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Clinton resists a tempting turn on the Iraq war

October 8, 2007 |  8:08 pm

There was an interesting scene on the Iowa campaign trail late today with Hillary Clinton resisting yet again the temptation for the easiest way out on the Iraq war, to follow some of her Democratic competitors and promise a quick exit. It wasn't a dramatic moment. But it was revealing.

As campaigning candidates are programmed to do, Clinton had already tried to make her news of the day earlier in Cedar Rapids with a major speech on economic policy, as reported on this website by our Mark Z. Barabak.

Maybe it was designed to take the edge off the Republican debate Tuesday on economic policy. Maybe not.

Then came the third stop of her campaign day, at the Gigglin' Goat restaurant in Boone, Iowa, hometown to President Eisenhower's wife, Mamie. Actually, it isn't a restaurant yet. It's under construction. So there was a lot of room for several hundred Iowans to see the wannabe president in person. Barabak was there too.

As disciplined candidates are supposed to do to avoid walking on their own campaign message of the day, Clinton repeated the theme of her economic remarks. Then she uttered her standard line about the current administration. “I have said that if President Bush does not end the war in Iraq before he leaves office, when I am president I will.”

There was a huge round of applause, interspersed with cheers. Big enthusiasm.

But then she went on:  “You know, sometimes people say to me, ‘Well, how soon you gonna get everybody out? How soon are they gonna get home?' And the answer is, as soon as we can. Because the problem is we don’t know what we’re going to inherit from the Bush-Cheney administration.”

“As soon as I get there," Clinton said, "I will call my secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my security advisors and we will immediately set in motion a plan to bring our troops home.” More applause, but this time far more tepid.

“I think it’s important that we recognize there are no good solutions here. We’re inheriting a very difficult situation and in part it’s difficult because this administration has engaged in so many misjudgments and miscalculations and mistakes that it appears they’re going to leave it all to their successors. I think that’s the height of irresponsibility. But I am prepared to shoulder that responsibility.” She wasn't interrupted by applause this time.

“But I want everybody to know how difficult it will be because it’s not just bringing our troops home. How are we going to deal with all the other problems that we’re going to face? This administration has alienated our friends and emboldened our enemies.”

The New York senator went on for another 10 minutes or so on other familiar campaign themes. And they loved her. All except for that war reality-check stuff.

--Andrew Malcolm