador in 2001, Richard Holbrooke said of Saddam Hussein, “His willingness to be cruel internally is not unique in the world, but the combination of that and his willingness to export his problems makes him a clear and present danger at all times. And the next Administration will have to deal with this problem, which we inherited from our predecessors and they now inherit from us.”

Matt Yglesias quotes this as evidence that Holbrooke was an Iraq hawk from way back, and concludes, “I’m not very excited by the prospect of Hillary Clinton making him Secretary of State.”

But this is crazy. I don’t hold any special brief for Holbrooke, but it’s not like he was obsessed with Iraq and decided to deliver some big warmongering speech in January 2001 about the evils of Saddam Hussein. All that happened is that he held a final press Q&A before leaving office and gave his thoughts on a couple dozen different subjects. The first question he was asked happened to be about Iraq, and he responded with pretty much the standard State Department view of the time.

What’s more, it was hardly a controversial view. Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug, he did have a history of developing WMD programs and hiding them from inspectors, and his “willingness to export his problems,” as Holbrooke delicately put it, was pretty indisputable. It’s one thing to argue that Holbrooke’s later support for the Iraq war makes him unacceptably hawkish — a view that I understand even if I don’t share it — but a routine and perfectly defensible denunciation of Saddam Hussein in 2001 really doesn’t seem like it qualifies.

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