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Hillary Clinton on Ending the War in Iraq: A Lack of Presidential Leadership

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Hillary Clinton is the clear frontrunner in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Yet, it is her own equivocation on critical issues that, more than anything else, may stop her from securing the nomination. As noted by Dick Morris, the former pollster for Bill Clinton:

With linguistic obfuscation reminiscent of Bill's more famous remarks -- "I didn't inhale" and "It depends on what the definition of is, is" -- Senator Clinton is determined not to tell us where she stands on anything. Instead, she has come to believe, probably correctly, that if we knew what she really wants to do as president, we would never vote for her. So on Social Security (where she plans to raise taxes), Iran (where she will take military action if need be), Iraq (where she will keep the troops), the Alternative Minimum Tax (which she will only repeal if it can be used to hide massive tax increases) and drivers licenses (which she will give to illegals as soon as she can), Hillary resists telling the truth.

I would like to focus on Morris' claim that Clinton will keep our troops stationed in Iraq. On the surface, Clinton has from the beginning of the campaign offered an entirely different message. At the February 2007 meeting of the Democratic National Convention, Clinton claimed:

I want to be very clear about this. If I had been president in October of 2002, I would not have started this war. I would not and if in Congress, if we in Congress, working as hard as we can to get the 60 votes you need to do anything in the Senate -- believe me, I understand the frustration and the outrage, you have to have 60 votes to cap troops, to limit funding, to do anything.

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If we in Congress don't end this war before January 2009, as president, I will!
It's become obvious that Congress will not end the war by January 2009. It's also become obvious that Clinton's pledge to end the war in Iraq rests on a foundation of quicksand.

Clinton has never called for a prompt and complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. When questioned on whether she will commit to specific date for the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as noted by Helen Thomas, Clinton reverts to "her usual cautious equivocation." She she leaves open the possibility our troops will remain until 2013. David Broder commented that Clinton plays "dodgeball" on the question of leaving Iraq:
During the debate, she rarely came out of a defensive crouch, as if determined to protect her favored position. Answering the first question, she said her goal would be to withdraw all American troops from Iraq by 2013, but "it is very difficult to know what we are going to be inheriting" from the Bush administration, so she cannot make any pledge -- as Richardson and others feel free to do. Troops might be needed for counterterrorism work for many years.
What circumstances must exist in Iraq in 2009 to permit a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? Clinton is silent on this critical point.

What is Clinton's actual plan for leaving Iraq? In the time honored tradition of politicians that recognize an issue must be addressed but lack any understanding to how to do so, Clinton calls for a study. As explained on her campaign website:
As president, one of Hillary's first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration.
Note, Clinton doesn't say the U.S. will begin withdrawing from Iraq in 60 days. She simply asks the military and other advisers to give her a plan within two months. This begs the question: what if Clinton's advisers repeat the mantra of the D.C. political and military establishment that Iraq is too unstable and a withdrawal of our forces will threaten U.S. interests in the region?

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What is clear is that Clinton lacks confidence in her own judgment. Instead, Clinton relies upon the architects of the Iraq morass and those that have deemed the surge successful to advise her of the course of action to take in Iraq. We can expect her advisers plan for Iraq will be a hawkish plan.

How can I make this charge? Look at whom is advising Clinton today on Iraq and military affairs. Among her military advisers, as reported in the Washington Post, are Gen. John ("Jack") Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, former deputy chief of staff for intelligence; retired Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, who served as President Clinton's deputy national security adviser; retired Col. Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; and Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings senior fellow. These are the persons that will form her inner circle of advisers should she become President.

Let's examine each of these persons.

Jack Keane was "vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army during Iraq war planning" and at one time an outspoken in supporter of Rumsfeld. In July 2003, Keane praised Tommy Franks' war plan for the Iraq campaign was "bold and brilliant."

There never was a comprehensive plan in place to secure and rebuild the country. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded our forces in Iraq, recently stated that our war plan was "catastrophically flawed [and] unrealistically optimistic."

In July 2004, Keane admitted in testimony that:
We did not see it (the insurgency) coming. And we were not properly prepared and organized to deal with it . . . . Many of us got seduced by the Iraqi exiles in terms of what the outcome would be.
Two years later, Keane stated:
If we had planned for an insurgency, we probably would have deployed the First Cavalry Division and it would have assisted greatly with the initial occupation. This was not just an intelligence community failure, but also our failure as senior military leaders.
Fast forward to December 2006, whom is meeting with President Bush and advocating an escalation of the war in what became known as the "surge"? Yes, the answer is Keane. He along with Frederick Kagan developed the strategy of the surge. I encourage everyone to read the interview of Keane by Frontline earlier this year.

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Recently Bill Sammon, a Washington Examiner correspondent and author of a new book titled "The Evangelical President," reported that President Bush has been sending messages to Clinton to urge her to "maintain some political wiggle room in your campaign rhetoric about Iraq." One wonders if Keane is the person serving as Bush's liaison to Clinton on Iraq.

Claudia Kennedy, another supporter of the war, was "absolutely" certain Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In April 2003, when asked why no WMD had been discovered, she responded:
If absolutely nothing was found after months of thorough searching, my question would be -- where was it shipped? If such weapons are not in the country, they must have been shipped out because we absolutely know they were there.
Kennedy believes that it is not our invasion of Iraq that has caused so much difficulty for the U.S. Rather, the war has been botched by President Bush. Kennedy recently made national headlines when she stated:
I don't oppose the war. I think it's being very badly led by the civilian leadership. I have not ever heard (Clinton) say, 'I oppose the war.'"
Donald Kerrick wrote an essay last year entitled "Iraq Not Lost Yet". While calling for a review of our strategy in Iraq, Kerrick opposed those he labeled as advocating the U.S. cut and run. Such a course would lose Iraq to the extremists.

Andrew Krepinevich believes a sustained U.S. presence is crucial to the future of Iraq. The U.S. has no choice in Iraq because if we leave Iraq will descend into civil war.

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Stephen is a resident of California and Democrat.

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