Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has great political skills, but her war-and-peace compass leaves something to be desired. Clinton has blown hot and cold on Middle East issues, including Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. She is at best pragmatic. Principles? Well, that's another story. Before and during her early years in the White House, she supported Palestinian statehood, but she apparently forgot this after successfully running for senator from New York as a Democrat. The rest is history. She obviously had to cater to a new constituency, make the ritual trip to Israel and forget any sympathy she once had for the Palestinians. But is her 180-degree flip-flop on that festering issue a portent of her leadership if she attains the White House? As for Iraq, she voted in October 2002 to authorize President Bush to do what was necessary to unseat Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Unlike former Sen. John Edwards, she has refused to say she made a mistake when she voted for the war. She cannot claim she was misled. During the lead up to the war when she was briefed on the latest U.S. intelligence about Iraq, Bush was shouting from the housetops that he was going to attack Iraq. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often strutted before reporters at the Pentagon two years before the invasion and bragged about the attack the U.S. would wage against Iraq. Clinton is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a post that will allow her to embellish her credentials as a possible future commander-in-chief to show she would not hesitate to make tough military decisions. As a member of that committee, she visited Iraq in 2005 and said U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake. But she also criticized the administration for making poor decisions about the war. In 2007, she voted in favor of a war-spending bill that required Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within a certain deadline; the President vetoed the measure. But Clinton then voted against a compromise war-spending bill that tied funding to progress by Iraq in meeting certain benchmarks. It doesn't take her long to switch her stance on the war -- even in 24 hours. On June 19, Clinton told a union audience that she favored keeping some troops in Iraq "to protect our interests" there after a major pullout. But the following day, she told an activist anti-war gathering that she wants U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq. On that day, she dazzled the "Take Back America" conference by declaring: "We're going to end the war in Iraq and finally bring our troops home." A woman has a right to change her mind. But we're talking about war and peace. After dealing with the conflict now in its fifth year, Clinton ought to know where she stands. She has piously stated that the U.S. had given the Iraqis a "chance for free and fair elections" by ousting Saddam Hussein and has provided the Iraqi government the opportunity to demonstrate that it would "make hard political decisions necessary to give the people of Iraq a better future." And get this: "So," she added, "the American military has succeeded. It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions that are important for their own people." What gall! The U.S. invades and occupies a country, destroys its infrastructure, tries to privatize its national oil industry, kills and wounds thousands of Iraqis and now tells the ungrateful Iraqis, "It's your problem." Pretty soon she will echo Bush in saying we are in Iraq to bring them "democracy"! It's great that a woman is being taken seriously as a candidate for the presidency for the first time in history -- and is even viewed as the front-runner. She has suffered the rough and tumble of politics. But Clinton should look to two California Democrats -- Rep. Barbara Lee and Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- both of whom had the courage to vote against the first resolution authorizing the President to go to war. The question still lingers: What does Clinton stand for? Helen Thomas' e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 The Times Union