On the same day that the Time Magazine released its poll showing Hillary tumbling, The New York Times published an interview with Hillary Clinton that will haunt her for the remainder of the campaign. Asked about her twisted, convoluted, contradictory Iraq policy, she avowed a determination to stay in Iraq after she becomes president!
A few weeks ago, she said she’d end the war in 2009 when she was elected president. Now she’s saying that she’d “start” to end the war. And just a few ago, Hillary said she would vote for an amendment to the appropriations bill calling for a total withdrawal from Iraq by March of 2008 (and sooner if the Iraqi government doesn’t meet certain specified goals during the interim). While the other 534 Senators and Congressmen see the amendment as a cutoff of funding, she insists it merely sets a “goal.”
This is Classic Clinton – as in “it depends on what the meaning of is is.”
(By the way, Hillary apparently doesn’t like to read the bills she backs. She claims that her 2002 vote to authorize the President to send American troops into Iraq was actually a mandate for ongoing UN inspection and now this specific cutoff of funds for the troops is, in her view, merely advisory).
So she wants to pull out but also keep the troops there – end the war, but keep it going – in other words, have her cake and eat it too!
She told The New York Times that “I think we will have a remaining military as well as political mission, trying to contain the extremists [in Iraq].” She elaborated on what the troops would do once she took office:
- “help the Kurds manage their various problems in the north,”
- “prevent Iran from crossing the border and having too much influence inside Iraq.”
- “logistical support, air support, and training support” for Iraqi troops
Her latest position provides Obama with an easy ability to contrast his positions on the war with hers. The Illinois Senator says flatly that we should pull out totally and that he thinks the war was always a mistake and still is.
Of course, Hillary is right and Obama is wrong. We can no more completely pull out of Iraq than we could have withdrawn from NATO during the cold war. But her position will severely damage her support and credibility among Democrats who want a total cutoff of all funding for the war. In the latest Fox News poll, Democrats supported the withdrawal by 77-18.
Until the Times interview, the only serious issue separating Obama and Clinton was the irrelevant one of whether she should apologize for her vote authorizing the war. But now she has created a huge issue by announcing her decision to stay in Iraq.
Hillary’s plan sounds downright Republican and very much like one ventured by former Rumsfeld deputy Dov S. Zakheim who estimates that this more limited mission would require only 75,000 troops, down from the 160,000 we will have there after Bush reinforces our presence this year.
Her pessimism comes at a time when US combat deaths in Iraq have dropped by 25% from 88 every thirty days to 66 now that Bush’s redeployment is taking place. It also comes as the Iraqi government is celebrating a huge drop in Baghdad violence.
So, why does Hillary do this?
First, as a woman candidate, she is always sensitive to gender stereotypes that question a woman’s ability to be an effective Commander-in-Chief. So, she has to show that she’s tough.
And, second, she is in awe of some of the generals and military types who provide her with advice on the Armed Services Committee. She wants their approval.
So, she tries to have it both ways.
Hillary’s constant flip-flopping on Iraq will bring her no end of grief in the primaries.