- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent appearance on all five Sunday news shows on the same day and her performance in last week’s Democratic presidential debate showed the front-runner at her best and at her worst. Her evasive answers and political contortions are maddening, but she keeps widening her double-digit lead in national polls.

It can be said of Mrs. Clinton that she is faithful to ever-changing principles, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq.

Mrs. Clinton has voted to fund the war at least 10 times, but now says “I will vote against funding this war as long as it takes.” She will soon have a chance to show she means business. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked Congress to approve nearly $190 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Gates said the money is needed to buy vehicles that can protect U.S. troops against roadside bombs, repair military equipment worn out by combat and consolidate U.S. bases in Iraq.

Will Mrs. Clinton really vote against funding these military needs? Most Americans want an end to the war, but not at the expense of denying U.S. troops armored vehicles and other combat equipment.

“I understand we’re going to have a vote shortly about funding, and I will vote against it because I think that’s the only way we can demonstrate clearly that we have to change direction,” she told Tim Russert, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Not so long ago Mrs. Clinton opposed efforts by antiwar Democrats in Congress to set a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. The New York senator explained: “We don’t want to send a signal to the insurgents, to the terrorists that we’re going to be out of here at some, you know, date certain. I think that would be like a green light to go ahead and just bide your time.” Now her campaign distributes brochures in New Hampshire that tell voters: “Hillary will begin an immediate phased withdrawal with a definite timetable to bring our troops home.” But she won’t say what her timetable is.

Mr. Russert also pressed Mrs. Clinton to explain why, before voting to go to war, she opposed an amendment by Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, that would have required the president to first exhaust all U.N. options before invading Iraq.

The former first lady said she voted against the amendment because she did not “want to give the United Nations a veto over actions taken by the president.” The Levin amendment would have done no such thing, as Mrs. Clinton knows. It would have required Mr. Bush to first seek a U.N. resolution approving use of force against Iraq, and, if that failed, to return to the Senate for another vote on going to war.

In her interview with George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s “This Week,” Mrs. Clinton was asked if all U.S. combat troops would be out of Iraq by the end of her first term as president. Even though she is committed to a timetable, she would not make that promise, saying, “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals and make pledges, because I don’t know what I’m going to inherit.” It was a prudent and responsible answer for a presidential candidate, and Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards echoed Mrs. Clinton’s position in last week’s debate in New Hampshire.

Finally, Mrs. Clinton still refuses to criticize MoveOn.org by name for its infamous ad referring to Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, as “General Betray Us.” She told Mr. Russert the general was “a man of great honor and distinction who has served admirably,” and that she does not condone any effort to impugn the integrity and patriotism of those who serve their country in uniform.

But not even the aggressive Mr. Russert could get a straight answer from the Great Evader on how she could square those words with her vote against a Senate resolution condemning liberal activist MoveOn.org, for its attack on Gen. Petraeus’ integrity.

Presidential candidates in both parties play this game. Some commentators actually praise Mrs. Clinton for her evasiveness and consider it one of her political strengths. It would be nice if voters knew what convictions she would bring to the presidency.

Philip Gailey is editor of editorials for the St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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