New York Times: Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton clashed yesterday over their judgment calls on Iran and Iraq. The New York Times
By PATRICK HEALY
Published: October 13, 2007
Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton clashed yesterday over their judgment calls on Iran and Iraq.
Mr. Obama accused Mrs. Clinton of being disingenuous about her record, and Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Obama was muddying her views.
Mrs. Clintons campaign sent out a toughly worded memorandum saying Mr. Obamas fall in the polls has led him to abandon his positive tone in the presidential campaign.
Mr. Obamas advisers replied that he was simply drawing attention to what they said were Mrs. Clintons conflicting positions on war and peace.
On another front in their quests for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton received a major endorsement that gave her a new bit of bragging rights. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a leading African-American politician and civil rights warrior, announced that he was supporting her as the best prepared candidate and one who would restore a greater sense of community in America.
As Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lewis embraced and went to campaign together in South Carolina, the Clinton and Obama campaigns intensified attacks on each other.
Mr. Obama has increasingly questioned Mrs. Clintons judgment on foreign policy and national security. He expanded on that in a speech in Des Moines. He said Mrs. Clinton had been disingenuous in her frequent assertion that her Senate vote in 2002 in Iraq that authorized military action was not a vote for war but instead a vote for more weapons inspections and diplomacy with Iraq.
But all of us know what was being debated in the Congress in the fall of 2002, Mr. Obama said. We didnt need to authorize a war in order to have United Nations weapons inspections. No one thought Congress was debating whether or not to conduct diplomacy.
Mr. Obama also said Mrs. Clinton was trying to have it both ways on Iran. He noted that she promised on Thursday to negotiate with Iran without conditions and that she said in July that she would not meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without conditions in her first year in office.
Mr. Obama said in July that he would be willing to have such a meeting, a comment that prompted Mrs. Clinton to say at the time that he was naïve and irresponsible for being open to such a presidential-level meeting.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mrs. Clinton said that there was a difference in their positions over negotiating with Iran without conditions.
What Ive said for a long time is that the United States of American should negotiate with Iran, she said. But its also the case that I do not believe the president of the United States should be party of such negotiations at this time.
Theres a very big difference between setting up a structure for diplomatic negotiating and saying that as president one would meet with dictators of a country without preconditions in your first year.
A spokesman for Mr. Obama, Bill Burton, responded, Senator Clinton cant have it both ways, favoring direct diplomacy without preconditions on some days, then opposing it on others.
Mr. Obama and his aides have said voters should be concerned about Mrs. Clintons recent vote to classify the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Some Democrats have said the vote could embolden President Bush to attack Iran.
Mrs. Clintons campaign posted a statement on its Web site noting that Mr. Obama did not take time off from campaigning to vote on the classification nor had he vociferously argued against it.
The Clinton campaign also drew attention to an interview by an Obama ally, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who said he did not believe that the Iran resolution gave the Bush administration a green light to invade Iran.
Later, the Obama campaign issued a statement headlined Quasi-incumbent finally gets scrutiny and stumbles. It said Mrs. Clinton wanted to duck tough questions on international diplomacy and other issues.
Mrs. Clinton sought to keep the focus on Mr. Lewiss endorsement and their trip to South Carolina, an early state in the nominating process with many black voters. In a telephone interview, she shrugged off a question about whether the endorsement would give her an edge over Mr. Obama with blacks, but made clear she savored it.
I intend to run a national campaign, reaching out to people throughout the country, Mrs. Clinton said. And theres no better messenger than John Lewis.
Former President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton had courted his endorsement, Mrs. Clintons advisers said. Mr. Lewis had made clear earlier this year that he was torn between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama, whom he praised warmly.