Less than a week before the decisive Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses, the political battle over Iraq dramatically erupted on Sunday when the Hillary Clinton campaign launched a multi-pronged attack challenging the consistency of rival Barack Obama's record on the war.
The Obama campaign quickly countered that Clinton was stooping to tactics comparable to those employed by right-wing pressure groups against previous Democratic candidates.
Much like the conflict in Iraq itself, the political clashing between the two front-running campaigns quickly escalated into a prolonged guerrilla war of charges, counter-charges and counter-counter-charges.
"The argument that somehow Sen. Obama has shown unique judgment in the case of Iraq is belied by the record in which he showed identical support for Iraq War funding as Sen. Clinton," Jamie Rubin, a Clinton-era State Department official now supporting Hillary Clinton, told reporters in a hastily-called conference call. Rubin said Obama's earlier anti-war statements while he was a state Senator in Illinois were not supported by the votes he took once he arrived in Washington." There is nothing unique or special or wise about Sen. Obama's position on the Iraq War," Rubin said.
Rubin's statements came just a few hours after Sen. Clinton unleashed her latest political offensive during an hour-long interview on NBC's "Meet The Press." Clinton used the network platform to accuse Obama of waffling in his war opposition, noting that the Illinois Democrat had given an anti-war speech in 2002 but voted for funding resolutions while in office. "That is inconsistent with what he is now running his campaign on," she said. "The story of his campaign is premised on that speech."
The Iraq war had been pushed to the wings during the recent Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries but now seems destined to occupy center stage as Clinton and Obama race toward next Saturday's caucuses in Nevada.
The Obama campaign was quick to return fire on Clinton's charges by organizing its own Sunday conference call rebuttal. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill) suggested that the new Clinton campaign attacks on Obama were similar to those used by right-wing groups to deflate John Kerry's 2004 presidential run.
"As we have seen in previous campaigns what you try to do is go after your opponent's position of strength," Durbin said, referencing a campaign strategy popularized by George W. Bush's top strategist, Karl Rove. "And Barack's position of strength was his early and consistent opposition to the war."
Obama earned national accolades from anti-war activists when he gave a speech opposing the invasion of Iraq during an October 2002 rally in Chicago. "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars," Obama said. Obama's statement came at the same time when Senator Hillary Clinton voted to authorize President Bush to go to war in Iraq.
Durbin directly linked the new Clinton strategy to that of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a so-called 527 group deeply reviled amongst Democrats for having led the 2004 attacks on Kerry. "It is much like going after John Kerry's war record," Durbin said. "If they can undermine that, if they can raise question about that then they feel they can open up many other issues for consideration."
The intensity of the presidential campaign flare-up over Iraq can be measured, if by nothing else, by the sheer number of reporter conference calls invoked over the last 24 hours. In just such a call earlier Sunday, announcing an endorsement from Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, Senator Obama declared: "[Hillary Clinton] suggested that I didn't clearly and unambiguously oppose the war in Iraq when it is absolutely clear. And anyone who has followed this knows that I did. I stood up against the war when she was voting for it, at a time when she didn't read the intelligence reports or give diplomacy a chance."
In an afternoon of ferocious tit-for-tat, the Clinton campaign quickly responded to Durbin's charges saying there was no comparison to be made with the Swiftboaters as their charges were "lies" and that the current accusations against Obama are not. "It is a fact that after Senator Obama spoke out against the war in 2002, he removed the speech from his website when he started running for the Senate," said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer in a written statement to The Huffington Post.
The statement continued: "By 2004, he said he didn't disagree with George Bush's approach to the war and by 2005, 2006 and 2007, he was voting for $300 billion in funding for the war."
The rapid-fire skirmishing between the two campaigns carried on throughout the day, as the Obama campaign fired out a memo detailing the ways in which the Senator's stance on the Iraq War differed from Clinton's.
The Clinton campaign responded with a memo of its own titled "Bad Oppo Alert! Obama's Senate Record On Iraq," arguing that "Hillary and Sen. Obama have identical
voting records on Iraq, with the exception of Obama's vote to confirm
In drawing parallels between Clinton's criticism of Obama's record on Iraq and the 2004 campaign tactics against John Kerry, Durbin may have provided the most electric rhetoric of the entire day. But it was not the only time he brought up Clinton's strategy in a negative light.
"I've really been troubled by the development over the last several days and weeks, where the Clinton campaign is question barrack Obama's sincerity in his opposition to the war," Durbin said at the onset of the call. "His position on the war in Iraq has never changed, never.
He has consistently opposed he war, he has support for material goods for the troops in the field, but he has continued to vote for a timetable to bring those troops home."