National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Sen. Clinton May Regret Her War Vote

WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, must regret her support for President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq back in 2003.

The political climate has changed since then and public opinion polls now show the country wants out. Her vote for the war may only prove to be politically embarrassing, but she has spent huge amounts of time — and words — gradually edging away from her earlier endorsement of the administration’s bellicose approach.

Clinton has lots of company among senators who bought Bush’s wrong warnings about Iraqi weapons and threats; like her, they did not question the commander-in-chief before voting for the war. When the votes were cast in October 2002 for a resolution giving Bush the power "to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq," the measure passed the Senate by a vote of 77-23 and the House by a vote of 296-133.

With her hopes to be elected president someday, it was understandable that Clinton would see the need to appear macho and tough enough to go to war.

That’s probably the same reason she became a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee as a freshman senator in 2001; she also has made three fact-finding tours of Iraq, the latest two weeks ago.

Clinton is the first female to be taken seriously for the highest office in the land. She has the credentials, the stamina and she is a good campaigner. Her detractors in both parties like to say she can’t win, but they may be proven wrong.

Branded a "carpetbagger" by her opponents in her first race for the Senate (she was from Illinois and Arkansas before discovering New York), she nonetheless carried rock-ribbed Republican upstate New York when she won her Senate seat in 2000.

On her debut trip to Iowa last weekend, she called on Bush "to extricate our country from Iraq by the time he leaves office in 2009." Bush has held out the prospect of a war that will go on long after he leaves the White House.

On the campaign trail, Clinton said she "really resented" that Bush has pushed off on his successor the responsibility of getting us out of the Iraq quagmire. Bush’s rhetoric, she said, was "the height of irresponsibility."

"This was his decision to go to war," she said. "He went with an ill-conceived plan, an incompetently executed strategy, and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office."

White House spokesman Tony Snow responded by noting that "Sen. Clinton voted to authorize action in Iraq. . .and in many cases has stood with the president, including providing funding for our forces there."

Snow also tipped off what will be his standard defense against criticism from all presidential candidates, dismissing them as "sound bytes." Another frequent administration reply is that critics are emboldening the "enemy."

There are many questions about Clinton and how she will run. Those who assume she is a great liberal are wrong. She is much more a middle-of-the roader and a strong representative of the "moderate" Democrats.

Clinton has played her hand closely and carefully. She even has made friends across the aisle with ardent Republicans.

The role her husband– former President Bill Clinton– will play is unknown, but he is a popular politician and a dedicated campaigner who would go all out to promote her candidacy.

It seems early to be talking about the 2008 presidential election. But one reason it’s so important is that this is the first time since 1952 that there is neither an incumbent seeking re-election or no vice president who wants to get promoted. It’s a wide-open Wild West for both parties.

This means it won’t be a clear field for Clinton. She faces a lot of competition from equally ambitious political pros.

 

(c)2007 Hearst Newspapers