Hillary can't have it both ways

Worried that the left-wing Democratic Peace Train may be leaving the station without her, Hillary Clinton is scrambling for a seat by moving away from her carefully crafted hawkish support of the Iraq war. But she can’t join the left body and soul because she still needs to show how tough she is on national security issues, so she is trying to craft her own “third way” on Iraq.

Worried that the left-wing Democratic Peace Train may be leaving the station without her, Hillary Clinton is scrambling for a seat by moving away from her carefully crafted hawkish support of the Iraq war. But she can’t join the left body and soul because she still needs to show how tough she is on national security issues, so she is trying to craft her own “third way” on Iraq.

All she has succeeded in doing, however, is fudging her position, muddying it up, but convincing nobody on the right or on the left.

Hillary became a hawk in the first place because she realizes that the chief obstacle to a female presidency is the concern by both sexes that a man might be better at handling issues such as national defense and security. To have a realistic chance at winning the White House, the Hillary Clinton of It Takes a Village and healthcare reform must take a back seat to Hillary the Hawk, an American incarnation of the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir and Indira Ghandi.

As if to underscore the point, her friends and aides have worked with the Hillary supporters at ABC to craft the weekly show “Commander in Chief,” portraying a Hillary-like female president coping successfully with national-security issues.

But her long-term strategy of positioning herself as a hawk is increasingly running afoul of the gathering momentum on the left opposing the war in Iraq. She now faces a Senate primary fight next year from a hard-left liberal in New York state, and it is not difficult to envision a revitalized Al Gore or John Kerry challenging her from the left in 2008.

As happened in the 1960s, a new left is emerging around opposition to a war, leaving behind old-style liberals who support the invasion and grinding them underfoot. Hillary could be marginalized in 2008 just as Hubert Humphrey was in 1968 and she is determined to prevent it.

So Hillary has to figure out how to have her cake and eat it too — how to appease the gathering fury on the left while reinforcing her image as tough on national security.

What makes this task more difficult still is Hillary’s tendency to become a true believer once a guru has shown her the way. Just as she bought the Fabian Socialist vision of Ira Magaziner — hook, line and sinker — on healthcare reform, she may be falling under the influence of men in uniforms as they address her on the dais of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Hillary, after all, is not quite the opportunist Bill is. He shifts with the wind. Hillary often hunkers down hard on a position and requires a hurricane to dislodge her.

But her political antennae — and Bill’s — have led her to begin to move to the left, embracing a muddled middle ground. She says she “takes responsibility” for her vote for the war but insists that she was misled by bad intelligence and indicates that Congress, and presumably she herself, would not have authorized the war if it had known then what it knows now.

But even so, she says we must neither withdraw nor set a timetable for doing so, since such a policy would invite the terrorists to wait us out and return to power as we leave. However, she qualifies her position by saying that we should say we will eventually leave and articulate the milestones that would have to be achieved to permit us to do so.

This position is a political pretzel worthy of her husband’s squirming over tough issues.

But it won’t fool anyone. The right knows that she is, at best, an unreliable ally and, at worst, an insincere one. The left will not accept anything less than full-out opposition to the war. And our troops in the field — and their families back home — likely will not find much comfort in learning that Sen. Clinton wants them to risk their lives for a mistake.

And George Bush is not going to solve Hillary’s problem for her by winding up the war anytime soon. No matter what public opinion says, he is determined to stay in Iraq until the democratically elected government can handle the terrorists on its own. As commander in chief (the real one, not Geena Davis), he can do as he pleases. Congress is not about to cut off funding now or in the future, and Bush can stay in Iraq until the end of his term if need be.

So what is Hillary to do?

Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.

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