Kathleen Parker

The coulda-shoulda-woulda chorus just added a new soprano. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says she wouldn't have voted for the Iraq War if she'd known then what she knows now.

Clinton was one of the last holdouts among the probable 2008 Democratic presidential candidates to embrace hindsight regarding her vote in 2002 on a resolution approving the invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

It's been interesting to watch formerly pro-war leaders distance themselves, one by one, as conditions have deteriorated in Iraq. As always, timing is everything.

Was the first to cut and run from the hawk's nest the smartest? Was the last one more principled?

When to declare oneself anti-war has been a trick of politics and prudence. For Hillary, the call has been especially complicated.

As a woman, she's worked hard to establish herself as not soft on foreign policy. She serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, held her ground on the war, and even visited the troops in Iraq.

Then came that upstart Barack Obama -- the Illinois senator, anti-war purist and pretender to the throne. Seeing him idolized in New Hampshire last weekend -- his mug beaming from every newspaper rack -- Hillary finally had to tweak her stand.

Thus on Monday, she joined others, including John Edwards and John Kerry, in declaring the stupendously obvious:

``Obviously,'' she said, ``if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote ... and I certainly wouldn't have voted that way.''

But if we'd known what, precisely? That there were no WMD? No, if that were the case, Hillary might have come out sooner, as Edwards did in a Nov. 13, 2005 op-ed article for The Washington Post. He wrote:

``But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed. ... It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002.''

On the other hand, if Hillary had backpedaled then, people might have thought she was shadowing Edwards, not a good sign for the aspiring first woman president in U.S. history. She'd have to bide her time and hold her ground a while longer.

This was getting tiresome. She'd had to hold the same miserable ground, risking her party's base, in 2004 when Kerry was flip-flopping like a fish on a hot dock, famously saying that Iraq was ``the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

Kerry had voted for war just the same as Hillary, but he would have done things differently than Bush. Hillary's thinking: (BEG ITAL)``Oh really, Lurch, like who wouldn't have?''(END ITAL)

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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