- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that Democrats emerged from the Senate debate on U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq “more united” than ever behind a conditional-exit strategy in the war that has divided her party.

In remarks before the NDN, a new centrist-leaning Democratic advocacy group, Mrs. Clinton avoided the criticism she had earlier leveled at anti-war lawmakers seeking a quick pullout of all U.S. forces within one year. This time she offered only words of praise for the widely differing withdrawal positions offered by liberal Democrats in the Senate.

“Although unity is important, it is not the most important value. I think it is a tribute to the Democratic Party at this moment in time that we are honestly and openly struggling with a lot of difficult issues facing our country,” the New York senator said.

“The Democrats may have different views about how we succeed in Iraq, but we are together and unified in fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities to engage in serious debate, to ask the difficult questions and to offer honorable and responsible positions,” she said.

Earlier this month in a speech to the leftist Campaign for America’s Future, whose members are bitterly opposed to the war, Mrs. Clinton drew boos from her audience when she said Democratic proposals to set a rigid public deadline for a troop pullout was not “a smart strategy.”

Yesterday, Mrs. Clinton praised Democrats for challenging war policies in the past, pointing to Harry Truman who led a Senate committee that investigated wasteful military contracts in the Roosevelt administration during World War II and to Democratic Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas who held hearings critical of President Johnson’s decisions in the Vietnam War.

“I am proud to be a Democrat. Democrats are doing what they should be doing in a democracy,” she said.

While the Democrats’ withdrawal proposals were easily defeated in the Senate Thursday, Mrs. Clinton said the 37 Democratic votes for a nonbinding, non-deadline resolution offered by Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, which urged the administration to begin some withdrawals this year, signaled a growing consensus within her party.

After a week of debate, Democrats “came out more united,” though “not wildly united like the other side is where they are the three monkeys, see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil,” she told reporters later.

“Democrats come out of this, I think, with a unified message that we want success in Iraq, we want the Iraqi people to have the stability and security and peace that they have voted for. We want their government to be able to deliver that,” she said.

“But their government must understand that it must take steps to get its own house in order. It cannot have an open-ended, unconditional commitment from the United States. It is clear the Iraqis, like every human being, are more likely to respond aggressively and effectively if they have specific conditions about what is expected,” she said.

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