Addressing the Democratic Leadership Council, Bill Clinton said all the Democratic candidates agree that there should be
Addressing the Democratic Leadership Council, Bill Clinton said all the Democratic candidates agree that there should be "more diplomacy." (By Mark Humphrey -- Associated Press)

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Former President Plays Referee

Former president Bill Clinton yesterday sought to minimize the differences between his wife and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) over how to handle rogue foreign leaders as president of the United States.

"I don't want to get in the middle of that whole spat Hillary and Senator Obama had, but there's more than one way to practice diplomacy," Clinton said in remarks before the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. He noted that the Democratic candidates agree on "the big question."

"And that is: Should we have more diplomacy? The answer is yes," Clinton said, adding: "Then you can parse their answers to the specific questions and decide who you think is right."

With his remarks, Clinton injected himself into what has emerged as one of the most vigorous intraparty debates of the 2008 campaign. In an especially sharp exchange last week, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) said Obama's willingness to meet with foreign leaders of hostile countries such as Iran is "irresponsible and naive." In response, Obama compared Clinton's reluctance to meet with rogue nations to the diplomatic efforts of the Bush administration.

Opinion is divided over which candidate won the fight, both tactically and on the merits: Although some conservatives and foreign policy experts believe that Clinton gave the superior answer, one that exhibited her toughness and expertise, Obama seemed to set himself apart from Clinton as a candidate of "change" while demonstrating his willingness to push back against the front-runner. On the campaign trail, he is repeating the theme that developed from the exchange, telling voters in Iowa that his policy would be different from President Bush's -- the implication being that Clinton's would not.

The tug of war between the top two Democratic contenders has delighted the rest of the field, especially former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who comes in third in national polls and has been the subject of negative stories in recent months. Joe Trippi, Edwards's campaign manager, said the Obama-Clinton feud could damage both candidates.

"It hasn't turned into the Dean-Gephardt suicide pact of Iowa 2003," Trippi said, referring to the bitter battle between then-Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and former Vermont governor Howard Dean that helped defeat both candidates in the last Democratic primary race. "But in a Democratic primary, getting sucked into a punch-counterpunch in July, I'm just not sure works."

Obama is slated to deliver a speech on terrorism tomorrow in Washington; his campaign is calling it "The War We Need to Win."

-- Anne E. Kornblut

Biden's Give-and-Take In the Oval Office

After pictures emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004 showing mistreatment of Iraqis, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) told reporters that, if he were president, he would fire Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. According to the senator's new book, Biden then found himself with some explaining to do.

"Why do you keep picking on Rummy?" President Bush asked Biden in a meeting that also included Vice President Cheney.

"I looked at Cheney," Biden writes. "Mr. Vice-President, I said, full disclosure, were you not a constitutional officer, I'd fire you too. Simple reason, Mr. President, can you name me one piece of substantial advice given about the war in Iraq that's turned out to be true? That's why Mr. President."

Cheney did not respond to Biden's broadside.

Three years later, the longtime senator finds himself lagging in the polls and in fundraising in his quest to be Bush's successor. His aides hope that the release this week of his autobiography, "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," along with a book tour that will include interviews with Jon Stewart, David Letterman and Charlie Rose, will infuse some life into his bid for the Democratic nomination.

Much of the book covers Biden's life story, including the death of his first wife, Neilia, and their infant daughter shortly after he was elected to the Senate at age 29 in 1972, and the pair of brain aneurysms he suffered in February 1988. The brush with death came a few months after he had dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, after it was discovered that he had used lines from a British politician in his speeches without crediting him.

In the book, Biden also points out that he had criticized President Bill Clinton for not being more aggressive against Serbia for attacking neighboring Kosovo.

After U.S. airstrikes led the Serbs to withdraw from Kosovo, Biden congratulated Clinton for intervening in the conflict. But Clinton was not eager to accept the praise. In a meeting, Clinton told Biden that he had been unfair, and he offered in his criticism a message that Biden's campaign would love voters to hear. According to Biden, who has long been involved in foreign policy issues in the Senate, Clinton said, "I was a governor, you've been doing this your whole adult life."

-- Perry Bacon Jr.

Thompson's June Haul Said to Be $3 Million

Fred D. Thompson will file the first accounting of his potential presidential campaign's fundraising activity with the Internal Revenue Service tomorrow, and the report will show that the enterprise raised between $3.1 million and $3.2 million in June, according to sources familiar with the Thompson operation.

The filing will also show that the exploratory campaign had about $2.9 million on hand at the end of June, a result of contract terms with vendors that enabled the Thompson camp to delay most payments for at least a month.

What the report will not reveal, however, is what happened after the initial burst of activity, when it started to become clear that Thompson would not announce his candidacy for the GOP nomination before the end of August. Three sources familiar with the finances said donations have slowed significantly, a situation made worse by staff shake-ups in recent weeks.

-- Matthew Mosk

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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