Clinton, Kerry: Different approaches, different reactions on Iraq

Kerry draws cheers for saying his vote was a mistake. Clinton gets boos for opposing a timeline for withdrawal.

Published June 14, 2006 1:41PM (EDT)

While George W. Bush was off on his double-super-secret trip to Baghdad Tuesday, two Democrats who'd like to replace him in 2008 were getting a reminder that the war makes for some complicated politics back home.

John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both spoke at the "Take Back America" conference in Washington Tuesday. Kerry used the occasion to deliver his strongest words yet about the war. "My friends, war is no excuse for its own perpetuation," Kerry said. "It is essential to acknowledge that the war itself was a mistake -- to say the simple words that contain more truth than pride ... It was wrong and I was wrong to vote for that Iraqi war resolution."

The words represent an about-face for Kerry, who told us during the 2004 race that he had not made a mistake in voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002. "My vote was the right vote," Kerry said then. "If I had been president, I would have wanted that authority to leverage the behavior that we needed. But I would have used it so differently than the way George Bush did."

The Boston Globe says Kerry's new words drew cheers from the mostly liberal crowd, as did the plan he's pushing for Iraq: Withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of the year, except for those needed to train Iraqi security forces.

As for Clinton? She didn't fare quite as well at the conference. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, the senator from New York was greeted with "loud booing" when she tried to explain her views on Iraq. Clinton called the war a "grotesque mistake," but she took a neither-nor, middle-line approach on where we go from here. "I do not think it is a smart strategy ... for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government,'' Clinton said. "Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interests."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton Iraq Iraq War John F. Kerry D-mass. Middle East