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Eyes on ’08, Democrats fine-tune Iraq stance

NBC Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory reports on how Democrats likely to contend for the party's presidential nomination are fine-tuning their stances on Iraq.

As the debate over deeper involvement in Iraq heats up, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., just back from Iraq, stepped up her opposition to the war. Still officially on the sidelines of the White House race, she sounded every bit like a candidate.

"The president's team is pursuing a failed strategy in Iraq as it edges closer to collapse," she said Wednesday at a news conference after her trip.

Clinton sought to block the president's call for a troop increase by capping the number of U.S. forces in Iraq, and advocated a phased troop withdrawal.

She proposed, instead, sending additional soldiers to Afghanistan, where the Taliban is coming back.

"It would be a great irony if the administration's emphasis on escalating our presence in Iraq caused it to ignore the threat facing Afghanistan," she said.

Her high-profile stance, appearing first on TODAY this morning, came one day after Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., seen as Clinton's leading rival, launched his White House bid on the Internet.

"We're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged," said Obama in a Webcast on Tuesday.

Unlike Clinton, who voted to authorize the war, Obama wasn't in the Senate at the time, but has always opposed it.

Clinton has also been challenged on the left by declared candidate and former Sen. John Edwards. Having renounced his vote for the war, he now urges Congress to deny funding for additional troops.

"If they're against the escalation, they need to stand up and say so and stop the funding for this president to make another huge mistake," Edwards told NBC News on Tuesday.

Strategists say what Democrats want most at this stage is distance from the war.

"I think they're going to ride this thing out and say, "This is Bush's problem, let's let the time go off the calendar and two years from now, when we get elected, we'll deal with it then,'" says Harvard professor Steve Jarding.

But, facing an angry anti-war base, the big campaign test now for Democrats is how far to go in challenging the president.