Kathleen Parker

Hillary Clinton's remark during Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate that Iraq is ``George Bush's war'' may be interpreted as either brilliant strategy or desperate deflection.

Clinton may get points for strategy -- as the front-runner, she doesn't need to attack her Democratic ppponents -- but she was also deflecting. In a Rodney King ``can't we all just get along'' moment, she tried to paint a picture of Democratic unity on the war question.

``The differences among us are minor. The differences between us and the Republicans are major,'' she said.

To which John Edwards replied: ``There are important differencesbetween us on this."

Clinton is in fact desperate on the war question, as she should be.

To win her party's nomination, she needs to be anti-war; to win the general election, she has to be viewed as militarily tough. Somewhere in the middle is a principle upon which she ought to stand, if only she could find it.

Early on during the anti-war surge, she stood bravely by her vote. Then under pressure from the Democratic base, she said she wouldn't have voted the way she did had she known then what she knows now. By the first Democratic debate last month, she said she regretted trusting Bush when he said he would let U.N. weapons inspectors do their work. By Sunday's second debate, Clinton's Iraq War vote was really for ``coercive diplomacy.''

In fairness to Clinton, she did say in her Senate floor statement preceding the Iraq resolution vote that she was not seeking a new policy of pre-emption or unilateralism and would have preferred a stronger requirement for the diplomatic route.

Despite misgivings, she said she would take the president at his word ``that he will try hard to pass a U.N. resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.''

Perhaps that's what Clinton was referring to when she said she was hoping for coercive diplomacy. Even so, she expressed no misgivings about Iraq's threat to the U.S., saying that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein would ``continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.''

Clinton also said her decision granting war authority to the president was made easier by Bush's Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati in which he outlined his reasons for seeking congressional approval for war.

While Bush did say he hoped military action wouldn't be necessary, he also said he had no faith that Saddam would suddenly begin cooperating with inspectors. No one hearing the speech could express surprise that the U.S.was going to war.

Kathleen Parker

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