Who is Playing Politics on Iraq?

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET

Senator Hillary Clinton returned from Iraq clearly distressed at an Iraqi leadership unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to counter the growing civil war in that country. She announced she would oppose the president's effort to escalate the war, support a cap on US troops there, and slap the wrist of the Iraqi president by threatening to cut off funding for his personal security forces he didn't straighten up.

She argued, sensibly, that candidates in the 2008 race should be thoughtful and responsible when talking about war, rather than trying to score easy political points with red-meat rhetoric.

And then she immediately burlesqued opponents of the war, seeking to score easy political points with red-meat rhetoric: "I'm not going to cut American troops' funding right now - they're in harm's way," Sen. Clinton said, in response to antiwar Democrats who want Congress to use the power of the purse to bring this misbegotten war to an end.

This is simply an echo of the politically dishonest rhetoric of the administration. Using the power of the purse will not put the troops in danger. Any resolution - such as that introduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler yesterday - would empower the president to protect the troops while gradually withdrawing them over time. Nothing in that would put the troops in harm's way at risk. Quite the reverse.

Forcing the president to change course and begin removing the troops in a responsible fashion surely will save more of the lives and limbs of US soldiers than abdicating the congressional responsibility, and allowing the president to sustain his ruinous misadventure until he can hand the mess over to his successor to clean up.

The Senator can't believe her own words. If she actually thought that congressional restrictions would endanger the troops, then she couldn't support a cap on US troops - for the president might well argue that more troops are vital to protect those who are there.

For political or policy reasons, Sen. Clinton, for the moment, has chosen to oppose setting a date to get the troops out or using the congressional powers to force the president to change course. Her advisors are worried about a woman candidate looking weak on national security. Many of them also believe that bringing the troops out soon would leave Iraq in a ruinous state.

Those policy conclusions deserve a "thoughtful and responsible" debate. But for now, the Senator has taken the low road that she urged her political rivals to eschew. Ironically, the Senator is likely to rue her words for she is burlesquing a position she will eventually be forced to adopt in face of the president's continued folly.