Hillary is one of those smart Democrats. So she has been posturing as a hawk for well over a year now and trying to distance herself -- at least for public appearances -- from the kook base of her party.
But like the rest of us she didn't seem to anticipate that her base would become so agitated over her quasi support for the war. They may have winked and nodded to John Kerry as he feigned toughness on terror during his campaign, but they've not yet been so forgiving toward Hillary.
This puts Hillary in a very difficult position. She is not used to being held accountable for anything, especially by her base. But she still can't afford to come out full force against the war. And, like other Democratic presidential hopefuls, she can't afford to support fully the president's policy on Iraq, or she gives voters no reason to vote Democratic on the Iraq issue.
So far, she has gotten away with such indefensible tripe -- articulated in a speech to Kentucky Democrats -- as "I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit, and I reject an open timetable that has no ending attached to it."
Translation: "I know, based on my party's unsuccessful ploy in demanding a withdrawal timetable for Iraq, that I can't go there, but I also know that the loony base is still insisting on withdrawal, so, like John Kerry, I'll throw out gibberish and pray for no follow-up questions. In the meantime, I'll just bark unceasingly over how we were tricked into the war in the first place and how we alienated our allies, which might have the dual benefits of distracting attention away from my incoherent position and mollifying the base."
If Hillary had a principled position on Iraq, she wouldn't have to torture logic to come up with one -- or more. But even with the luxury of having no fixed principles on the matter, without a crystal ball unveiling the condition in Iraq two years hence, she can't know for sure whether to go on straddling the fence or jump down on one side or the other.
It will be interesting to see what kind of policy pretzels she might bake over the next few years as she pretends to support our goals in Iraq without supporting President Bush, and attempts to appease her base without answering its secular prayers.