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The 2006 election showed the Republican Party that opposition to the Iraq War was the dominant political issue of the year–trumping all others. Their failure to understand voter anger over the war cost them the majority in the House and Senate. Candidates are now learning that the war is continuing to trump all other issues. And a recent Gallup Poll shows that 7 out of 10 Americans say the war will be a key factor in whom they support in 2008.
The front runner in the Democratic primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton, is feeling the heat. Even though she will raise more money than any candidate in history, has universal name recognition and is building an unprecedented political machine–the Iraq War looms. While her allies are trying to portray her nomination as inevitable it is evident she now knows the Iraq War can undo her inevitability. Seventy-four percent of Democrats say the Iraq War will be a factor in their 2008 vote according to a February Gallup Poll and one out of two say it will be a major factor.
Wherever she goes the Iraq War follows her. She is starting to have public confrontations with voters about the war. At a widely reported town meeting in New Hampshire New Hampshire resident Roger Tilton urged her to apologize for her vote in favor of the use of force resolution and told her that voters can’t hear all the good things is saying until she deals with the war. Anti-war voters, who are becoming an organized force, are letting her know–if you’re wrong on Iraq you are wrong for America.
But, she doesn’t want to look weak so she postures for the cameras. At another New Hampshire town hall when she was asked again about her vote for the war she said: "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from." She may live to regret that comment.
Clinton will not apologize pundits say because she wants to be seen as decisive, confident and strong, especially important because she is a female. But she did say that if she knew what she knows now she would have voted differently. That is a major step forward for a candidate who has been a consistent supporter of the war.
When it became evident that was not enough she took the next step and put forward her own Iraq exit strategy and in the press release announcing it said: "Now it’s time to say the redeployment should start in ninety days or we will revoke authorization for this war. This plan is a roadmap out of Iraq. I hope the President takes this road. If he does, he should be able to end the war before he leaves office."
Sen. Clinton obviously does not want to be shackled with the Iraq War when she becomes president. More than once she has criticized President Bush for letting this war continue through the end of his presidency. And, at the recent Democratic National Committee meeting she promised "If we in Congress don’t end this war before January 2009, as president, I will."
When I posted the Clinton plan to the VotersForPeace discussion list one person commented:
"Excuse me, but am I the only one who remembers how brown her nose was not too long ago? Is it me or do these politicians just change their minds with the flow of public opinion? I want a candidate that is strong on what they believe, not one that is blown with the wind. Tomorrow she may forget what her plan is if elected. I don’t trust her anymore. She’s changed her mind too many times as far as I’m concerned."
Another asked: "Could Hillary Clinton be in a hurry to play catch up due to the anti-war voices being so vocal at her Iowa appearances?"
Others have expressed concern about her willingness to support a military attack on Iran, particularly her comments to AIPAC, the hard right Israeli lobby: "We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. And in dealing with this threat … no option can be taken off the table."
These anti-war voters reflect the view of many who have serious doubts about Sen. Clinton’s new anti-Iraq War stand. Not only did Clinton vote wrong on the initial use of force resolution, she has consistently opposed any discussion of exit strategies and has voted for every penny of more than $420 billion appropriated for the war. She has been a critic of President Bush but she has given this irresponsible commander in chief a blank check for war.
She is someone who saw the U.S. having a long term military stay Iraq. When she returned from a Thanksgiving trip to Iraq in 2003 Senator Clinton was asked on ABC’s This Week how long the U.S. would be in Iraq. Her response was a reminder that the U.S. still has bases in Korea and elsewhere long after those wars had ended.
In December 2005 she wrote that she would not accept any timetable for withdrawal and would not embrace Rep. Jack Murtha’s call for "redeployment of troops." Further, she called on President Bush to finish "this war with success and honor" restating her rejection of "a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit."
In June of 2005 she spoke to the progressive-Democratic "Take Back America Conference" in Washington, D.C. and was booed and jeered by progressive activists in the Democratic Party. As she left the podium people chanted "Bring the troops home; stop the war now." No doubt, she thought this might be a moment where she could show that she did not kowtow to the anti-war interests in the party. Norman Solomon described this as "premature triangulation."
Since 2005 she has moved at glacial speed toward her new "I’ll end the war" position. The question for peace voters is, can voters opposed to the war trust her? Populist anti-war candidate, former Senator Mike Gravel, told the DNC Convention this year that anyone who voted for the initial use of force resolution showed they did not have the judgment to be president. The other clearly anti-war candidate, the only person running who voted against the use of force resolution, Dennis Kucinich also referred to the 2002 vote as a test at a candidate forum in Nevada "We had an audition for president in October, 2002."
Even those who voted wrong on the Iraq War in 2002 criticize Clinton for her vote. Senator Chris Dodd, who has apologized for his mistaken vote, has chided Clinton for not apologizing. John Edwards indirectly criticized Clinton saying "We’ve had … six years of a president who is incapable of admitting that he was wrong, incapable of admitting that he’s made a mistake. It’s time for a different kind of leadership in this country. We need a leader who will be open and honest with you and with the American people, who will tell the truth, who will tell the truth when they’ve made a mistake."
Clinton was not only wrong in 2002 when she gave Bush the authority to attack Iraq but she has been wrong for most of the time since then. Can peace voters trust her judgment? Can her newfound anti-war views be trusted?
More than election year words and promises are needed. Sen. Clinton needs to start to lead now on this important issue. That means really taking strong action to end this war. She is already perceived as a leader of the Democratic Party. If she says she will not support another penny for the ‘stay the course’ approach of the president that is such a disaster for U.S. foreign policy, U.S. troops and the Iraqi people then she will move the Democratic Party which has the power to end the war with her.
It only takes 41 votes to stop the $93 billion supplemental requested by President Bush for Iraq. If Senator Clinton were to lead a filibuster to end the war then she would be doing more than making election year promises and telling the voters what she thinks they want to hear. She would actually be leading the U.S. out of a quagmire and correcting the error of her pro-war votes. Can Senator Clinton convince 41 out of the 51 Democrats to join her in ending the war? If she can then she will really be showing leadership and will become a legitimate anti-war candidate for 2008. Otherwise the inevitable nomination may be lost to the power of the anti-war voter in 2008.
KEVIN ZEESE is executive director of Democracy Rising and co-founder of VotersForPeace.US.