It’s nothing short of remarkable that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Clinton seems to have neutralized the Iraq war issue against Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in part by forcefully advocating a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.
After all, she voted to authorize use of force against Iraq despite not having read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, ignoring the entreaties of then-Senate Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, D-Fla.
Standing on the floor of the US Senate, Clinton tied Iraq to al-Qaeda more strongly than any other Senate Democrat. ("Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program," Clinton said at the time. "He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.")
But for the most part Obama has not effectively disseminated that information.
This week is the five-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and as such Clinton this morning delivered a speech on Iraq at George Washington University, to discuss "how we can end this war responsibly and restore America’s place in the world."
But much of the speech seemed more focused on attacking Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., than in discussing any possible new ideas for Iraq.
"The American people don’t have to guess whether I’m ready to lead. . . or whether I’d be too dependent on advisers," she said in clear shots at Obama.
She praised the speech against the war that Obama gave in 2002, but "what matters in this campaign is not just the promises we’ve made," she said. "Words can be powerful but only if the speaker translates them into solutions." She said, accurately, that Obama "didn’t start working to aggressively end the war until he started running for president."
(She left out the part that she didn’t start working to aggressively end the war until she saw that Obama and his anti-war message was going to be a threat, after which she flip-flopped on setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.)
Clinton hammered Obama for saying he had a plan for U.S. troop withdrawal while Samantha Power, his now former foreign policy adviser (whom Clinton implied was still his foreign policy adviser) was telling the BBC "He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator."
Power had been trying to say, in her now famously inartful way, that once a candidate becomes president he or she recalibrates military strategy based on new information. "He will try to get US forces out as quickly and as responsibly as possible," she pledged.
But Clinton re-cast what Power was saying to portray Obama as duplicitous.
"The true test is not the speeches the president delivers, it’s if the president delivers on the speeches," she said.
Clinton said that McCain said he’s "willing to keep this war going for 100 years — you can count on him to that."
Obama, she said, says he wants to withdraw U.S. troops "but according to his foreign policy adviser you cannot count on him to do that."
McCain did not say he was willing to keep the war going for 100 years.
He said U.S. troops could remain there for 50 or 100 years, "as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, it’s fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day."
McCain said in those same remarks that the U.S. "will win the war in Iraq and win it fairly soon."
And Power very clearly was not saying Obama couldn’t be counted on to withdraw troops — she was saying the specific plan might change according to what advisers suggest, but the goal of U.S. troop withdrawal "as quickly and as responsibly as possible" would not change.
Either way, she was fired from the campaign.
Clinton assailed what she called the Bush-McCain approach to Iraq. "They both want to keep us tied to another country’s civil war. . .a war we cannot win," she said. She said their motto seems to be "don’t learn from your mistakes, repeat them."
She all but declared the surge a failure, since the "point of the surge was to give the Iraqis time and space for political reconciliation," which has not happened, since services for citizens are still poor, legislation for oil revenue sharing has yet to pass, "corruption and dysfunction is rampant." She quoted Gen. David Petraeus who last week said "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation."
That will mean, Clinton said, that when the surge ends the U.S. will be "right back at square one with 130,000 or more troops on the ground." While at the same time, Clinton declared, that "this war has made the terrorists stronger."
As for what is a pet concern of this blog — what happens to the Iraqi people in the face of a withdrawal of US troops — Clinton kindly said that she as president wouldn’t forget the Iraqis who had tried to help U.S. efforts in the country, and she would urge the powers that be to "find places for asylum seekers… and help them to return to Iraq once the country has stabilized."