Clinton's Presidential Posturing

By David S. Broder
Sunday, January 28, 2007

When Lt. Gen. David Petraeus went before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week in open session, its members understandably had many questions for the new commander of American forces in Iraq.

They knew of his reputation as a battlefield leader, trainer of Iraqi troops and co-author of the Army manual on counterinsurgency warfare. They also recognized the difficulty and importance of his new assignment.

Many of the questions probed the rationale for the president's new strategy of injecting more U.S. troops into Baghdad neighborhoods racked by killings by rival Sunni and Shiite gangs. Others challenged the readiness of Iraqi forces and the Baghdad government to do their part in reducing sectarian violence.

A few of the questions were naive, self-serving or tangents. But virtually all members of the committee were present, and senators of both parties recognized the value of probing this experienced and candid witness.

With one exception. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York used her time to make a speech about Iraq policy and did not ask a single question of the man who will be leading the military campaign.

Her speech replayed some of the themes from her news conference the previous week, on her return from Iraq, when she made clear her disagreement with President Bush's decision to add 21,500 soldiers and Marines to Petraeus's force.

She began by blaming the Iraq crisis on a "Congress [that] was supine under the Republican majority, failing to conduct oversight and demanding accountability, and because the president and his team, particularly the former secretary of defense, refused to adapt to the changing circumstances on the ground."

From that partisan opening, Clinton went on to decry "the failures of the Iraqis to step up and take responsibility for their own future." She said that the escalation Bush ordered was too little and too late and instead called on Congress to "threaten to cut money for the Iraqi troops and for the security for the Iraqi leadership," as a way to break the political gridlock in Baghdad and force efforts at national reconciliation.

She wound up the speech by saying that despite her disagreement with the policy, she wanted Petraeus's assurance that "we have every possible piece of equipment and resource necessary to protect these young men and women" going into battle.

"I'll do that, Senator," Petraeus said, and after that four-word response, Clinton was finished. She had no questions to ask.

Judging by all the polls, Clinton is the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination, is also a member of the Armed Services Committee.

McCain asked Petraeus 14 questions, ranging from the political situation in Iraq to the morale of the troops to the timeline for the planned "surge." He ran out of time before he ran out of questions -- quite a contrast to Clinton.

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