Dems Face Tough Political Choice on Iraq

Senate Democrats running for president face a dilemma this week in how to vote on the troop spending bill which no longer ties the $95.5 billion in funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to a binding timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.

Either route chosen will bring with it huge potential political pitfalls, as Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., tacitly acknowledged Wednesday afternoon in her dismissive comments to reporters asking her how she will vote.

"When I have something to say, I will say it, gentlemen," Clinton told journalists.

Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., announced Wednesday that he would vote for the Iraq spending bill.

"I'm not going to vote to leave the troops without money," Biden said. "You can go out there and demagogue it all you want but the bottom line is you need seventeen Republican Senators to join us," to override any presidential veto.

Clinton's Choice

Because she is the front-runner for the nomination and because of the moderate persona she has worked hard to cultivate, the dilemma seems starker for Clinton.

If she votes for the bill, she will anger her party's liberal base and endanger her chances of a Democratic presidential nomination.

If she votes against it, she will hand her potential Republican opponents an issue they can use to paint her as weak on defense in the general election.

The former first lady has spent much of her six years in the Senate cultivating a hawkish persona, impressing generals from her perch on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and, last June, telling an audience of liberal activists that making "a date certain" was a bad idea.

She has since abandoned that position, but clearly she and her advisers have been working hard to make her seem acceptable on matters of national security and defense.

Voting against the Iraq bill might hurt Clinton in this regard, more so than any other move leftward she has made during this presidential primary season when Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the war.

A top strategist for a Republican presidential front-runner, speaking on condition of anonymity, told ABC News that Clinton's vote against the Iraq spending bill might help her in the short term in the Democratic primaries, but would be a gift to her potential GOP opponent should she win the Democratic presidential nomination.

"Clinton spent fair time in the Senate being a responsible defense type," the strategist said, "and for her this decision is much thornier than in Obama's case, since he already had this full-throated opposition to the war."

The GOP strategist said the "most direct shot" against Clinton -- or any Democrat who votes against the spending package -- will be the argument that "150,000 troops are deployed in Iraq and she voted against providing them support, equipment, armor, munitions and everything else they need to stay safe and do their mission."

The vote, the Republican strategist continued, came after "not one, but multiple attempts at forcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops, attempts that ultimately failed. When it was clear that was the case, the responsible thing would be to say, 'OK, we can't leave our troops unfunded in the field and unable to defend themselves.'"

Liberal Dems Vow Anti-War Vote

Without the timetables for U.S. troop withdrawal in the bill, many Democrats, including Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and potentially even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will vote against it.

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