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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan August 30, 2007
SUMMARY: The Republican National Committee created an ad suggesting the two top Democrats running for president have changed positions on Iraq, but both candidates' records on the war are more consistent than the ad would have you believe.

In a radio ad, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom questions Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's positions on Iraq:

"In 2004, Senator Barack Obama said a quick withdrawal from Iraq would be 'a slap in the face to the troops.' In 2005, Senator Hillary Clinton rejected 'a rigid timetable that terrorists could exploit,' and last year said she didn't think it was a smart strategy to set a date certain for withdrawal. But now, Clinton and Obama are calling for the precipitous withdrawal of America from Iraq regardless of conditions on the ground and regardless of the consequences of a defeat for the United States."

The veteran, Emory "Trip" Bellard, goes on to address them directly, asking, "What happened to your principled leadership when it comes to the War on Terror?"

The RNC is taking quotes from several years ago and comparing them to recent comments, which doesn't take into account the changing conditions in Iraq. But setting that aside, what's more significant here is the selective editing that was done for the ad on the quotations that were used.

So, have Obama and Clinton flip-flopped on the Iraq war?

Let's look at the candidates separately.

Obama was an opponent of the Iraq War from its inception, when he was an Illinois state senator. Two years later, when Obama ran for the U.S. Senate seat for Illinois, he continued to oppose the rationale for the invasion. But he also said the U.S. now had an obligation to see the war through. "I don't think any of us should be rooting for failure in Iraq at this point," he said. "This is no longer George Bush's war. This is our war."

The "slap in the face" quote used in the ad appeared in a campaign story from the Associated Press. Obama said he would support sending more troops to Iraq if it would hasten the end of the war. An immediate withdrawal, he said, would create "an extraordinary hotbed of terrorist activity" and be "a slap in the face" to the troops fighting there.

Tim Russert asked Obama if he stood by the "slap in the face" remarks on two separate episodes of "Meet the Press." Obama didn't answer it directly, but his responses answers were in line with his previous statements opposing the war. In January 2006, Obama told Russert, "It remains my position that we have a role to play in stabilizing the country as Iraqis are getting their act together. But I have to emphasize that there is a cost for our presence there. We are an irritant, and we help spur the insurgency even as we're defending a fledgling Iraqi government against that insurgency. And so, we have this difficult balance that has to take place, but the critical point is that Iraqis have to take responsibility now that the final election has taken place."

In October 2006, Obama said, "I think it was a mistake for us to go in. I felt that once we had gone in, it made sense for us to try to make the best of the situation. ... Given the deteriorating situation, it is clear at this point that we cannot -- through putting in more troops or maintaining the presence that we have -- expect that somehow the situation is going to improve, and we have to do something significant to break the pattern that we've been in right now."

In January, Obama proposed legislation that would have started pulling out troops in May 2007 with a goal of having all combat troops out by March 31, 2008. Contrary to the RNC ad, the legislation has provisions to stop the pull-out in case of national interest or if the Iraqi government met certain targets.

Now let's look at Hillary Clinton.

Clinton voted in favor of the 2002 resolution authorizing President Bush's use of force in Iraq despite reservations. "Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible," she said on the occasion of the vote.

The RNC ad gets Clinton's later statements correct, but leaves out context.

The RNC partially quotes Clinton on a "timetable that terrorists can exploit," something she said several times, from a speech she gave in Louisville, KY in December 2005. Here's the whole quote: "The time has come for the administration to stop serving up platitudes and present a plan for finishing this war with success and honor," she said. "I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit, and I reject an open timetable that has no ending attached to it. Instead, I think we need a plan for winning and concluding this war, and the president can begin by taking responsibilities for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of this war."

The 2006 statement is taken from a Senate floor speech: "I simply do not believe it is a strategy or a solution for the president to continue declaring an open-ended and unconditional commitment, nor do I believe it is a solution or a strategy to set a date certain for withdrawal without regard to the consequences."

In May 2007, Clinton as well as Obama voted in favor of procedural measures that would have set dates for troop withdrawals, but the measures failed, as expected.

Recently, Clinton has written letters pressing the Defense Department to plan for an Iraq exit, but she has not asked them for a specific date.

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Our Sources

Chicago Defender, "Opposition to War Mounts." By Chinta Strausberg. September 26, 2002. Chicago Tribune, "Obama, Keyes Put on Kid Gloves." By John Chase and Liam Ford. October 13, 2004.

Associated Press, "Obama Willing to Support More Troops in Iraq." By Christopher Wills. September 18, 2004.

Meet the Press, transcript for January 22, 2006.

Meet the Press, transcript for October 22, 2006.

The Library of Congress THOMAS web site. Proposed legislation sponsored by Barack Obama. Introduced January 30, 2007.

Floor Speech of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on S.J. Res. 45, A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. October 2002.

Hillary Clinton. Letter to Constituents. November 29, 2005.

Remarks of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on the Senate Floor on Iraq. June 21, 2006.

Associated Press, "Clinton Tells Ky. Dems Bush Mismanaged War." By Bruce Schreiner. Dec. 3, 2005.

National Public Radio, Sen. Clinton Seeks to Shore Up Left-Wing Support. By Mara Liasson. June 13, 2006.

Washington Post, Symbolic Measure to End War Voted Down 67 to 29 in Senate. By Shailagh Murray. May 17, 2007.

Hillary Clinton, Letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. June 19, 2007.

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