In the Arena

Hillary and Obama on Iraq Decoded

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First of all, I’m sure everyone is rooting, thinking, praying hard for Elizabeth Edwards right now, and so am I…She’s one of the most candid, no-bull and fun people I know in this racket. So, holding my breath till noon…

On to the Hillary-Obama Iraq tiff, which is a lot of noise about nothing:

Hillary’s wrong to engage in a microscopic redaction of Obama’s opposition to the war. He gave anti-war speeches before and during the time he ran for Senate, which wasn’t a very easy thing to do. The Hillaryians are making mucn of a statement he made after the Senate vote: He said that he probably would have voted against the war, as his friend Dick Durbin did, but that he wasn’t entirely sure because he didn’t know how he would have responded to the intel briefings the Senators received. That seems a matter of simple honesty, perhaps even unnecessarily candid, and quite admirable. Obama’s support for war funding after he arrived in the Senate also was entirely reasonable: We had broken the pottery, in Colin Powell’s deathless analogy, and had a responsibility to fix it…That responsibility changed a year ago, after the bombing of the Golden Mosque, and it became apparent that Iraq had become a civil war.

Obama’s wrong to imply that his position on Iraq was in any different from Hillary’s in the Senate. They both rejected John Kerry’s precipitous timetable for withdrawal. Both supported the more reasonable Reed-Levin position. Both now support the plan to withdraw most U.S. combat troops by March 2008 (although Obama arrived at the position earlier, and more elegantly, than Clinton, whose every move on this issue has seemed awkward since she announced her candidacy).

So, bottom line: Obama has a natural adavantage on Iraq because he opposed the war from the start and Hillary supported it. But the differences in their positions on this are eentsy now, and both seem…small trying to gain political advantage on this question.