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Democratic presidential hopefuls tackle Iraq

Iraq — it is the inescapable problem that one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls will have to contend with if the Democrats win the White House in 2008. That's why the most telling line of the day was that uttered by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton speaks at the DNC winter meeting in Washington
Feb. 2: Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) speaks on ending the Iraq war at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting Friday, in Washington, D.C.Jim Young / Reuters
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Iraq — it is the inescapable problem that one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls will have to contend with if the Democrats win the White House in 2008.

That's why the most telling line of the day was that uttered by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York who declared, “There are many people who wish we could do more” than merely debate and vote on next week’s Senate Iraq resolution.

She was one of a parade of presidential contenders who trooped before 400 members of the Democratic National Committee and hundreds of Democratic activists at the DNC winter meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. Friday.

Clinton's "wish we could do more" remark was her pacifying response to the frustration among Democrats that the Iraq war and its consequences will dominate America's agenda from now until the next president takes office, and beyond.

The New York Democrat, who in some polls is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, gave her implicit support to the non-binding Senate resolution, which expresses disagreement with President Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq.

During her speech she had to cope with a small gaggle of anti-war hecklers who demanded that Congress take steps to end the war now and bring U.S. troops home.

Clinton took pains in her speech to explain that accomplishing anything in the Senate requires 60 votes.

She said ,“we need to threaten the Iraqi government that we’re going to take money away from their troops” if they persist in their “empty promises,” and she reminded the crowd of her support for a cap on the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Looking back to her 2002 vote to authorize President Bush to use force against Iraq and the start of the war in 2003, she said that had she been president in 2003, “I wouldn’t have started this war.”

'Silence is betrayal' on Bush troop plan
Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who won the award for best audience participation, got the crowd to stand up when he urged them to stand up for poor people and for families without health insurance.

And Edwards used the refrain, “Silence is betrayal,” declaring that members of Congress could not “stand by quietly” as Bush dispatched more troops to Iraq.

Yet as the Senate resolution indicates, Clinton and other senators are not being silent: they are talking quite a lot about Iraq.

But so far there seem to be insufficient votes to actually do something by cutting off funding for the deployment.

Edwards speculated that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney “don’t think we have the backbone” to oppose them on the war.

Clinton's promise, Obama's lament
One DNC member, Maryland Democratic Party chairman Terry Lierman, praised Clinton’s promise that if the Iraq war had not ended by the time she took office as president in 2009, she would end it. “That was a really good definitive statement,” he said.

But Lierman also said, “A non-binding resolution is a failure of leadership.”

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was mobbed by a horde of camera-clicking admirers after he finished his speech and exited into the lobby.

Obama spent much of his speech lamenting that politics had become “a blood sport” and a “diversion” and that it was infected by “cynicism.”

He told the audience that politics should not be about “who digs up more skeletons on whom.”

He did not explain why he was raising the topic of skullduggery, whose “skeletons” might just be waiting to be found, or whether any revelations would affect any of the contenders. 

He reminded the audience that he opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But he said all Democratic contenders had a responsibility to “put forward in clear unambiguous certain terms exactly how they plan to get out of Iraq.”

He did not detail that plan in his speech but has offered a bill to require Bush to complete withdrawal by early 2008.

Dodd and the non-binding Iraq resolution
Like Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who was the day’s first speaker, Clinton and Obama did not commit himself to voting against Bush’s request for $100 billion in additional money for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Neither Dodd, Clinton, nor Obama discussed the potential consequences of U.S. forces leaving Iraq, such as ethnic cleansing or genocide on the scale of Darfur, or dismemberment of Iraq by neighboring countries such as Turkey or Iran.

But Clinton did make a point of telling the crowd that “we can stop the genocide in Darfur.”

Clinton also ripped into U.S. dependence on foreign lenders.

She singled out the Chinese, recalling that one of her constituents had complained to her of jobs being lost to overseas competitors and asking “Why can’t we get tough with China?”

“Because of the debt,” Clinton said. “How do you get tough with your banker?”

Dodd took a shot at his senatorial rivals describing the non-binding Iraq resolution as “meaningless”

Dodd touted his measure which would cap the number of troops in Iraq and require Bush to seek a new congressional resolution to keep the troops there.

Democratic anti-war mandate?
Some Democrats have interpreted their party’s victory in last November’s balloting as a call by voters to end the U.S. deployment in Iraq. And yet the party’s leaders in Congress have moved with extreme caution in trying to force Bush to pull the troops out.

As he was or years ago, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who also add the DNC meeting Friday, is the most clear-cut and uncompromising opponent of the Iraq war, telling the crowd that “right the Democratic congress has the ability and the power to end the war” by rejecting any new funding of it. Kucinich was also the only contender at Friday’s event to raise in his speech the topic of a potential military conflict with Iran.

Although it is a year before the first test of voter support in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, the presidential hopefuls aimed to impress the DNC members, each of whom is a “super-delegate” with a vote at the national convention which will pick the party’s 2008 presidential candidate.

The super-delegates -- a category that includes DNC members and elected officials such as Democratic governors – account for nearly 40 percent of the total number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.