A00923940823904823904823094823.jpgFebruary 3, 2007 — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton left no room for doubt yesterday: “If we in Congress don’t end this war before January 2009, as president, I will,” she told the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee.

But didn’t she – just two weeks ago – declare that she is “not for imposing a . . . certain withdrawal date” for U.S. troops from Iraq?

Well, January 2009 (at the latest) sure sounds like a “certain withdrawal date.”

Welcome to the latest chapter of the longest-running work in progress Washington has ever seen: Sen. Clinton’s ever-morphing, “quick, check the polls” position on the Iraq war.

Actually, it’s not clear whether yesterday’s new twist-and-turn was another of her pre-planned, carefully crafted policy shifts on Iraq.

After all, she was taking some unexpected heat at the moment: heckling by demonstrators who haven’t forgiven Clinton for voting in favor of the war back in 2002.

But she had something for them, too.

“If I had been president in October of 2002, I would not have started this war,” she declared.


Now it’s one thing to say, as so many Democrats already have done, that voting for the war is something they regret.

But to maintain that, had she been in the White House, there wouldn’t have been a war in the first place?

That certainly flies in the face of what she actually said in October 2002 – that she was voting for the war “with conviction,” because “I want this president, or any future president, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country, at the United Nations or at war.”

That’s a position she’ll no doubt urge on Congress should she win the 2008 election. But it’s also one fraught with political risks as the Democratic field hurtles leftward in the run-up to 2008.

None of this comes as any surprise, of course – for more than four years, Clinton has been a whirling dervish on Iraq: Round and around and around she goes, and where she’ll stop, nobody knows.

One thing is certain, though: If you want to chart where she stands at any given moment, just check the latest polls.

Back in 2003, Hillary was a hawk, endorsing the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein, in line with official U.S. policy enacted during her husband’s administration. Since then, as White House spokesman Tony Snow noted, she “in many cases has stood with the president.”

Now, reflecting the change in the public mood – and with an eye on the Democratic primaries – she’s become a Cindy Sheehan-esque dove, loudly demanding an end to the war “as soon as possible.”

Maybe that explains why, given a chance to engage in actual public discussion on Iraq, Clinton chooses political posturing instead.

As widely respected Washington Post columnist David Broder noted, Clinton – a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – last week ignored an opportunity to question Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq.

Instead, wrote Broder, she “used her time to make a speech about Iraq policy and did not ask a single question of the man who will be leading the military campaign.”

In sharp contrast, Sen. John McCain – a far more courageous, but no less outspoken White House hopeful – grilled Petraeus, asking 14 questions before running out of time.

Notes Broder: “Perhaps she feared that dialogue with Gen. Petraeus would lead her into dangerous, uncharted waters.”

Indeed. Elevating substance over pretense can be a politically risky business.

Clearly, Sen. Clinton will brook no risks at all.

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