From the May 6, 2003 Wall Street Journal: Hillary Clinton is positioning herself for a presidential run and doing a smart job of it.
12:00 AM, May 9, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
A WEEK AFTER the start of the war in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld gave a briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee. At the time, the advance of American troops toward Baghdad was supposedly bogged down--it turned out they really weren't--and the Bush administration was facing stiff criticism. But the Defense secretary got strong support from an unexpected source, the newest member of the committee, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.
Alluding to her own experience in an administration under fire, she indicated she understood Secretary Rumsfeld's situation. Then Sen. Clinton assured him the committee was behind him 100 percent and would provide anything he needed. The key is to win the war, she said. The war effort should not be shortchanged in any way.
This new side to Sen. Clinton-the national security side-may surprise both fans and foes as she emerges in greater public view this spring. She attracted attention last week when she stridently attacked President Bush's domestic policies. Next month, she'll draw a lot more when her memoir of her White House years, "Living History," is published. The book is lucrative (advance: $8 million) but it may be unhelpful politically, raising new questions about Sen. Clinton's truthfulness, ethics, and relationship with her husband.
Though not a candidate, Sen. Clinton is also sure to grab attention in the 2004 Democratic presidential race. In nearly every national poll in which her name is included, she leads the Democratic field. In the Quinnipiac Poll in February, she topped her nearest rival, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, 42 percent to 15 percent.
A grass-roots drive to draft Sen. Clinton as a presidential candidate is almost inevitable later this year. Her all but certain answer: I promised the voters of New York I'd serve the full six years of my Senate term and I will. Later, a new boomlet is unavoidable-Hillary for vice president. This, too, she's likely to reject.
Sen. Clinton's not-so-secret target is 2008. President Bush, if he gains a second term, will be leaving office. The presidential contest in both parties should be wide open. A popular senator from a large state, re-elected to a second term in 2006 and supported by the dominant wing of her party, would have a shot.
So Sen. Clinton's moves should be seen in light of a 2008 campaign. It's not that every step she takes is solely (and cynically) designed to aid a presidential run. Rather, it's that every significant move on Sen. Clinton's part, including last week's anti-Bush tirade, will affect her presidential aspirations. She and her advisers know this.
Politically speaking, Sen. Clinton is a long-distance runner. Elected in 2000, she initially stuck to state issues in the Senate, notably federal aid to New York City after 9/11. She minimized her national role. She gave few interviews, spoke to only a handful of national groups, and mostly stayed away from Sunday interview shows. Given her prominence, Sen. Clinton was essentially in hiding for two years.
During that time, she changed her position on the Middle East. When her husband was president, she advocated a Palestinian state before that was American policy and famously kissed Yasser Arafat's wife after Mrs. Arafat delivered a viciously anti-Israel speech. Now Sen. Clinton is reliably pro-Israel. She signed a letter recently supporting the president's insistence on new Palestinian leadership to replace Arafat.
Her pro-Bush stand on the war with Iraq was clear even before the Senate voted last October to give him the authority to oust Saddam Hussein. On "Meet the Press" last September, Tim Russert asked if she believed disarmament in Iraq was possible without regime change. "I doubt it," she said. What President Bush was doing "is exactly what should be done." With or without United Nations blessing, she said, the president "has to do what he believes is in the best interest of the country."
Sen. Clinton's position on the war is faintly similar to her husband's take on the Gulf War in 1991. He said he would have voted for the war resolution but agreed with the arguments of the opponents. She has cited qualms about pre-emption and unilateral action. And like her spouse, she avoided the limelight on the war issue. Her pep talk to Secretary Rumsfeld was at a closed door meeting.
It took weeks of prodding by Deborah Orin of the New York Post to get Sen. Clinton's office to issue a statement on March 2 saying she "fully supports" President Bush's actions to disarm Iraq. But in case that might have angered antiwar Democrats, the next day she noted her preference for a peaceful solution. And to avoid appearing too pro-Bush, she added on March 4 that she didn't "agree 100 percent" with the president on the war.