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Clinton's Presidential Posturing

Clinton aides said that the senator thought it was important to rebut the comments from several other committee members suggesting that congressional resolutions opposing the president's policy would "undercut the troops," so she used her time for that purpose. But I can think of three other possible explanations for her remarkable reluctance to probe the general's thinking.

First, she has been treading a careful line from her early support of military action against Saddam Hussein to an increasingly sharp criticism of the war and calls for troop reductions. Perhaps she feared that dialogue with Petraeus would lead her into dangerous, uncharted waters. Caution is commendable, but she is sometimes faulted for being too calculating.

Second, the hearing came only three days after she announced her presidential exploratory committee, and she may have decided it was a good opportunity to repeat her views on Iraq policy before TV cameras rather than share time with the general. That wouldn't say much about her priorities as she begins a second six-year term as senator, but New York voters presumably knew in November that she might have loftier goals than just minding her Senate duties.

The third, less benign possibility is that Clinton is reverting to the mode of her ill-fated 1993-94 health-care initiative, when she gave members of Congress and other interested folks the impression that she thought she had all the answers -- so please just do as I say. In that period, she and her deputy, Ira Magaziner, two of the smartest policy wonks in captivity, were also supremely self-confident -- and in some eyes, arrogant. And it cost them support, even among potential allies.

This month Clinton began her presidential campaign, as she did her first race for the Senate in New York, by saying that she wanted to do a lot of listening. She sure wasn't listening to Gen. Petraeus. She wasn't even asking.

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