Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and the Republicans aren't the only political casualties of America's deepening disapproval of the Iraq war. Sen. Hillary Clinton also risks being caught in the crossfire of her party's divisions over the battle for Baghdad.

In fact, she is already getting flak from her party's anti-war base, as well as some of her rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, for her refusal to call for a timetable for troop withdrawal.

She has stepped up her criticism of the war and supports a resolution condemning Bush's 21,500-troop surge. But she is opposed to a pullout of existing forces there for the time being. Instead, she wants to keep total force levels where they are now, fearing a call for a quick pullout would damage her national-security credentials and her presidential ambitions.

However, her national-security advisers also fear she will become caught between the anti-war, pull-the-troops-out demands of her two chief rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, both of whom have called the war a mistake.

That is the message her advisers are hearing from Democrats in the early caucus and primary states, where the overwhelming position among her party's grass roots is not just against Bush's troop-level increases but against our being there, period.

"I'm not sure I would want to be in her position as it relates to the views the American people have on the war," said Rob Tully, the former Iowa Democratic state chairman. "If her position on the war is in direct conflict to what the American people are thinking, people are going to judge her on it," Tully told me.

Asked whether her candidacy could be hurt if her chief rivals make her anti-withdrawal-now position the overriding issue in the nomination battle, he replied, "I don't think there is any doubt about that." Two anti-war missiles that Edwards and Obama recently hurled in her direction demonstrate what Tully is talking about.

The first came two weeks ago when Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice-presidential nominee, implicitly criticized her acknowledged self-search for fresh strategic, war-making options during a fact-finding visit to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I don't know exactly what we will be voting (on in the Senate), but the reason I'm here is to make an assessment and try to figure out what is the responsible position to take," Clinton told reporters there.

That remark, which seemed to suggest she was still trying to figure out what her political options were on the war, drew a sharp rebuke from Edwards who was campaigning in New York where he called for an immediate pullback of troops from Iraq.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.